There’s a common understanding and belief that, for Christians, who we are in Christ is more important than what we do. That all that matters is that, in Christ, we are forgiven; what we do after that is less important, if not unnecessary. That any “works” we try to “add” would actually detract from the “finished work” of Christ at Calvary. [See: Law Added to Law Transgressed, Freed From Bondage, God’s Spirit and Obedience and Saved for Good Works.]
It’s like the age-old chicken-or-egg debate. Which comes first: being or doing? Do we do because of what we are? Or are we what we are because of what we do? Can we ever separate what we are from what we do?
Few questions are more intriguing than these! What does God’s Word — the Holy Bible — have to say about this issue? We may not realize it, but the answer has a lot to do with our spiritual health — and future!
Known by deeds
Proverbs 20:11 speaks volumes about the issue: “Even a child is known by his deeds, whether what he does is pure and right” (NKJV throughout, unless otherwise stated).
Don’t we know our own children, or those of others, by what they do? We even give them nicknames based on some characteristic behavior they exhibit. Thus we have (no personal insult intended) Willy the whiner, Mary the meddler, Gina the giver, John the joker — and you can add several dozens to the list.
Some family names even reveal what trade (work) people do or used to do: Smith, Carpenter, Plummer, Thatcher, Hunter, Page, Singer, Taylor, Marshall, Booker, Shumaker, Baker, Cook, Barbers, Painter, Tyler, Gardiner/Gardner, Mason, Tanner, Miller, Piper, Fisher, etc.
Even animals were originally named for what they do. For example, “dog” in Hebrew means “something that barks.” The Philippine eagle is called a “monkey-eating eagle.” And why is another bird called a woodpecker, and another a bee-eater? There’s the animal called anteater.
And what about the tools we use? Screwdriver, riveter, grinder, planer, computer, lighter, can-opener, teleprompter, printer, pasta-maker and sprinkler are just a few among hundreds, if not thousands, of everyday tools which are named after what they do and what we can do by using them.
Named after other features
Of course, it’s not just what a man, an animal, plant or thing does that makes them known to others or gives them their name. What they have (shape, color, size or other distinctive features) also gives them their name. Thus we know of blonde Marilyn, blue-eyed Bridget, bald-headed Simon, etc. We know of hammerhead sharks, hornbills, blue-fin or yellow-fin tunas, swordfish, bleeding-heart pigeons, spider lilies, winged beans, long-nosed pliers, turtleneck collars, etc.
It seems evident enough that what a man or a thing is comes from what he or it does or can do — or has. But there’s one thing more to consider here. A man, animal, plant or a thing is able to do what they do, or have what they have, because they were first given life; they existed or came about through some creator or maker who gave them the capacity to be and do whatever they can.
The issue of origins
It cannot be denied that the tools we are so familiar with did not just come together from some raw materials without some person or persons designing the tools and putting the component materials together. We call that process “manufacturing,” making with the hands (human hands or robotic hands), in such a way that useful tools result. [Even robots are designed by human minds and made and operated by human hands!]
It is ironic that many modern people can easily accept this undeniable axiom but have a hard time accepting that mankind and other life-forms — as well as “inanimate” matter like air, water and all sorts of minerals — had to have a Creator or Maker who caused them to exist. If we believe the Bible, we will find in its pages abundant testimony that there is a God who created the heaven and the earth, and everything in them (Genesis 1:1-31).
To the open-minded, even nature itself speaks loudly about its Creator. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork,” says Psalm 19:1. The apostle Paul declares: “For since the creation of the world His [God’s] invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they [those who do not believe in God] are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).
[For more on the issue of creation versus evolution, click on this link: www.creationsciencetoday.com. Also: www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, choose “Reference Material” and scroll down the Index to the section on Evolution, especially “Evolution: Can Naturalistic Evolution Explain the Origin of Life on Earth?” and “Evolution or Creation?” (UCG).]
