The Victorious Christian Life

A Lesson Series for the Earnest Christian

© 2002 by Thomas W. Finley, 2013 Revised Edition

Lesson Twenty-Four: Victorious in Works

“And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations” (Rev. 2:26, NKJV).

So far, this series has not specifically addressed the matter of the believer’s good works, except in general terms about following the Lord. Generally speaking, we Christians think of our good works as our ministry to others, including the exercise of our spiritual gifts. We now pay attention to how the believer can be victorious in this aspect of the Christian walk.

Jesus is our pattern

We should realize that Jesus, as a genuine man dependent upon the Father, provides us with insights on how to carry out good works. Here are some verses worthy of examination:

“Jesus therefore answered and was saying to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and greater works than these will He show Him, that you may marvel.’” (Jn. 5:19-20)

In the passage above we see that Jesus simply did those works which He “saw” the Father doing. The Father was working in Jesus to reveal to Him what the Father was doing, and Jesus simply followed the Father’s revelation and joined Him in carrying out those works.

“But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I do – testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.” (Jn. 5:36)

Here we see that the Father had specific works which He gave to Jesus to accomplish.

“Jesus answered them, ‘I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?’” (Jn. 10:32)

In this verse we see that the works that Jesus did are “from the Father.” That is, the Father was the source of the works. Jesus did not derive His works from His own creativity or initiative; rather, He declared that the Father was the source of His works of ministry.

“If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me” (Jn. 10:37).

Again, Jesus claimed that the works which He performed were not from Himself, but were of His Father.

On the night before going to the cross, Jesus prayed a marvelous prayer, as recorded in John 17. Significantly, He made the following declaration to His Father in that prayer:

“I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do” (Jn. 17:4).

Once again we see that Jesus was not the originator of what He did on the earth. Rather, He carried out the work which God the Father specifically gave Him to do.

With this vivid picture in mind of how Jesus simply followed the Father’s lead in doing good works, let us now look at passages that show such a pattern is to be replicated in the lives of His followers.

Co-workers with God

The Scripture does encourage us to do good works. For example, woman should adorn themselves with good works, according to First Timothy (1 Tim. 2:10). Titus declares that Christ Jesus “gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Tit. 2:14). In Hebrews, we are told that we should “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24). Thus, we see that God wants us to do good deeds. However, He does not want us to do things apart from Him, apart from the working of His life. This is the lesson that we learn from the pattern of Jesus doing the works of the Father.

It is actually freeing that we do not have to dream up and initiate good works “for God” by means of our own ingenuity and labor. Instead, as we seek Him and are in fellowship with Him, we will realize what works God has set before us into which we should enter. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). This verse is a marvelous verse. It sets our mind at ease about coming up with something to do for Him. This is a verse we all should memorize and pray over. I like to tell the Lord that I just want to walk in those good works which He has prepared for me. I don’t care about doing any other works.

There is another verse we should look at on this point. “So, then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10). At first glance one may think that this verse simply encourages us to do good works whenever and wherever, without any need for God’s hand of arrangement in the activity. Yet, this is not the case. This verse is actually a sister verse to Eph. 2:10, which tells us that God has prepared certain works beforehand so that we might walk in them. The key to insight into this verse is seen in the word “opportunity.” There is no true English equivalent to the Greek word kairos, translated here as “opportunity.” The word as used in Gal. 6:10 means a certain period of time which presents a specific opportunity. Even in ordinary life we sometimes realize that we missed an “opportunity” to do something. When we realize this, we know it is too late to do what was possible because the specific opportunity, the right time with the right conditions, is gone forever. We should realize that God is opening up specific opportunities for us to serve others by His sovereign arrangement. When we recognize such an opportunity, it is then that we should do the good deed towards another that is set before us. To help us seize these opportunities, we should be developing an attitude before God to be a “servant of all.”

Not only has God prepared the works ahead of time for us, but He also will give us the thoughts and the desires to do certain works, which are according to His will. “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). “But thanks be to God who puts the same earnestness on your behalf in the heart of Titus. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest, he has gone to you of his own accord” (2 Cor. 8:16-17).

Additionally, God provides the power for us to do the spiritual work He has assigned to us. Paul, who labored greatly for the Lord, stated: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). Similarly, he told the church in Colossae: “And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power [literally, “working”], which mightily works within me” (Col. 1:29).

