There are a number of churches and denominations (outside the Church of God) which profess to be Christian, but who think that the Gospel message is one of social relevance, doing good deeds, feeding the poor, making a social impact, changing the political scene, and so on.
In our collective quest over the last few years to recapture the truth and make it our banner, some of us have tended to exalt "having the truth" as being an end in itself. When that happens, there is a tendency to think, "We have the truth, those other churches (Catholics and Protestants, for instance, or possibly other former churches of God) don't have the truth. God called us, and we know the end from the beginning better than they do." It's a gratifying feeling, but when that happens, there's a danger that other aspects of our Christian life may fall by the wayside.
Having the truth is indeed a matter of paramount importance in our religious life. But it's not the only thing.
We might ask the question, "Those denominations which don't have the truth of the Bible, as we know it, but go around doing good works instead, are they examples of the true New Testament Church of God?"
Christ answers: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Matt. 7:21) "And in vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men..." (Mark 7:7-8).
These and other scriptures show that having the truth of God, obeying the commandments of God, and desiring to live the life of a child of God, is what will help us make it into the first resurrection. All the good deeds in the world won't save us.
We understand about having the love of the truth, living by every word of God, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and so forth (2 Thes. 2:10; Matt. 4:4; 5:6). So we know that when we hear the question, "Those denominations which don't have the truth of the Bible, but go around doing good works instead, are they examples of the true New Testament Church of God?", the answer is no. We can't even consider any group to be "in the church" unless they know and live by the truth of God.
We know that no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws them (John 6:44); and in order to do that, the Father must first open their minds to understand the truth. There are churches or denominations which only do good deeds, because they think that's what Christianity is, because God hasn't as yet given them a knowledge of the truth. Those churches can't be a part of the work we've been called to.
This isn't to say that they're not good people, or that they're not God's people, or that they're not seeking God with their whole hearts, or that they're doomed. They just aren't called yet. We should remember that we were called ahead of the rest, not instead of the rest.
It's the Father's responsibility whom He will call, and when He will call them. Until that time, they can't come to Him! And the Father decides when that time will be. And He does this out of love, and mercy, and compassion for the people involved.
That was a short answer to a long question. But if we stop there, we'll miss a vitally important area of understanding. There's a flip side to this question, which is occasionally overlooked. Having the truth is not enough!
What About Works?
If having the truth is what marks a group as being truly Christian, truly called by God, rather than a group that doesn't have the truth but emphasizes doing good works, does that mean that the true church of Godthe one that has the truthdoesn't have to do good works?
There's a temptation to ask, "If good works don't save us, why should we do them?" That's like asking, "If we aren't saved by our righteousness, if our law-keeping doesn't save us, then why be obedient?" Does that sound familiar? That's the new theology over at the large church body from which many of us have recently departed.
But what about good works? If they don't save us, why do them? Christ also told us, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).
According to this, we're not excused from doing good works. We need to be a shining light, showing forth good works, so that men would glorify God who otherwise would not glorify God; but they will glorify God, because they have seen what God can do through us!
It's not for our own salvation at all!
Peter makes a similar statement in 1 Peter 2:12: "having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation."
The true church is to do good works; not for our salvation, but as one of the signs to show others where the true church is.
What about the word "works" in the Bible? Is it some esoteric term with all sorts of spiritual meanings?
When the New Testament talks about works, or doing a work, it's usually using the Greek word ergon, which means: business, employment, anything accomplished by hand, an act, a deed. In the KJV, ergon is translated as "work" 152 times, and as "deed" 22 times. In science and physics, ergon, or the erg, is a unit of energy usage, when something does work, expends energy, burns calories, uses electricity, or moves an object. We get words from ergon such as "ergonomics," the study of the workplace.
So when the Bible says "work" or "works," it's a literal translation, in most cases, of the word ergon. It's not a big, fluffy religious concept. It's what you do. It's how you live.
There are all sorts of works. The New Testament talks about good works (2 Thes. 2:17; 1 Tim. 5:10; 2 Tim. 2:21), the work of God (John 6:29; Rom. 14:20), the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58; 16:10), the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:12), the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5), the work of faith (2 Thes. 1:11).
It also talks about evil works (2 Tim. 4:18), wicked works (Col. 1:21), works of the law (Rom. 9:32; Gal. 2:16; 3:2,5,10), works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19), the unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:11), dead works (Heb. 9:14), and so forth.
God has works. The heavens are the work of His hands (Heb. 1:10). He set man over the works of His hands (Heb. 2:7). Ancient Israel tempted God and saw His works for 40 years (Heb. 3:9). He rested the seventh day from all His works (Heb. 4:4). And, best of all (from our standpoint), God has begun a good work in you, and He intends to see it through (Phil. 1:6).
We should walk in good works (Eph. 2:10), have godliness with good works (1 Tim. 2:10), be rich in good works (1 Tim. 6:18), show a pattern of good works (Tit. 2:7), be zealous of good works (Tit. 2:14), learn to maintain good works (Tit. 3:8,14). Paul speaks of our work of faith and labor of love (1 Thes. 1:3).
All these and more are translated from the Greek word ergon. We are required to do a work, both individually and collectively, as a church.
And yet, we were called, not because of our good works, but because of God's purpose and grace (2 Tim. 1:9). God's kindness and love appeared, not because of our works of righteousness, but because of His mercy (Tit. 3:4-5).
In Romans chapter 4, Paul is talking about a different kind of "work," by which one could earn one's own salvation. But Paul reassures us that God imputes righteousness to us without those kinds of works (Rom. 4:1-8)!
And yet, Paul tells us that evil men will be judged according to their works (2 Cor. 11:15; 2 Tim. 4:14). In Revelation 20:12-13, the dead will be raised, the books will be opened, and men wll be judged according to their works. And you'll recall that judgment is already on the house of God (1 Pet. 4:17).