Going back to the chicken-or-egg issue — which came first: the chicken or the egg? The Bible clearly says that God created “every winged bird according to its kind [some bird of the “chicken” kind]” on the fifth day of the creation week (Genesis 1:21, 23). God created a chicken — not an egg! God made the chicken so it could lay eggs.
There’s no question about it: as far as creation goes, originally the chicken came first before the egg! But now, we see that all chickens come from eggs. That has been the case after the creation. God created the chicken with His set purpose that it do the sort of activities (including laying of eggs and producing meat to feed mankind and other creatures) that make it known to all humans as an animal or bird called “chicken” (or whatever equivalent in other languages).
It’s a similar situation with mankind’s creation. God made Adam first. Then He made Eve from one of the man’s ribs. But since then, all humanity has been born of a woman (story in Genesis 2-3; see also 1 Corinthians 11:8-12). God created woman to have the eggs that would give rise to the rest of mankind through union with the man’s seed. Eve is called “the mother of all living [human beings]” (Genesis 3:20). All human beings — regardless of race — ultimately trace their origins back to Mother Eve.
A cue from Paul
Regarding doing and being, we can take a good cue from the apostle Paul when he addressed the Athenians: “… for in Him [God] we live and more and have our being” (Acts 11:28).
We live, we move, we have our being — in that order! This seems to be the order of God’s plan for mankind. God has: 1) given us life (physical, material existence); 2) helped us move (do things with our physical life while we are here on earth); and 3) helped us become what we are, or will be, through what we do, how we move in this life.
Isn’t this what life is about? As the saying goes, “Life is what we make it.” We are because of what we do — what moves we make — with our God-given life!
Dead by our deeds
Mankind’s earliest history shows what, since we received life, we have become, what we are — because of what we have done. God created mankind, in His image, from dust which He formed and breathed life into, and found the man and woman “very good” (Genesis 1:26-31). He had instructed them not to eat of the tree He forbade — the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:16-17) — lest they die. But, as the story goes, Adam and Eve — being tempted by the devil in disguise as a serpent — went ahead and partook of the fruit of the forbidden tree. Result? They were cursed and eventually they did die (Genesis 3:1-24; 5:1-5). [See: “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!”]
From God’s point of view all of us sinful human beings are, in reality, dead men walking (Ephesians 2:1)! God gave each one of us our breath of life. But each of us has used that breath to do things contrary to God’s will and commandments. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:34).
Sin is transgressing God’s law (1 John 3:4). As a result, each of us has (or had, as the case may be) the death penalty hanging over our head, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Though physically alive, we are (or were) spiritually “dead in trespasses and sins” as God sees us [or once saw us before we became believers] (Ephesians 2:1).
Eventually all men will experience physical death as well. “…it is appointed for men to die once” (Hebrews 9:27). The only exceptions are those true Christians who will remain physically alive when Christ returns to claim His own. They will be changed from mortal to immortal through the power of God (1 Corinthians 15:50-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).
But, here’s good news to those who believe — and will believe!
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace [we] have been saved) and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places [or realms] in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7).
Through Jesus Christ, we who are (or were) condemned to death because of our sins can be (or are) forgiven and saved from sin’s consequence — death. We are forgiven not because of what we do to earn forgiveness, but what God has done. God forgives us through something only He can do: giving us His only Son as the only worthy sacrifice to pay for our sins. Jesus laid down His life on Calvary’s cross to ransom us from the death penalty which our sins have incurred — and have rightly deserved.
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5:8-11).
A new life as children of God
As John 3:16 clearly says, we need to believe in what God has done through Jesus Christ in order to be forgiven and to receive God’s promise of everlasting life. From being dead, we have been “made alive” with and through Christ! We who believe in Jesus have a new beginning! We have thus become a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17)! We receive new life — a transformed life! It is that belief or faith that transforms us from being sinners to being saints — a new “creation.” [For more on faith that transforms and saves, click on this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong. org, click ENTER HERE, choose “Books & Booklets” and scroll down to the booklet titled “What Kind of Faith Is Required for Salvation?”]
