Can good works of justice save you?

worksAs we approach Easter, the question of whether good works of justice save you is worth exploring. A story Jesus told on Tuesday of Holy Week helps frame the question:

The story of two sonsworks

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” Mt. 21:28-32


Works speak louder than Words

Jesus taught many great parables.  We could spend a lifetime studying him.  But if all Jesus did was talk, we would be lost.  Jesus took action.  On Palm Sunday he refused to allow the praise of people to push him to power.  He could have seized power.  Instead he demonstrated true justice by setting all power aside to die an unjust death within days of his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Mt. 21-28.

On Monday, Jesus would challenge the church – the temple.  The temple leaders were complicit and complacent.  They allowed merchants to rob travelers.  The people grew so used to this injustice, they didn’t notice.  Maybe some did.  Maybe someone set up a committee to study the unfair exchange practices.  Perhaps they bought a book written by an expert.  Maybe they set up different people to study the reasons for the structures that allowed this unfairness to persist.  Jesus took action.

Jesus refused to walk past the injustice.  He took out a whip and cleared the temple.  Jesus got enraged by injustice.  He got engaged in change.  He called us to go and do likewise.  This is the point of Justice Monday and the book Gospel Justice.

Good works do not save from sin

Jesus spent the Tuesday of Holy Week teaching.  The lesson of the two sons is that true obedience does the work of worksthe Father.  Obedience precedes action.  Faith is first.  Jesus takes the initiative to restore us by taking sin and injustice upon himself.  By his wounds we are healed.  He suffers our sin upon the cross.  He intercedes with the father for forgiveness and by his grace we are saved.  God demonstrates his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Rom. 5:8

Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  Easter is the turning point of human history.  Hope burst from the grave.  Jesus’ resurrection changes everything.   If we confess with our mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in our hearts God raised him from the dead, then we will be saved.  Rom. 10:9.   This is how we come to faith. We cannot earn salvation.  But Jesus always taught a saving faith is demonstrated through action.

Good works do save from self

Jesus warned against the teaching of the pharisees who talked a good talk, but did not practice what they preached. Mt. 23.  On the Tuesday of Holy Week he told them plainly, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” Mt. 21:43.

Jesus threatened the power and privilege of the pharisees.  They cared more about themselves than others.  Sin creates blinders.  As we read the Bible it is easy to point fingers at the Pharisees.  But what about us?  Too many churches are gated communities afraid of the world.  Like the temple in Jerusalem we gather in the inner court blind to the injustice right next to us.

Some of us stand apart like the Pharisee who praised himself for not being like the sinful tax collector.  Others of us claim to be highly sensitive to injustice but all we do is talk and study.  Jesus has none of that.  Jesus died so we could live.  That life is to be spent in the loving service of others.  Anything else cares more about our own interest than the interest of others.

Do Justiceexplore

The Bible does not say “study justice” or “talk justice”.  We are to “do justice”.  Mic. 6:8.  Failing to do what our Father ask us to do is dangerous.  Jesus has multiple warnings against complacency.  Failing to use the time, talent or treasure provided you is the same as burying that talent.  You have to take action.  You have to invest in His kingdom.  He will not say to you, “Well thought out good and faithful servant”.  He will not say, “Well dreampt good and faithful servant.”  He will say, “Well DONE good and faithful servant.”  Mt. 25:14-30.

And what did we do?  We served the least of these and cared for those on the margins.  We used what God gave us – time, talent and treasure to make a difference.  Don’t miss the actions of Holy Week rooted in true justice that demonstrate the saving work of the gospel AND the call to love neighbors through justice.

Here are some ways to take action now:

Today is the day to embrace the gospel while doing justice.  Be the son (or daughter) who does the work of the Father.  Go and Do Likewise.

About Bruce Strom

I am a lawyer, pastor, CEO, and author of Gospel Justice who builds communities of justice minded Christians to free people from legal burdens so they can flourish. I didn’t always care about justice. I was busy as the senior partner of a successful multi-office law practice. But I missed something. God was less concerned about me building my kingdom and more concerned about how I was advancing His kingdom. I left private practice to start Administer Justice to serve the least of these with their legal needs. Over 20 years later, churches, lawyers, and individuals across the country are joining a movement to Administer Justice for those in need.