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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Faith, Good Works and Our Motives
Text:LD 33 Q&A 91; 1 Cor. 4:1-5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Good Works
 
Preached:2014
Added:2021-05-17
Updated:2021-05-17
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

(Blue Psalter unless otherwise noted):
       
413 - I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say
RR - Psalm 119:9-24   
237 - How Shall the Young Direct Their Way?    
317 - Come, Thou Almighty King            
380 (Red) - Living for Jesus     
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


“Faith, Good Works and Our Motives”
1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Lord’s Day 33; Q&A 91
 
During the 1990’s Anne Herbert coined that phrase, “random acts of kindness.”  It sprang from her book entitled, Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty. The idea is that as human beings we should randomly do something good for someone else. The idea is a good one and we often see where people in our world, even those who are not Christian, randomly do kind, thoughtful and generous deeds for others.
 
God, in common grace, allows even the reprobate to do good deeds in that sense of “random acts of kindness.” But the Heidelberg Catechism points out in Question and Answer 91 that for a deed to be a good work in God’s sight it must meet these three criteria: it must arise out of true faith, it must conform to God’s law, and it must seek to bring glory to God.
 
It is important for us to remember those criteria and apply them to the good deeds we do. We can do the most kind deed, but it will only be seen as good in the Lord’s eyes if it arises out of true faith. That is the first criterion for deeds to be truly good.
 
One of the Scriptures that the catechism cites is John 15:5 where Jesus says: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.”  A second Scripture text is Hebrews 11:6, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” 
 
Those two verses bring a contemporary application into focus: An unbeliever can do a great deal of good. Consider the outward acts of goodness done by the Hollywood Elite, most of them out-spoken in their criticism of the Bible and Christ. Is their work of mercy and help really a good work?  The catechism follows Scripture in reminding us that in God’s eyes, to be a good work, the action must arise out of true saving faith. As such, when the unregenerate do good deeds, no matter how worthy and helpful they are, they are not good works in the definition of Scripture, “for without faith it is impossible to please God.”
 
An example of how it is impossible to please God without faith is seen in the fourth chapter of Genesis, a chapter which bothers many people because it describes how the Lord accepted Abel’s sacrifice of an animal, but rejected Cain’s sacrifice of the fruits of the land which he tilled. The problem some people have is that it seems unfair that God would accept one sacrifice and refuse the other. After all, were not grain and fruit offerings required in the Levitical code? Doesn’t it seem, outwardly at least, that Cain’s sacrifice would be as acceptable as Abel’s?
 
The answer to that question is found in Hebrews 11:4 where we have an inspired commentary on the two sacrifices. The author of Hebrews teaches that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted because it was offered in faith. He writes, “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did.” And then the Scripture adds, “By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.”
 
Abel’s sacrifice, offered with true saving faith in the Messiah who had been promised (Gen. 3:15), shows us that for a work to be considered good by God, it must be motivated by faith, for again “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6).
 
Conformed to God’s Law – with Love, Not Just Duty
 
A second requirement for a good deed is that it must conform to God’s law. However, the conformity to the law is not a rigid keeping of the law done out of duty, but rather our conformity to the law of God must be motivated by our love the Lawgiver. Jesus said, in John 14:15, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” That is the proper motivation for keeping God’s law.
 
The catechism, as most of you well know, examines the law under the third section, the section on gratitude. The catechism is properly divided into three sections: Sin, Salvation, and Service, or Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude. And it is out of gratitude for what God has done for us that we seek to conform our actions – our deeds – to His law.
 
You can try to conform to God’s law out of duty, but there is no blessing in that. God doesn’t seek our duty so much as He seeks our love – love for Him and our love for other people. Do you remember the reaction of the older brother in the parable of the Lost or Prodigal Son? The older brother had many spiritual problems, one of the main ones being that he did everything out of duty, not out of love for his father. In Luke 15:29 he said to his father, “Look, all these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.”
     