While we were dead in our sins, we were the children of Satan. We “walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air [Satan], the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (Ephesians 2:2-3).
Because all human beings have gone the path of our first parents, who believed the devil instead of God and thus died, we all started out as the spiritual children of Satan the devil, and became children under God’s wrath (1 John 3:10). We lived in disobedience to the commandments of God. We lived a habitual life of sin.
But once Christ has come into the life of a person, all of that changes!
After God chooses to show mercy to us in Christ (Romans 9:15, 18), we have now become His “adopted” children (Ephesians 1:4-6; Romans 8:15, 28; 9:4). [See: Predestination and Are We All God’s Children ?] We were taken away from Satan’s family and now claimed as God’s very own children. And better than adopted children, we are now “begotten” by God the Father through Jesus (1 Peter 1:3), who as “captain of [our] salvation” will bring “many sons [or children] to glory” (Hebrews 2:10). In Christ we have now become a part of God’s household or family (Ephesians 2:19).
Following the model which the apostle Paul said (Acts 11:28), that in God (through Christ) “…we live, and move, and have our being” as Christians, the first thing God gives us is a new life — a new existence — as children of God. The next thing is to “make our move“!
“The proof of the pudding…
…is in the eating,” goes an old saying. Any claim to a great pudding can only be proved by the actual tasting of it. So it is with people who claim to be the children of God — true Christians.
Not only are Christians, as the saying goes, to “talk the talk”; they are to “walk the walk” as well (or not just “talk the walk” but rather “walk the talk”). In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his neighbor” (1 John 3:10).
Practicing “righteousness” has everything to do with obeying the commandments of God, for as Psalm 119:172 says, “…all Your [God’s] commandments are righteousness.” True righteousness is love for God and love for neighbor, which Jesus said comprise the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:37-39). Jesus added that all the Law and the Prophets [symbolizing the whole Bible] hang upon or trace back to these two great commandments (Verse 39). [See: The Law of Christ.]
When we think deeply about the essence of God’s commandments, we will come to see that they all express love for God and love for neighbor. Thus a true Christian and child of God who loves God and his brother will keep God’s commandments. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:2-3). [See: God’s Spirit and Obedience and The Law of Christ.]
The real children of God practice righteous living. They do righteous deeds — good works! “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14). [See: Freed From Bondage and Saved for Good Works.]
Stumbling along the way
Practicing righteous living, however, does not mean becoming perfect all at once. It is, after all, a “practice” — an exercise in righteous living where a Christian often stumbles while walking the Christian walk. A Christian still sins, not as a habit or overall attitude, but when he does sin he comes to genuine repentance and receives God’s gracious forgiveness (1 John 1:8-10). He picks himself up from where he fell and then keeps walking in righteousness till the end of his days. (“…a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again,” says Proverbs 24:16). [See: God’s Spirit and Obedience and The Higher Law of the Spirit.]
Israel’s second king, David, was a righteous man who admitted that his iniquities were “more than the hairs of my head” (Psalm 40:12). Two of the most sinful episodes in his life, although long forgiven, are forever remembered in 2 Samuel, chapters 11-12 and 24. Because David wholeheartedly repented of all his sins, God in mercy forgave him all, and David felt greatly blessed (Psalm 32:1-5). God considered David “a man after My own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Despite David’s moral stumbles, God knew David’s heart — that David delighted in God’s law and sought to obey it devotedly — and thus God regarded David to have had a “perfect” or “loyal” heart toward Him (1 Kings 15:3, etc.). That loyal heart was evident in the fact that “David did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded Him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite” (Verse 5).
