Christian “Works”—What Do They Include?
“FAITH without works is dead.” (Jas. 2:26) With these words the disciple James encouraged fellow believers to prove their faith by works, by activity. What are proper Christian works?
These are not works whereby a Christian can “earn” the reward of everlasting life. Some first-century life-seekers did think that this was possible by observing the Mosaic law. The Christian apostle Paul, however, corrected their thinking. Under inspiration he wrote: “A man is declared righteous, not due to works of law, but only through faith toward Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 2:16) Imperfect humans simply cannot keep God’s law perfectly and, therefore, are exposed by it as sinners deserving of death, not life. “By law,” says the Bible, “is the accurate knowledge of sin.” (Rom. 3:20) Hence, an approved standing before God is impossible on one’s own merit. This can only be gained in the manner that Jehovah God has purposed, namely, through faith in Jesus Christ as the one whose sacrifice cleanses from sin.
Faith in Jesus Christ also calls for having faith in Jehovah God. The apostle Paul wrote: “If you publicly declare that ‘word in your own mouth,’ that Jesus is Lord, and exercise faith in your heart that God raised him up from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:9) This kind of faith is more than a mere belief in the existence of God. It includes faith in all of God’s promises as set forth in his Word, the Bible. “Without faith,” states Hebrews 11:6, “it is impossible to please him well, for he that approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.”
Note that activity is involved in having this faith. The individual must be one who is earnestly seeking God, wanting to conform to his ways and will. Such conformity affects every aspect of life. The Bible admonishes: “Do all things for God’s glory.” (1 Cor. 10:31) So, while a person cannot through his own efforts earn the right to everlasting life, fine works are an essential part of Christian living. Without clear evidence of proper Christian works, one’s faith would be lifeless, dead.
A person’s faith in God should, for example, be evident on his job. He should be acting in harmony with the principles set forth in the Bible regarding slave-master relationships. We read: “Be obedient to those who are your masters in a fleshly sense, with fear and trembling in the sincerity of your hearts, as to the Christ, not by way of eyeservice as men pleasers, but as Christ’s slaves, doing the will of God whole-souled. Be slaves with good inclinations, as to Jehovah, and not to men.”—Eph. 6:5-7.
What does heeding this counsel require? The Christian should be respectful of his employer, doing what is required of him as if he were in the direct service of God and Christ. He should not loaf, working only when he is under observation. By being industrious, honest and conscientious, the Christian will prevent bringing reproach upon God and Christ. He will be showing that his faith in God has made him a better worker, thereby making true Christianity more attractive to observers.
The proper discharge of parental responsibility is also a proper Christian work. It is God’s will for wives and mothers “to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sound in mind, chaste, workers at home, good, subjecting themselves to their own husbands.” The reason for this is “that the word of God may not be spoken of abusively.” (Titus 2:4, 5) Husbands and fathers are urged in the Scriptures: “Let each one of you individually so love his wife as he does himself.” (Eph. 5:33) “Do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Eph. 6:4) Men and women who live as God’s Word directs are doing works of faith. They show that they believe that God exists and that what he has outlined in his Word is truly beneficial.
CONCERN FOR FELLOW HUMANS
Furthermore, when a person imitates God in his dealings with fellowmen in general, he is engaging in proper Christian works. Jehovah God is kind and generous even toward thankless humans, permitting them to benefit from the sunshine and the rain. (Matt. 5:44, 45) He even took the initiative in laying the basis for sinful humans to come into an approved relationship with him. This he did at great cost to himself, giving his only-begotten Son for the world of mankind.—John 3:16; Titus 3:4-7.
In harmony with what Jehovah God has done, the Christian should treat others with kindness, being concerned about their welfare. That means, as Galatians 6:10 encourages, ‘working what is good toward all.’ To the extent possible, the devoted servant of God should be willing and eager to come to the aid of those in real need. He would, however, want to avoid showy display, following through, instead, on Jesus’ recommendation: “When making gifts of mercy, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, that your gifts of mercy may be in secret; then your Father who is looking on in secret will repay you.”—Matt. 6:3, 4.
THE VITAL WORK OF PREACHING
One of the finest ways to help fellowmen is to impart to them understanding regarding what God requires of those who would become his approved servants. Christians are, in fact, under command to do this. “Go,” said Jesus, “and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”—Matt. 28:19, 20.