You see, he was looking to be rewarded for what he did, and he saw his life as a dutiful obedience to his father’s laws. We need to strive to obey our heavenly Father’s laws. But the motivation should not be duty. The motivation to law must be love for the Lawgiver.
 
I read about a woman who was in a difficult marriage; there wasn’t a whole lot of love, but there was a whole lot of duty.  Her husband was off to work early each morning, so it was her duty to get him breakfast and on his way.  She did that for years, but unfortunately, in that marriage her work was done out of duty, not love.
 
In the course of time her husband died. A few years later, in the providence of God, she married a Christian man and experienced a truly loving marriage. This man got up for work even earlier than the husband whose death had left her a widow. But now remarried, she took great joy in getting up early to make her husband’s breakfast and to see him off.  She was doing the same thing, but now it was motivated by love, not duty.
 
In a similar way, we endeavor to keep God’s law because of our love for Him. We fail to keep God’s law perfectly. Our imperfection is so great that Isaiah 64:6 points out that “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” We have nothing to offer the Lord except our sin. Yet, by God’s grace and sanctifying Spirit we are forgiven, cleansed, justified and sanctified. By the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work within, through the Word which He inspired, we are enabled to keep the law to some degree. But it is only considered good when our motive in keeping the law is our love for the Lord who has redeemed us. “If you love Me,” Jesus said, “you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).   
 
Good Works for God’s Glory
 
A third requirement for a deed to be considered good in God’s sight is that it must be done for God’s glory. Have you noticed how toward the end of the calendar year some organizations and individuals make large donations to charitable causes?  I’m not saying that is bad. That can be very good.  But whether it is good in God’s sight depends on the motive.
 
In fact, you have probably noticed that all the criteria for doing good goes back to the motive. What do we do that is good?  Only that which arises from true faith, conforms to God’s law and is done for His glory. So the question arises, “Is the motive behind what we do the glory of God? Or is it a tax deduction? Is it the glory of God or for our own recognition, or publicity for a business as well as a tax write-off?
 
Scripture repeatedly directs our focus to the glory of God. Psalm 115:1, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to Your name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness.” 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” In fact, the purpose of your life and mine is to live to the praise of God's glorious grace (Eph. 1:6, 12).
 
Incidentally, I remember years ago, when the late Larry Burkett was the money “answer man” on Christian radio, someone called in and asked whether as a Christian you should take a tax deduction on your giving. They thought it would be “more spiritual” if their tithes were given without the tax deduction allowed by the Internal Revenue Department of the United States.
 
However, Larry Burkett pointed out that by taking the tax deduction they could be better stewards of what God had graciously given them. By taking the deduction they could give more to Christian causes and at the same time give less to the government. He pointed out that the government often misuses money, using it for abortion and other actions that directly conflict with Christian conduct.
 
He pointed them to 2 Corinthians 9:11 where the Apostle writes, “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” As faithful stewards of what God has given us, we should use every legal option to save money, not for our use and pleasure, but for the advancement of God’s kingdom.
 
Faith, Works and Motives
 
How else can we apply the Scriptural teaching of the catechism to good works?
 
One application: If our faith is real, it will be evident by deeds.  Jesus said, in Luke 6:45, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil…”  And, as James pointed out, “Faith, without works, is dead.” (James 2:17). 
 
We see this truth throughout Scripture, but this biblical truth will be most evident on the day of judgment. Our judgment will be based on works. Why is that since we are saved by grace? The reason why is that works show the authenticity of our faith. Jesus prefaced His quote about a good man bringing good out of the treasure of his heart, by saying: “A good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.  For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush” (Luke 6:43, 44). In other words, our actions show the reality of what is in our heart. 
 
The catechism cites Ephesians 2:10 to show that the purpose of our faith is to do good works that God has before ordained for us to do. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).
 
