This is the third in a series of posts exploring the roles ascribed to Christians by looking at the example of Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:25-29.
Saved By Works
Here is a bold statement: A Christian is one who is saved by works. Now, before getting all sola fide, sola gratia and Ephesians 2:8-9 on me, let me explain. A Christian is not one who is saved by his own works. Rather, he is saved by the works of Jesus Christ. This is the inherent difference between man-made religion and gospel religion. These two opposing views are usually referred to simply as religion and gospel.
We are saved by the works of Christ, which is summarized in the book of Hebrews:
For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
See also Romans 4:25 and Galatians 1:4, though there are ample more examples. This is the central message of the Gospel as presented in Bible, that Christ died to save sinners. We are saved by the works of Christ.
Saved For Works
The question that follows this statement is, “Why?” Why did Jesus die for sinners; what was his purpose?This is a question with a multifaceted answer. We find a few answers to this question in the first couple chapters of Ephesians: according to his purpose, by his grace, for his glory, for his praise, by his mercy and love, and so he might show us “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” In the middle of chapter 2, we are given this reason:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
So while we are not saved by our works, we are saved for good works. We are enabled to do these works by the sole reason that God has caused us to be born again (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3) as new creations (1 Corinthians 5:17) through the death and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 6:4). These works have been prepared for us by God from eternity past, which is why Paul could say that Epaphroditus was working to “complete what was lacking” in the Philippians’ service to Paul. In other words, the Philippian church had not yet completed all the tasks involved in their God-given mission of supporting Paul in the ministry.
The importance of works in the life of Christians is perhaps most clearly seen in the second chapter James’ letter to the church.
James 2:14-17, 21-22, 26
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead… Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works… For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
Is James saying that we are not saved by faith alone? Is he saying we are saved by faith plus works? Not at all. As we have already seen, we are saved by grace through faith in the completed work of Jesus. What James is saying, however, is that works are the evidence of saving faith. He argues, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
Saving faith is not simply mental assent, but is an embrace of the gospel that causes one to act in accordance with it. Just as Jesus selflessly humbled himself by becoming a man and was obedient to God to the point of dying on a cross, so we are to have this mind of Christ and join him in dying to self and living for the good of each other (Philippians 2:1-8). The mark of one whom God has saved is a relentless pursuit to make God known through word and deed. A Christian is one who imitates his Christ (Ephesians 5:1-2).
What Kind of Works
So we saved by Christ’s works, for the purpose of imitating Christ in doing good works, these works being evidence of our salvation. Practically speaking, what are these works? What specific works are we commanded to do by God?
Undoubtedly, the one command Jesus directly gave us at his ascension into heaven is to make disciples and baptize them in the name of Jesus.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
In Philippians, we are given two examples of how to obey this command. Paul calls Epaphroditus a messenger and minister to his need, who delivered much needed supplies to Paul from the Philippian church so that he could continue his own work of sharing the gospel in Rome. In sending Epaphroditus back to the church, Paul encourages them to honor him and men like him who risk their lives “for the work of Christ” (Philippians 2:30). So we see two kinds of evangelistic work here. One is evangelism, the other is supporting an evangelist.
This doesn’t mean you can just give money to an evangelistic ministry and consider your work done. God has called some to be church-planters like Paul; others he has called to lead the local church through preaching and teaching; if you’re a parent, you are called at the very least to disciple your children; but whether you fit all or none of these roles, all Christians are called to always be prepared to give a reason for their hope within them (1 Peter 3:15).
As we saw in a previous post in this series, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). In Acts, we see the behavior of members in the early church to be that of self-sacrifice, providing for each others’ needs (Acts 2:44-46; Acts 4:32,34-37) and even selling land and property to ensure there was no one needy among them. There was so much giving and distributing going on that the apostles couldn’t keep up with it all, thus the appointment of the church’s first deacons (Acts 6:1-7). This behavior no doubt has it’s roots in Jesus’ teaching on the purpose of earthly riches, which is to share it with the poor (Matthew 19:21), and in his teaching that those who care for “the least of these” will enter his rest while those who do not are eternally condemned (Matthew 25:31-46, see also Isaiah 58:6-7 and Ezekiel 18:5-9).
