William G. Bass was engaged in a meeting with a local church, working in the neighborhoods of a small town in southeastern Florida. He and I had been asked by someone (and my, how you never seem to know just who) to find time to visit a recent convert who had been worshipping with a digressive group in town, seeking perhaps an encouraging word.
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.
Paul in Galatians six, in the middle of a call for the Christians there to continue in good works, unleashed a warning and defined a universal truth. You will not receive anything contrary to what you pursue; worldly practices will lead to corruption while spiritual pursuits will lead to everlasting life. How he introduced this application is interesting, as it seems at first to have little to do with works of any kind.
He warns not to allow ourselves to be tricked, that God will not be ridiculed; and that as we live and do, so will we be rewarded. His intent is that both they and then we should know that this is applied without exception (as I believe are all things that God has given us).
What we may think is good, whether done by either good intentions or for other motives, where out our own design, rather than through an interest in doing as we have been commanded, does not carry the sanction of heaven. Fleshly works won’t make the cut. We can do nothing of our own volition or out of our own understanding to gain salvation for ourselves. No work without faith guiding it can amount to any good before God. James wrote, Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. But it seems even with that not just any works will do. It appears that the performance of good works is not a matter so much for our choosing, as it is a matter of discerning and then doing what God would have us to do. God has ruled as to what constitutes a fleshly pursuit or a spiritual practice. One of the most controversial of scriptures supplementing this point is found in Ephesians chapter two, verse four through ten. While much has been stated about the apostle’s intent there, the last sentence in the paragraph has been altogether ignored by commentators and scholars alike.
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 you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places 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. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Paul here and elsewhere states that works of the Law or of some imposed notion of what constitutes godly works, cannot act to save anyone. Things don’t and can’t save of themselves. We can’t save ourselves without following Christ, no matter what we may do. Yet work must clearly be done. And God will suffice to do his work by and through our faith. Those good (and dare we say faithful) works we are to be about are those identified and chosen by God, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. In this instance, it seems God made the choices, not us. For me at least, that removes many obstacles imposed by others, not the least of which is the caveat some would mistakenly apply by calling immersion a work. While I choose to serve God, I do not apparently have license to choose the mode or particulars of that service. The Son of God and his Apostles have left record of all that in detail sufficient to my salvation.