Chapter 16: Of Good Works
What is a “good work”? In our world of today, many would call that which is against the Word “good.” What does “good” mean and what is the standard to measure “good” by?
§1 Good Works are only such as God hath commanded in his Holy Word
- Good Works are only such as God hath commanded in his Holy Word, 1 and not such as without the warrant thereof are devised by men out of blind zeal, or upon any pretence of good intentions. 2
- Micah 6:8; Rom. 12:2; Heb. 13:21; Col. 2:3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17
- Matt. 15:9 with Isa. 29:13; 1 Peter 1:18; Rom. 10:2; John 16:2; 1 Sam. 15:21-23; 1 Cor. 7:23; Gal. 5:1; Col. 2:8, 16-23
Good Works are those which God hath commanded in His Holy Word and those derived from it by necessary and good consequence. Those are no Good Works which have no warrant from the Word and devised by men out of blind zeal, or upon any pretence of good intentions (Matt. 15:9; 1 Peter 1:18; Rom. 10:2). God is to be worshiped and obeyed in the way that He has commanded and prescribed in His Word.
The Criteria For Good Works
We don't simply invent for ourselves what Good Works are and declare that they are good, but rather it is God who lays down the criteria for Good Works in Holy Writ. This does not mean that if a particular action is not mentioned in the Bible that it is therefore bad, but we look at the particular deed in light of all Scripture. We don't demand an explicit text for everything. For example, helping an old lady cross the street is a good deed, but it is not mentioned in the Bible. Does that mean that it is therefore bad if it is not mentioned? No, not really. Because we know from the Bible that we should love our neighbor, and help an old lady cross the street is such an expression of love and respect.
Commanded By God
Only what is commanded by God and what may be deduced from Holy Writ is binding upon the consciousness of men. Throughout history, various churches and religions have added to the commandments of God in such a way as binding the consciences of man. The Lord Jesus quotes the words of Isaiah approvingly when he says, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matt. 15:8-9 from Isa. 29:13). From this passage, we learn that whenever we add things to the Lord's commandments and teach them as if they were the Lord's, we dishonor Him and worship Him falsely. Therefore, the Confession is explicit that “Good Works are only such as God hath commanded in his Holy Word”, so that only God would be the Lord of the conscience (see also chapter 21 on the liberty of the conscious).
It is God who teaches us through His will “what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). And it is God who is and determines the criteria of what Good Works constitute. It is His holy character as revealed in His Word. It is also God who works in us His Good Works. We cannot really do any Good Works which are pleasing in His sight without His will and direction. That's why Paul tells us that “...it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). The Holy Spirit in Hebrews 13:21 tells us that it is God who “equip[s] you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight”. The glory of the New Covenant is the fact that we have God's Law on our hearts and given the ability b...