Oftentimes, God calls his people to suffering for the sake of the gospel and the church. This was clearly the case with Paul where we see him make this somewhat odd statement to the church as Colossae:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church
Now what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? Was Paul saying that Jesus’ death wasn’t enough to atone for sins? Was he preaching a false gospel of Jesus plus suffering earns you salvation? A cursory reading of the New Testament letters will reveal this is not the case. On the contrary, Paul was not speaking of Christ’s own afflictions, but the afflictions Paul himself was suffering on behalf of Christ as part of his ministry in preaching the gospel. And these were many! (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-28) Paul was able to speak this way because Jesus himself showed him how he would suffer in advance (Acts 9:11,16). Likewise, God has called and ordained that all who profess Jesus as Lord will suffer for his sake (Philippians 1:29-30).
Suffering, many times, is just another form of evangelism and an opportunity for God to be glorified (John 9:3, 11:4). It has often been called the crucible of sanctification, the process by which God makes us holy and prepares us for the “eternal weight of glory” we will experience with him in eternity (1 Peter 1:6-7; 1 Peter 4:12-19; Philippians 10:3-11; Acts 5:41; 2 Corinthians 4:7-11,17, also Isaiah 30:20, 48:9-11, Psalm 119:67,71,75).
Evangelism, community care and enduring suffering are all three specific works God calls us to do. All of these are rooted in Jesus’ general command to “love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Many times, the works we do isn’t something specifically listed in Scripture, but is a generic call to excellence in everything we do. In Colossians Paul writes:
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him… Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
As Christians, any work we do is to be considered God’s work. So the work you do at your 9-to-5, your 5-to-9 or whatever your work hours are, the work you do at home taking care of the kids or perhaps an elderly relative, the work you do volunteering, the work you do in leading your family devotions or small group, anything and everything you do, you’re ultimately doing it in service to God. The virtues which should encapsulate our thought life per Philippians 4:8—truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, excellence—should overflow from within us and cover our every word and action as well.
Again, it’s not that we do this to earn God’s favor, but because Jesus has already earned it for us. We are free to work hard for God without the fear of not measuring up because, “knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.” We have been guaranteed our heavenly inheritance when God sealed us with his Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14). This knowledge of God’s grace is what empowers and emboldens us to work and speak in a manner that points others to the excellencies of Christ and gives us great joy.
God’s Purpose in Works
Ultimately, all our work is to point to the truth and power of the gospel by which God reconciles sinners and rebels back to himself, making peace by the blood of Jesus (Colossians 1:20; Ephesians 1:10). We have all been given this ministry of reconciliation and are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Just as God the Son acts as our mediator between us and God the Father, so we are to imitate Christ and act as mediators, working to restore broken relationships between sinners and God by telling them the Good News of all that God has done to guarantee their forgiveness.
- He has loved them from eternity past
- He took their sins upon himself and nailed them to the cross
- He satisfied his own wrath against them
- He rose from the dead to set them free from the power of Satan, sin and death
- He now intercedes for them
- He now makes them holy & pure and clothes them in his righteousness
It is our privilege and joy to tell everyone of what God has done through both work and word as he works in us “to will and to work for his good pleasure,” God “making his appeal through us.”
Saved for the Holy Spirit
By now you may be thinking all this is a lot to live up to. Doing everything you do with excellence because it represents Jesus, suffering for Jesus’ name, self-sacrificially caring for others, spreading the gospel, all while being hated and persecuted by the world—that is all just too much to bear! Thankfully, you are not alone.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us… so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
This is another reason why Christ saved us through his death and resurrection: so that we might receive the power of the Holy Spirit! God has not left us as orphans (John 14:18), but has given us his own Spirit to live in us “to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). The very moment God saved you and you believed in Christ Jesus, you received and were sealed with the very Spirit of God (Ephesians 1:13). Think about that! God himself, who once dwelt with us in the person of Jesus, now dwells within us in the person of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 3:16). Such joy, such peace, such security, such comfort and strength in knowing this simple yet profound truth!
It would be too hard to go one without making this post even longer, but if you’d like to read more about the Holy Spirit, pick up a copy of Forgotten God by Francis Chan or The Holy Spirit by Dr. Sinclair Fergurson.
As Christians we have all been adopted by God into his family. We are all brothers. But we have not been saved simply to lounge and enjoy each other’s company. We have work to do. We have been saved for good works which God has prepared for us to do. This work includes evangelism, it includes community care, many times it includes faithfulness in the midst of suffering for doing good. Any work we do is to be done knowing that we are ultimately working for God and not another human being. Finally, we are saved so that we might receive the Holy Spirit who loves us, guides us, strengthens us, comforts us, keeps us, and empowers us to do the work we have been called to do.
Now Lord I would be yours alone and live so all might see
The strength to follow your commands could never come from me
Oh Father use my ransomed life in any way you choose
And may my song forever be, “My only boast is you!”
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ!
Hallelujah! Jesus is my Life!