Zealous for Good Works

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.”  (Titus 2:11-14, NASB)

As our Sunday School teacher was leading us through an excellent lesson on Paul’s letter to Titus, a familiar phrase leaped from the page in a way it has never before.  I say familiar, because I remember being required to memorize Titus 2:11-14 in Bible school.  It was one of the thirty texts that Wesley identified as crucial to his understanding of sin, salvation, and sanctification.  It is a passage bursting with key elements of holiness doctrine: grace, salvation for all men, denying worldly desires, living righteously in the present age, redemption, purity, a people set apart.

The familiar phrase that struck me in a new way was the last phrase of the passage: “zealous for good deeds”.  The question that immediately came to my mind was, “I am really zealous for good deeds?” 

So much of the religious training of my youth was centered on what I was to avoid.  Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t swear, don’t lust, don’t disobey, and so on and so on.  And to be clear, there are many things that a Christian should avoid.  But I don’t remember as much emphasis placed on something the New Testament consistently admonishes – to do good:

  • “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:16)
  • “But love your enemies, and do good,” (Luke 6:35)
  • “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,” (Ephesians 2:10)
  • “Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,” (I Timothy 6:18)
  •  “Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful.” (Titus 3:14)
  • “And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,” (Hebrews 10:24)
  • “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (I Peter 2:12)
  • “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good.” (3 John 1:11)

Now don’t misunderstand me:  nothing we do can ever earn the salvation that God freely offers through the sacrifice of Jesus.  But it is clear through the testimony of scripture that God’s desire for His redeemed people is that they be “zealous for good deeds”.

I have known many believers who were zealous in standing against sin.  We are often quick to rebuke and criticize elements of our culture and actions within our churches that do not conform to God’s design.  I have seen such zeal exercised with gentleness and grace, but I have also seen it expressed with judgement and contempt.  Where I haven’t seen so much zeal in my experience (and this is a confession on my own part) is in a similar passion for doing good.

In Romans 12:1-2, Paul urges his brothers and sisters to present their bodies as living sacrifices and to be transformed by the renewing of their minds, then he goes on through the next couple of chapters describing what the transformed life of a living sacrifice looks like.  Among other things, Paul admonishes the believers to use their gifts, to serve for serving’s sake, to give with generosity, the lead with diligence, to show mercy with cheerfulness, to love without hypocrisy, to be devoted to one another in love, to give preference to one another in honor, to serve the Lord, to rejoice in hope, to persevere in tribulation, to be devoted to prayer, to contribute to the needs of the saints, to practice hospitality, to bless those who persecute them, to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, to associate with the lowly, to respect what is right, to be at peace with all people, to care for your enemy’s needs, to be subject to governing authorities, and to fulfill the duties of citizenship.  That’s a great list of good deeds; do we have any zeal to accomplish them?  What if we got so busy doing good that we didn’t have any time for evil?

When Jesus described the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:31-46, he contrasted between the sheep (the righteous) and the goats (the wicked).  For all the emphasis we often place on avoiding bad behavior, Jesus did not say the sheep avoided bad things while the goats did bad things.  Rather, the difference between the righteous and the wicked was the good they did or did not do for the least of those among us.  To the righteous, the King will say, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me…Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

Lord, I pray that You would redeem me from every lawless deed, that You would purify me to be set apart for you, and that You would give me zeal for doing good.

“Let us not become weary in doing good.” (Galatians 6:9, NIV)

~ Matt Kinnell, NHIM Board Chair

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