James writes about faith that does not have works, and he indicates it's dead on arrival. James tells us that faith helps works, and that faith is made perfect by works. He tells us that man is justified by works, and not by faith only. James mentions Abraham and Rahab as examples of people who were justified by the right kind of works (James 2).
So we can see that, although our works don't save us, God expects us to do good works. If we don't do any good works, as the Bible defines them, there's a possibility that we could sleep right through the first resurrection.
Yes, truth is important. The scriptures tell us that we must have sound, secure, firm, steady doctrine, and hold to the traditions of the elders (that is, the first century apostles). There is no doubt that if we don't have the truth, we aren't God's church. But having "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," is not enough.
We have always understood that people usually aren't able to understand the truth of the Bible unless God calls them. Although we never would have thought so a few years ago, now it becomes important to ask, "Is it possible to have the truth and yet be unconverted?" We might suspect that's the case with some people we've known for years, leading people, teachers, ministers, people we used to look up to as pillars, who have disappointed us mightily in recent years.
What's been missing all these years? Why have so many failed?
We need to have the truth. We must also have good works. But in addition to that, we must have love. In Hebrews 10:24, we are told, "And let us consider one another in order to stir up [both] love and good works."
Let's look briefly in the writings of the apostle John, who is known as the apostle of love, and also as the apostle of truth. In addition to the many times John wrote about the truth, he also wrote several times in his epistles that we are to love one another (1 John 3:11,23; 4:7,11-12,20-21; 5:2; 2 John 5). In his gospel, John quotes Christ as saying, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).
We can see that, like having the truth, and like doing good works, having love for one another is a sign that this is the true church. All three aspects must be present in our Christian lives. To only do good works, and have lots of love, but not to have the knowledge of God's truth, is not sufficient. But likewise, to know the truth, but not show forth God's love in good works, is also not appropriate.
And to know the truth of God, and yet hate a brother or sister in Christ, or speak evil of other members of Christ's body, is worse yet. Anyone doing that is being disobedient, and violating a clear sign of who is a true disciple! Such a person may not be a true disciple of Christ!
Galatians 5:22-23: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control."
A few years ago, a false minister said, "Notice, 'truth' isn't even mentioned as a fruit of the Spirit." Of course not; "truth" is an abstract concept; the list of fruits is a list of personality characteristics and qualities.
But to have the truth without having the fruits of the Spiritsuch as love, kindness, gentleness, self-controlindicates that such a person may not have the Spirit at all!
Ephesians 4:15 says, "but, speaking the truth in love, [we] may grow up in all things into Him who is the headChrist." Wouldn't it be ghastly for someone to speak the truth without love? Would it even be possible to "grow up," to spiritually mature, under such circumstances? Does any child thrive in a loveless environment? Can any Christian be expected to thrive in a loveless environment?
Jesus said, "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matthew 22:37-39).
Do you love yourself? It's okay to love yourself. But you have to love your neighbor as much as you love yourself! And I think Christ has made it abundantly clear who our neighbor is (Luke 10:29-37), and that we can't just shut off or judge another member of the body.
Romans 14:4: "Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand." And if God is able to make him standmaybe now, maybe laterwho are we to judge him now?
Ray Stevens, the comedian, has a funny song called "Mississippi Squirrel Revival," about the time a squirrel was running around loose in church during services at the First Self-Righteous Church. The squirrel would run up various people's legs, and they'd jump up and yell like a good old Pentecostal. The squirrel scampered over to the "Amen Corner" and ran up the dress of Sister Bertha Better-Than-You; she jumped up and confessed all sorts of things! It was a hilarious song, but it had a point. The idea of the First Self-Righteous Church, and Sister Bertha Better-Than-You, have stuck with me ever since I heard that song. They're a good object lesson.
We can read more about this subject in the "love chapter."
1 Corinthians 13:1: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels [with all the oratory skills it's possible to have], but have not love, I have become as sounding brass [a trumpet, used to call out very simple signals to alert people, but can't say any words] or a clanging symbol [just a big noise]."
Verse 2: "And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge [all the truth, all the really detailed information in the Bible], and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains [even to the point of working miracles!], but have not love, I am nothing."
Verse 3: "And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor [there's a good work], and though I give my body to be burned [another good work, martyrdom], but have not love, it profits me nothing."
If we don't have love, it profits us nothing! It doesn't do us a bit of good! None of it does! Not truth, not good works, not being called, not all the righteousness (or self-righteousness) we can muster! Without a pure, sincere, unfeigned love of the brethren, it's all just playing church!
Not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom, but whoever does the will of the Father (Matt. 7:21-23). And what is the Father's will?
Micah 6:8: "He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy [that is, to forgive your fellowman every chance you get], and to walk humbly with your God?" In other words, don't get the big head and think you're proudly walking shoulder-to-shoulder with the Father and Christ.
This should be our goal and objective in our congregational life: "Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere [margin: unhypocritical] love of the brethren, love one another fervently, with a pure heart" (1 Peter 1:22).
This is God's apostle talking. "Love one another fervently, with a pure heart." Not just if they live up to our ideal. Not just if they meet with our approval.
1 John 3:18: "My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth." Here are all three of these factors together in the same verse: the truth, deeds (ergon), and love (agapao). We must loveagapaoin worksergonand in truth.
This is how we can know if we are examples of the true New Testament Church of God. Do we have both the truth and love? And do we show it in good works? If we do, then the apostle John says to us, "Grace, mercy and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love" (2 John 3). &
Jack Lane first came in contact with the Worldwide Church of God during the 1960s. He can be reached on CompuServe at 103262,125.