Credit for our works
The attitude or heart of humility in David, who — despite some momentary lapses, or perhaps because of them! — depended fully on God, is a model for us to follow. Though he claimed to be righteous and a man of integrity, David gave credit where credit was due. Nowhere is this better expressed than in his words in Psalm 16:1-2, “Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust. O my soul, you have said to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord, my goodness is nothing apart from You.'”
That is exactly as Jesus told His disciples: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
This includes even our will to do what is right. People can take pride in their “willpower” — and take full credit for it. [See: Is There Ever Any Good in Man?]
The apostle Paul dealt with some people in the Church of God at Colossae who had this particular problem. Apparently, some of these brethren had come from an ascetic background, where strict rules and regulations “according to the commandments and doctrines of men” (Colossians 2:20-22) — not of God — were followed religiously and rigorously. The King James Version renders verse 23 thus: “Which things have indeed a shew [show] of wisdom in will worship, and neglecting of the body…” The New King James Version continues that verse differently: “…but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” [See: Barking up the Wrong Tree.]
More than our own willpower, we are to ask God to direct — or redirect — our will in order to truly please Him. Paul said, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure…that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:12-15).
God will hold every individual human being accountable for how each one of us exercises our human will — whether for good or for evil. God will not remove our free will or our free moral agency. He gives us full freedom of choice. As God told the children of Israel, so He tells us today: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live…” (Deuteronomy 30:19; see also Joshua 24:15).
We can choose to submit our will to God — to let our will be as God wills. Then we will be able to obey Him. And, in the final analysis, God gets the credit.
Paul reminds Christians “…that no flesh should glory in His [God’s] presence…as it is written [Jeremiah 9:24], ‘He who glories, let him glory in the LORD‘” (1 Corinthians 1:29, 31). Jesus told His disciples: “You are the light of the world….Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16).
The true children of God — those who truly believe in Jesus — are promised salvation and eternal life. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish [die] but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And “…the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
The process of salvation
Salvation starts with God calling and choosing people whom He will save in this age. [See: Predestination.]
Through God’s grace (from the Greek charis, meaning “gift”) in Christ Jesus, a sinner whom God calls comes to truly realize the goodness and grace of God, which brings the sinner to repentance (1 Corinthians 2:9-12; Romans 2:4). In this sense, even repentance is a gift God grants us (Acts 11:18). It is something we arrive at because of God’s initiative. We can’t work up repentance of and by ourselves. But once God has shown us His goodness, and we believe it, we are commanded to repent (Matthew 3:1-2; 4:17; Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38, etc.) in response to that goodness.
True repentance, as a result of knowing the goodness of God, leads one to realize one’s own sinfulness and one’s own sins (transgressing the laws of God) — how so different we are from a holy God. Repentance is a decision — an exercise of the will — to turn away from sin and to obey God’s law.
After repenting, God’s chosen one follows God’s command to also be baptized for the remission or forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; Matthew 28:19). Baptism is a physical ritual that symbolizes an inner decision to put to death the “old man” (Romans 6:1-6).
Forgiveness — which then brings one to a “righteous” condition with God, a process called “justification” — is itself a gift from God. [See: Freed From Bondage and Law Added to Law Transgressed.] A sinner whom God considers to be “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) cannot possibly have the power to justify himself from sin! Forgiveness has to be a gift from God!
A justified person is thus set apart, from all the rest of sinful humanity, as “holy” to God. This is the start of what theologians call “sanctification” — being made God’s “saint” or “holy one.” As Paul told the once-sinful converts in Corinth: “But you were washed [in God’s Word and in Christ’s blood]… sanctified… justified in the name of Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
After justifying the sinner, God then gives the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is that Spirit that imparts to us the gift of belief or faith (Galatians 5:22). That Spirit enables and empowers us to truly obey God’s commandments, to live a “holy” life. This is the goal of God’s work of “sanctifying” (making holy) His people. [See: Saved for Good Works.]