What did first-century Christians do to fulfill this command? They seized the opportunity to share the “good news” with their relatives, acquaintances and all those whom they met. But they did not limit their activity of preaching to persons with whom they would normally communicate. Otherwise, how could they have been charged with ‘overturning the inhabited earth’? (Acts 17:6) Obviously there was a zealous, concerted effort to ‘fill Jerusalem’ and other cities with their teaching. (Acts 5:21, 25, 28, 42; 8:4-6; 13:5, 14-16; 14:1; 16:13, 14; 17:17-21) Yes, early Christians took the initiative to reach as many people as possible with their lifesaving message.
Often public preaching in synagogues or marketplaces served to locate interested persons. When these individuals embraced Christianity, they would extend hospitality to the proclaimers of God’s message. This resulted in a fine spiritual benefit for these new believers, for they continued to be taught in their own homes.—Compare Acts 16:15, 32-34; 18:6, 7.
The then existing custom did not permit women to teach publicly in synagogues and marketplaces. However, since believing women were present when the men taught, they could take note of persons who were manifesting interest. Then, in cooperation with their husbands, they shared in teaching even men. For example, when Aquila and his wife Priscilla heard Apollos speaking in the synagogue at Ephesus, “they took him into their company and expounded the way of God more correctly to him.” (Acts 18:26) Individually, these believing women doubtless also took the initiative to approach other women, providing further information about what had been discussed publicly by the men.
As long as Christianized Jews were permitted to speak in the synagogue, they would go there every Sabbath. (Acts 17:1-4) This enabled them to preach the “good news” to the entire Jewish population of a particular village or city. And, by regular public witnessing in the marketplace, the rest of the population could be reached with the vital Christian message. Because of such public activity, traveling merchants and visitors would also learn about the “good news.” Similarly, when Christians traveled elsewhere, they would share their beliefs with others. As a result, just one congregation of believers could make known the truth far and wide throughout an entire country.
Note what the apostle Paul said in this regard about the congregation at Thessalonica. “From Thessalonica the word of the Lord rang out; and not in Macedonia and Achaia alone, but everywhere your faith in God has reached men’s ears. No words of ours are needed, for they themselves spread the news of our visit to you and its effect: how you turned from idols, to be servants of the living and true God, and to wait expectantly for the appearance from heaven of his Son Jesus, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus our deliverer from the terrors of judgement to come.”—1 Thess. 1:8-10, The New English Bible.
PUBLIC “WORKS” TODAY
But how can a congregation of true Christians today become well known like the congregation at Thessalonica? Clearly, more is involved than just speaking to relatives, acquaintances and others whom one might happen to meet. This, of course, should be done and is an important way to spread the “good news.” Additionally, however, as did Jesus Christ and his first-century followers, Christian witnesses of Jehovah today should take the initiative to proclaim God’s message to others. In some lands, much preaching can still be done in public areas—plazas and marketplaces. However, even there the kind of public discussion that was carried on in the first century is practically unknown. Much of such preaching in public areas now takes the form of presenting The Watchtower and Awake! to passersby, or of discussions with small groups and individuals. It is usually not the means by which the majority of the inhabitants in a particular village or city can be reached.
How, then, can a more thorough witness be given? The experience of Jehovah’s Witnesses for more than 50 years has amply demonstrated that the answer is—REGULAR HOUSE-TO-HOUSE VISITATION. Hence, in those parts of the world where house-to-house preaching is possible, all who are physically able to share in it would surely want to set aside time for it each month. House-to-house preaching continues to be the means by which thousands upon thousands are yearly introduced to the Bible’s message and helped to become disciples of Jesus Christ. Moreover, it aids the faithful Witness to cultivate and maintain humility after the pattern of the Master.—John 13:15, 16.
All the other proper Christian works, including fine personal conduct, give substance to the vital work of preaching and disciple-making. They prove that true Christianity leads to a happy, meaningful and contented life even now. Moreover, the work of preaching and disciple-making shows to others that one’s being a good worker, a helpful neighbor and a loving husband and father, or a loving wife and mother, must be attributed to one’s faith in God.
Truly there are many proper Christian works. These are not works done with a view to “earning” the reward of life, as if thereby God “owed” it to us. Rather, they are works of faith, proving that one believes that Jehovah God exists and that he rewards his servants. If we have real faith in God as a rewarder, others should be able to see our faith at work in our conforming to his ways and will in all our conduct and in our zealously proclaiming his message to fellowmen. When there is clear evidence of such proper works, a Christian’s faith is not dead, but alive, active.