Our part is to seek the Lord with an overcomer’s heart and practices as presented in the earlier lessons. As we do this, God then works in us His desire to do certain works (1 Chron. 17:2; Neh. 2:12; 2 Cor. 8:16-17; Phil. 2:13). We then simply follow Him in obedience to carry out the deeds He has given to us to do. In this way, we are co-workers with God! Paul spoke of his ministry, which he and his fellow laborers had to the church in Corinth, as a “working together with God.” “And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” (2 Cor. 6:1)

In my experience, God will often initiate a work with just an idea, or subtle prompting. If the task is somewhat complex and will take place over a period of time, God will not usually provide details about the carrying out of the work. That usually unfolds in time as we seek Him in prayer about moving forward with each phase of the assignment. If we agree to take up the task, however, God will be faithful to bring each detail into view as we need to know it. This is the way of faith and dependence. It is also a way of simplicity. Abraham knew that he was called out of the Ur of the Chaldeans, but he did not know exactly where he was going. He responded in faith by leaving that land and God led him one step at a time.

Also, we should realize that working together with God does not necessarily mean that we will have detailed knowledge of every minute action we are to take. For example, when God called Paul to preach the gospel in Macedonia, God not direct Paul like a robot to certain individuals, telling him to go to this person, but not to that person. Rather, Paul went out preaching at every opportunity in the field to which God called him. He did not know in advance who might respond (Jn. 3:8). When he preached to a group of women at a place of prayer, God sovereignly opened the heart of one listener named Lydia (Acts 16:13,14). There may be some occasions, however, when we are in close fellowship with God, that His Spirit may direct us to a particular stranger for some type of ministry.

Often, our field of service is among the very saints with whom we have fellowship. As we seek to live in union with Christ, He will give us a desire to pray or care for others around us in a particular way. We then carry out that service in dependence upon the Lord. Outwardly, our actions of service may seem very natural and normal. However, behind the scenes in the spiritual realm, we are moving in concert with the desires and promptings of the Holy Spirit.

In his helpful book, Secrets of the Vine, Bruce Wilkinson reminds us that fruitfulness for the Lord does not come from making a grand plan for ministry, or by more activity. Rather, it issues from abiding in the Lord. As Wilkinson puts it, God is not calling us to do more for Him, but to be more with Him. As we truly abide in a living fellowship with Him, the fruit will come forth naturally. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me” (Jn. 15:4). This lesson series on the Victorious Christian Life is designed to help you learn how to abide in Him.

Since we need to simply abide in Christ in order to produce good works, it would seem that this statement is all that needs to be said about such works. However, in the Bible, God gives us some cautions and some encouragement about good works beyond this simple plan. The Lord knows that we need these words in order to be sure that we are on the mark in our service to Him. Some of God’s important reminders about our service are covered below.

The purity and the testing of our works

If our works truly come out of our abiding in Him, then these works will be approved by God and we will be rewarded for them in the Day of Judgment. The problem today is that there are many who are “doing things for the Lord,” but seemingly not in union with Him. It is possible to be very busy for the Lord, but not abiding in Him. Thus, it will help us to be reminded about the need for purity in our works, and the fact that our works will be tested by God.

There were many problems in the church in Corinth. The one I wish to focus on now concerns the fleshly way in which the believers there were “building” the church. Paul told them plainly that what they were doing in their way of building was fleshly, that is, something according to the flesh, the old nature (1 Cor. 3:1-4). He then proceeded to warn them about the coming judgment upon the believer’s works:

Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Cor. 3:11-15).

This word warns us that we must be careful how we build, how we work for the Lord. This word of caution provides a check for us to make sure what we do is really coming out of Him. The gold, silver and precious stones can pass through the fire. Thus, these signify works that have God as their source and nature. The elements of wood, hay and straw are consumed by this coming judgment of God. Thus, these signify works that come out of the flesh, the natural man.

The natural man can be very strong and zealous to achieve something, even something “for God.” The “push” in Christendom today for works, without a strong, balancing word urging us to be sure that they are from God, is a danger. Today, there are multiplied ministries with all types of schemes, action plans, and busy conferences aimed at achieving something for God’s kingdom. How much it is out of the energy and resources of the flesh?

All of our work needs to be under the cross, where we agree with God that we care for nothing done out of ourselves as the source, but only for what God has planned and is doing. Only when we are willing to die to all that we are and what we can do, is God able to effectively do His work through us. He does not need talented men and women. He needs men and women willing to die to self, so that He might be everything. All self-effort, all human ingenuity, all self-promotion, all self-interest, all self-power must go to the cross of Christ, that God may be realized. We take this position by faith, with a pure heart before the Lord. We serve in utter dependence upon Him. We do not await, however, any “feeling” of holiness, or special spirituality, before we are willing to move forward in serving God by faith. Thus, we are not passive. We are active in seeking Him, and willing to follow Him by faith, yet it is with the self on the cross and Christ living within us.

One passage that has made a great impression upon me is in the epistle to the Philippians:

But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:19-21).

What are our reasons for serving the Lord? Do they include self-interests, like recognition by others, popularity, financial gain, or our own little ministry empire?