A second application is that we are to use God’s criteria, not ours, in determining what is good. Many of us grew up in homes where there were good intentions, but they were based on human traditions instead of Scripture. Perhaps that is most noticeable in human traditions regarding the Sabbath Day – Sunday.  Some of us had to wear our “Sunday clothes” throughout the day. Others could play catch with a baseball, but not hit the ball with a bat. Some could lay out by the pool and soak up the rays, but not go swimming, for that would be “work”.
 
All of us, I trust, understand that we must keep the Lord’s Day holy. The Lord’s Day is a special day, a day in which we set aside time to worship with brothers and sisters in Christ, to consider God’s greatness in our personal worship as well as our public worship, and a day in which we cease from our normal activities of the week.
 
But when we make special rules, we are doing what the catechism tells us not to do; we are not to base our actions on “that which is based on what we think is right or on established human tradition.” And the Scriptural support includes Deuteronomy 12:32 where the Lord says, “See that you do all I command you to do; do not add to it or take away from it.”  
 
With good intentions we may go beyond where Scripture goes, and that is not a good thing. That is a form of Phariseeism. The catechism cites the words of Jesus in Matthew 15:7-9.  Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees and he quotes from Isaiah 29:13: “These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. They worship Me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”
 
Colossians 2:20-23 adds: “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”
 
A third application to reflect on is that God will expose the motives behind all deeds. We cannot see the true motive of the heart. But God can. Some of those rules that many of us grew up with were foolish, I believe. But I also believe that our parents and grandparents had the right motive. They really wanted to honor the Lord and His day, and that was how they went about it. How wonderful it would be if the motives behind our good deeds were always correct motives: arising from true faith, conforming to God’s law because of our love for Him, and done for His glory.
 
The day will come, as 1 Corinthians 4:5 points out, when “...He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives (purposes ESV) of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.”
 
At that Day of Judgment some will be seen as having the same motives as Ananias and Saphira whose motives are described in Acts 5. They sold some property and kept a portion for themselves. There was nothing wrong in keeping part of the money from the sale of their property. What was wrong is that they lied about it because their motive was to look good in the eyes of others.  Barnabas had sold some property and gave all the money to the church, and they wanted to give the impression that they had done the same thing. They wanted the praise of the church.      
 
There are undoubtedly many others who do good things to earn the praise of people, or to earn the accolades of a church or other beneficiary because of their generosity. But 1 Corinthians 4:5, along with many other passages, reminds us that on the Last Day God will judge each person’s motives, and then each one will receive their praise – or their judgment – from the Lord.
___
 
During the 1990’s Anne Herbert coined that phrase, “random acts of kindness.”  Christians, of all people should be doing good works, which include those “random acts of kindness”. That is one of the reasons we are redeemed. Titus 2:14: “He gave Himself up for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people eager to do what is good.”
 
As we seek to do good, may we do so with the proper motives: May your deeds and mine, this week and always, truly arise from saving faith in Christ, conform to God’s law and seek His glory!  Amen. 
 
 
bulletin outline:
 
 
Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes.
He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives
of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. 
                                                                                             1 Corinthians 4:5
 
                           “Faith, Good Works and Our Motives”
 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Q&A 91
 
I.  No matter how great and good a work may seem, it is not good in the
     biblical sense unless the good work:
     1) Arises out of true faith in God (John 15:5; Hebrews 11:4, 6)
 
 
 
     2) Conforms to God’s law with love (John 14:15), not just duty
         (Luke 15:25-30)
 
 
 
     3) Is done for His glory (Psalm 115:1; 1 Corinthians 10:31)
 
 
 
II. Applications:
     1) If our faith is real, it will be evident by deeds (Matthew 7:20;
          James 2:17) 
 
 
 
     2) We are to use God’s criteria, not ours, in determining what is
          good (Deuteronomy 12:32; Colossians 2:20-23; Matthew 15:7-9)
 
 
 
      3) We are to remember that God will expose the motives behind all
           our deeds (Acts 5:1-10; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Ephesians 1:6, 12))
 
 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2014, Rev. Ted Gray

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