Episode 46: God's Works | 10 MGJ Devotional Podcast
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Episode 46: God's Works


     Anytime mention is made of “good works” or “good deeds” in a religious setting, someone in the circle finds the hair of his or her neck beginning to stand on end. Someone shudders in anticipation of the age-old debate of faith versus works highlighted in Martin Luther’s reformation discussions and often placed at the foot of Paul and James. Thus, the interaction between the sea-crossing crowd and Jesus in John 6 presents the opportunity for clarification of both the crowd’s question, “What actions should we take to ensure we are working the works of God?” and Jesus’ response, “The work of God is that you believe in the one whom God sent.” (John 6:28-29)

God’s Works in the Old Testament

     God’s works often refer to creation in the Old Testament. This begins to be seen at the end of the six days (Genesis 2:2–3). These creative actions become the referent for worship in the Psalms as well (Psalm 8, 19, 102). Frequently, the Old Testament refers to God’s actions on behalf of the descendants of Jacob as his works. Foremost among these actions are the two tablets giving the 10 Commandments (Exodus 32:6, Psalm 78:7). These activities also include deliverance from the Egyptians and provision during the wilderness wanderings (Psalm 44, 66, 78). When the prophets speak concerning the works of God, the works in mind are often the LORD’s future plans and intents. Isaiah notes how God will act to bring about the return from Exile and how other nations will view them in Isaiah 45. Finally, the works of God are often associated with wonders, activities nearly impossible to understand or fathom (Psalm 72:18, 75:1, 77:14, 78:4, 12, 32).

God’s Works Elsewhere in the New Testament

     Although the concept that our actions–often translated as “our deeds”– matter, when it comes down to being actions with the adjectives good or evil, the discussion of God’s work is seldom mentioned as a direct teaching. Two places provide insight into the concept.

     In Romans 14 Paul describes the challenge faced by individuals from different cultural backgrounds with their distinct cultural practices when they come together in Christ. In Romans 14:19 he notes that “we pursue peace with one another, even to the extent of building up one another.” He follows this description with a word to explain how those who follow Jesus should respond to others in the community of faith who are unlike themselves in many ways. “DO NOT TEAR DOWN the work of God simply because you eat different food!” In this case, the work of God is the uniting of Jew and Gentile within the Kingdom of God, which he has just described as “righteousness, peace, and joy available within the Holy Spirit of God.” (Romans 14:17)

     A second passage in Ephesians 2 describes the “good works” as having been prepared by God, thus making them “God’s good works.” These good works are contrasted with “works” without an adjective, works which do not result in salvation or faith. The “good works” that originate with God define the manner of our living.

God’s Works in the Gospel of John

     When we look at the encounter between Jesus and the crowd gathered around him at Capernaum, one cannot assume an idea about God’s works is floating around in the cultural atmosphere. The words of Jesus prior to the question from the crowd may motivate their question, although it is phrased differently. Jesus tells them point-blank NOT to work for perishable food, but rather to work for food that continues to nourish even into the life of the ages. In the KJV, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life” (John 6:27). He then discusses the fact that God the Father has authorized (literally “affixed his seal to”) the Son of Man to dispense this food to them. The Greek emphasizes God as the primary actor in this scenario. However, the crowd seems to have stopped listening after the beginning word of the sentence because they ask, “What actions should we take to ensure we are working the works of God?” (6:28) and miss the point that the Son of Man is dispensing this food. Jesus thus seeks to point them back to the emphasis on the food’s origin instead of the word “Labour” (the very first word in the Greek in 6:27) which they have fixated upon.

     Jesus provides a direct answer to their question. “Let me tell you what God’s work is, are you ready? Listen carefully! Here it is, don’t miss the point! Believe in the One God sent. That’s it, that’s all there is to it. Did you hear me?” Of course, Jesus’ remedy for their question does not meet the expectations they may have had in their mind based on the miraculous feeding in the Transjordan region the previous day. So, the crowd seeks to dismiss Jesus by bringing up Moses, who had provided food for their ancestors over a 40-year span of time. The discussion centering on the Bread of Life takes on a more accusatory tone.

     What is the Work which God desires for us to engage in? What deeds can we dedicate our lives to that will fulfill God’s plan? Humans left to their own devices devise far too many deviations which only result in perishable, i.e. rotting, food to receive their nourishment from. The Work of God does not consist of creating the world, nor of delivering a people enslaved, nor leading them through the wilderness. The Work of God consists solely of believing the One God sent, Jesus as revealed in Scripture–not as shown on television or in a movie. This simple answer doesn’t satisfy our desire to somehow, in some way, by some means demonstrate that we deserve God’s favor. Therein lies the problem, we can’t!

     God’s Work does not consist of a series of activities, religious or charitable, which we “add to” our existence in order to demonstrate our goodness. Instead, God’s Work recognizes the singular person from whom and to whom and in whom resides the fullness of good, the fullness of God’s nature. Only by committing my life fully to Jesus of Nazareth can God begin to work through me to accomplish his purpose: to unite all those separated from God and from each other under the majesty and reign of God.

Updated August 4, 2022