What are our ways of serving the Lord? Do we employ psychology, entertainment to delight the flesh of our audience, messages geared to “tickle the ears” (2 Tim. 4:3), accomplished oratory and persuasive words of wisdom (1 Cor. 2:1-5), mass marketing schemes, etc.? Do we serve in “newness of the spirit” (in union with the living Christ who dwells in our spirit), or do we just plod along in the oldness of the letter of the Law (Rom. 7:6), carrying out “commands” for the Lord?

As we seek to serve the Lord, let us always be cognizant of the fact that the Judgment Seat of Christ is coming and Christ will test our works by fire.

“I have a stewardship entrusted to me.” (1 Cor. 9:17b)

The greatest example of a servant of Christ was the apostle Paul. He was constantly cognizant of the stewardship that God had given to him (1 Cor. 4:1, 9:17; Gal. 2:7; Eph. 3:2; Col. 1:25). He knew that as a steward of the things of God he must be faithful:

“Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy” (1 Cor. 4:1-2).

Many believers do not have a vision of their stewardship, and many are not faithful. This is where we need a word of reminder.

Every Christian is a servant of Christ entrusted with a stewardship. Jesus made this abundantly clear in His parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30), and His parable of the minas (Lk. 19:12-27), as well as in a number of other places. However, it is so easy for us to forget this responsibility. Part of the problem is the artificial clergy-laity system. This unscriptural system tends to make the “laity” think of the “clergy” as the only ones who really have the stewardship and responsibility to labor with God. (For more information of the unbiblical nature of this damaging system, see the author’s booklet entitled, Governing Principles for Building Up the Body of Christ.)

Yet, the fact remains that each of us, according to the parables noted above, has a stewardship. Also, the New Testament clearly shows that each of us has been gifted by God in order to serve:

“And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly” (Rom. 12:6).

“As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10).

Besides the problem of the clergy-laity system in holding back our service, the Lord tells us in the parable in Matthew 25:14-30 that the saints who had fewer gifts were not faithful because they feared the Lord’s expectation of them, and because they were lazy (vs. 24-26). A similar explanation is given in the other parable, where the worthless slave did nothing (Lk. 19:20-23). In the parable of Luke 19, all the slaves received the same portion, signifying the same salvation and new life in Christ. The difference in their productivity depended upon their relative faithfulness to labor for the Lord in faith.

There can be a tendency among us to want to enjoy the Lord’s presence and blessings, but to avoid the exercise of faith and labor required to be a faithful steward. To serve the Lord calls for self-denial (of the way we want to use our time and money, our desire to be accepted by others, etc.). It also calls for an exercise of faith, wherein we seek the Lord in moving ahead in our service in trustful dependence upon Him. Romans 12:3-6 shows that God allots a measure of faith to each, as each one exercises his gift. Paul spoke of “the work of faith” which the Thessalonian believers carried out (1 Thess. 1:3).

To be sure that we are faithful in being co-workers together with God we need to have a willing heart to labor in faith, according to the gift God has given us. We must put away any thought that only certain persons (“clergy”) can do real spiritual work for God. Also, we must not despise the size or nature of our spiritual gift, but be willing to labor with what God has given to us. With such preparation, we can more perfectly fulfill our responsibility of stewardship.

“And let us not lose heart in doing good...” (Gal. 6:9)

There is another hindrance to our being victorious in good works, and that is the matter of discouragement. We are particularly prone to being discouraged when we do not seem to see the results of our labor.

Recently, I read the story of a “New Tribes” (a mission group) missionary couple. The wife related how they had been on the mission field for about fifteen years. Finally, in utter discouragement, she exclaimed to her husband that she was ready to give up because they had labored so long and seen no conversions. Her husband gently reminded her that they had been called to be faithful, even if results were not seen in their lifetime. This story reminds us that we should not base our continued labor for the Lord on visible results, but upon our stewardship, which calls for faithfulness (1 Cor. 4:2). By the way, the missionary story went on to say that within a few months after that talk some conversions occurred and the work started to blossom.

In the exercise of our spiritual gifts, it is not unusual for reaping to happen a good while after our sowing begins. Note the following verses:

“And do not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary” (Gal. 6:9).

“Therefore, since we have this ministry, as received mercy, we do not lose heart” (2 Cor. 4:1).

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).

“Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains” (Jas. 5:7). (Although this verse speaks about waiting for the Lord’s return, it shows the principle of the farmer, who must wait patiently for the harvest after his sowing.)

Conclusion

We should be encouraged that to be victorious in good works is something that God desires for us and has even planned for us. He plans the works for us ahead of time, and supplies us with the spiritual gifts and power to carry them out. We need to focus on abiding in Him in order to be victorious in good works. At the same time, the Bible provides some helpful reminders to us: (1) Be careful about works produced for God from the flesh; (2) Be faithful in our stewardship by not despising our gift, or being idle or lazy; (3) Do not lose heart, but keep laboring for the Lord, knowing that our work in Him is not in vain, but will produce fruit in due season.

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)