Is it Good Works or is it Works Righteousness?

by Mike Ratliff

36 And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. 38 At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.  (Luke 2:36-38 NASB)

When I was a young man and even prior to that when I was a teenager, I was quite religious. I went to church with my family and tried to emulate what I saw my parents do in their devotion. I tried to reach a point in my own devotion where I could be fulfilled, wanting to serve God with the joy and fervor I saw in other believers. However, I just could not do it. I found myself bored in church. I found no inner drive to read my Bible. I had no desire to have a consistent devotion to God because there were so many other things in my life that were more important to me than that. I was tormented by the fact that I could not behave consistently “Christian.” I had no self-control in certain situations. Then I would visit my family and attend church with them on Sunday full of remorse and guilt. I would exit the service determined to do good works and not sin anymore. I look back on that time now and almost laugh except it was a horrible conflict in my life at that time. I was convinced that being a Christian consisted of doing Christian things. In that unregenerate mind, a Christian was a Christian because they did those things. That, of course, is what works righteousness is.

Look at the passage I placed at the top of this post. It describes a woman named Anna whom Mary and Joseph encountered at the Temple when they brought the infant Jesus to be presented for purification according to the Law of Moses. (Luke 2:22) Look at her devotion! Look at her dedication! Isn’t that someone we can emulate? She never departed from the temple, worshipping and fasting and prayer night and day. Watch out! If we have in our hearts the idea that all we have to do is fast and pray and emulate other Christians who are very devoted to God then we will attain a higher level of spirituality then we have fallen into the snare of works righteousness.

Anna did what she did because of her place in the Kingdom of God. She was a new creation. She was a regenerate believer who walked closely with her Lord. Because of this she did good works. The relationship did not develop because of her good works. Those who make the mistake of seeking God through their works will either end up very religious, but in a dead spiritual state, or totally burned out on “Christianity.” This makes sense because God isn’t going to place His hand on anyone who is trying to work their way to Him. Our salvation is His work not ours.

I often counsel people who are despondent or depressed or “empty” in their walk to quit trying to be religious and, instead, simply seek God through prayer and His word while seeking to be obedient to Him in all areas of their lives. In other words, submit to His Lordship. Give Him all of self. Love Him with your entire being. Don’t worry about outward manifestations of religion. Pray through the Word of God and obey what He shows you. This is the very thing I do when find that God has me in a place where my sense of peace is waning. Religion or religious works do not cut it. In fact, all they do is bring further frustration when I am in this state. We must never forget that good works are the fruit of a regenerate heart. It is never the other way around.

Soli Deo Gloria

11 thoughts on “Is it Good Works or is it Works Righteousness?

  1. It all starts with being born again, by grace. This doctrine is so misunderstood by so many, multitudes claiming they are born again because of some work they did. Good works are a result of truly being born again, not a means for it. This is a good post, and a good reminder for all.
    Anna’s devotion and dedication certainly puts me to shame.


  2. Have to admit, coming from a pentecostal backround, reformed theology (reformed theology is actually the word of God) has truly blessed me and given me assurance of my salvation (again,by correctly pointing me to Gods word about election and my salvation) and it has helped me to see that any good work i do is actually a work of God. Theres still worldliness in me (in which i struggle with) but i trust that my God hears my prayers and continues to sanctify me.


  3. A quick thought – many churches burn the sheep out with endless works, programs, activities, etc, instead of teaching us how to rest in Christ. His yoke is easy, His burden light. Those who wait on the Lord will have their strength renewed, with wings like eagles.

    Mike, your Spirit led comment, “Don’t worry about outward manifestations of religion. … (backtracking to) instead, simply seek God through prayer and His word while seeking to be obedient to Him in all areas of their lives.” is balm to the weary soul. Your counsel is wise counsel.


  4. Mike, can you flesh this out a bit? It is just a little confusing. You are telling people who have no desire to read the Bible to…read the Bible. YOu are telling people who don’t think to pray…to pray. Then you are saying don’t worry about outward actions…but obey what you read. This is just what is hard! Iagree with what you are saying here: Don’t do things just because the people around you are doing them, to be seen of people, or just to be religious for religion’s sake. But seek the Lord through His word and seek to please Him? But then as you rightly say, we cannot please Him in and of ourselves. Only Christ’s death on the cross, His burial and His resurrection and perfect life can please God.

    So in a sense the person has gone in a circle and ended up just where he began, with maybe just a little more understanding but no real help.


  5. Ah!…Now if you could just get this post to be required reading by all elders, I believe there would be quite a shake up in the way “church” is done and who it would be doing it! 🙂


  6. I would point out too that Anna’s transition into Glory would be seamless! As for the average true Christian, not so much… As for Rick Warren and the driven nominal broad road crowd? It will be a hot time in the lake that night! 😦


  7. Julie, no, that is not what I’m saying. You left out the most important thing, which is regeneration. If people are unregenerate that doing those things are not only not desired, but will not be fruitful. However, Christians, true Christians, can become very disheartened or distracted and off track if they become all about religiosity instead of their walk of Repentance, carrying their own Cross, etc. Those on that walk will also do good works, but trying to become righteous by doing good works is useless.


  8. The difference, Julie is where the good works generate. The battle is not between good and evil, but rather goodwill and God’s Will. Any “good work” that generates from my efforts and not from Christ Jesus through me are dead works! Thus the scripture which states, “Depart from Me I never knew you, worker of inequity… “But Lord! LORD!!” They will cry. “We did all these works in Your Name!” This deals with the nominal broad road Christian.
    For we, who are in Christ Jesus, this is where scripture speaks to the refining fire burning off the dross in our life, such things as our goodwill dead works. Hope this helps!


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