Next, as God’s people thus remain “holy,” they are prepared for the ultimate goal of “salvation”: being given everlasting life — a glorious, immortal life. Theologians call this “glorification.” God’s Spirit in God’s holy people seals them as Christ’s own and is the “earnest” (KJV) or “down payment” — the “guarantee” (NKJV) of their “inheritance” — everlasting life (Ephesians 1:13-14).
Paul sums up this whole process: “Moreover, whom He [God] predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Romans 8:30).
When we realize that, everything we do (from belief to repentance, to living a life of obedience to God’s law) is by God’s gift through His Spirit, we will see that indeed our salvation — our receiving eternal life — is a gift from God!
We cannot take the credit and glory for our salvation. [See: Is There Ever Any Good in Man?]
Through God’s grace, God grants us the gift of God’s — and Christ’s — Spirit, whereby we truly become Christ’s own (Romans 8:9). [For a Biblical understanding of the relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ, see: The Trinity Doctrine Reconsidered.] We become truly “Christian.”
There are those who think they are Christians — but are Christians only “in name,” not in their deeds. Unless they truly repent, they will not receive everlasting life (Luke 13:3, 5).
True Christians will be known by God for what they do and practice through the power of God’s Spirit in them. Jesus said: “Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day [of judgment], ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21-23). [See: Is Jesus Your Lord — Really? and “I Never Knew You!”]
Paul testified: “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences” (2 Corinthians 5:9-11; see also John 5:26-30).
In the ultimate judgment, “Blessed are those who do His [God’s] commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life [that is, receive everlasting life], and may enter through the gates into the city [the New Jerusalem]. Outside [excluded from the holy city, because they will have been burned up in the lake of fire, Revelation 21:8] are dogs [sodomites] and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie” (Revelation 22:14-15).
John, dubbed by some as the “apostle of love,” also tells us an important aspect of obedience to God’s commandments: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:14-15).
John was, of course, echoing here what Jesus had commanded His disciples, “…that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
On Judgment Day, Jesus will either receive into or exclude people from God’s kingdom on the basis of what deeds of love they have done — or have failed to do — “to one of the least of these My brethren” (Matthew 25:40, 45). Christ’s brethren are those who have Christ’s Spirit in them and who do the will of God the Father (Matthew 12:49-50).
That is why Jesus will say to those who have shown love to His brethren: “…inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Verse 40). Conversely, Jesus will say to those who have failed to show love for His brethren: “… inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these [My brethren], you did not do it to Me” (Verse 45).
Now, it should be made clear that by saying these things Jesus does not want us to be concerned only with His brethren and not with people outside of that circle. We cannot be callous to what’s going on in this sinful, suffering world. In the gospels we see Jesus showing compassion to everyone — whether Jew or Gentile — whenever He had the occasion to show it (see especially Luke 17:16; Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30; Luke 7:1-10).
Jesus, however, did not actively seek out to minister to the Gentiles. He told the Syro-Phoenician woman: “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). It was the Gentiles who sought Him! And whenever they did, He showed them mercy and compassion. He even marveled at their faith — something He rarely found among the children of Israel! [See: “He Marveled.”]
Paul instructed Christians in Galatia: “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith [Christ’s true disciples and brethren]” (Galatians 6:9-10).
It is a matter of priority — first things first. We are to do first the main thing required of us, and then — as the opportunity presents itself — the rest. We cannot be doing something for all the rest while leaving the main thing undone! In the final judgment, what we do for Christ’s brethren is what matters most — and what will last (Matthew 25:31-46)!
People — whether in God’s Church or outside — who cannot get along with the true brethren of Christ in this present life will not be able to get along with them in God’s kingdom either! That is why Jesus will have no place for them in God’s kingdom — unless they repent, whether in this life or in the next [see: Predestination].
If God is calling you to salvation now, I trust that you understand what God alone can do to make you His very own child — and what you should be doing in order to be a true child of God and receive His promise of everlasting life! [See: Are We All God’s Children?]
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.