Why Works Don't Work!
by Jan Austin Antonsson
The Glory Road
April 15, 1998
"But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works: otherwise grace would no longer be grace" (Romans 11:6)
Did you ever wonder why there are so many "Cranky Old Things" in churches everywhere? Well, bless your heart, they are grouchy, cranky, depressed and miserable for the same reason that the heathen rage (Ps 2:1). They are ticked off! They are as mad as an old wet hen, as we say in Missouri. Why the rage? Why the judgment? Why the glum and grumpy expressions? Like the heathen, these folks have imagined a vain thing and believed a lie. The truth is that works don't work! In fact, did you know that good works and evil deeds both come from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and both bring forth death? (Gen. 2:17). That's enough to ruin your whole day. AND, it's enough to make you VERY tired! Jesus said that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matt. 11:30). Haven't you ever wondered what He meant by that when you witness so many Christians wearing themselves out, and ending up in early graves, exhausted by their efforts to serve God? When you have heard it said at funerals, "He has entered the rest of God," didn't you hope that there another way besides death to lay the burden down? Indeed, there is! The good news is that we have died to the law! He is living His life through us (Gal. 2:19-20); He is carrying the load for us. God has delivered us once and for all from the fruit of that tree which caused all of Adam's problems, and ours as well (Gen. 3:17-23). He invites us to partake of the fruit from the Tree of Life: Christ Himself, dwelling within us, who brings forth love, joy, and peace.
Many Christians try all their lives to be good, and to do good works for the Lord. They read the Bible frequently, pray, go to church and take communion each and every Sunday unless, of course, they are hindered from going because they suffer upon "beds of affliction" or from other distress. They give of their means as the Lord has prospered them and do all the other things the elders, pastors, preachers and their understanding of the Bible have led them to think is necessary. "These are all wonderful things to do," you say. "So, why are so many unhappy and worn out? Why don't they have peace?" Because you can't get there from here, folks. Those good works I mentioned here as well as all the other ones Christians press themselves into doing out of guilt, OBLIGATION and D-U-T-Y are the natural man's way to please God, "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned" (I Cor. 2:14).
Christians who enumerate their good works in hopes of getting many stars in their crowns (a myth, by the way, as there's no such promise in all the Bible), are like the Pharisee who said about himself, "God, I thank you that I am not like other men, robbers, evildoers, adultererss, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get" (Luke 18:11-12). But Jesus was not impressed, which is why He said, "Except your righteousness shall EXCEED the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20). Please remember that the Pharisees were not slouches in the good works department! They followed the law to the letter, or thought they did. Yet, on another occasion, the Lord said to the chief priests who were grilling him, "Verily I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you" (Matt. 21:31). Now if that isn't enough to make you cranky, I don't know what would!
Paul spells it out in the 4th chapter of Romans: "If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about, but not before God. What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness" (Rom. 4:1-5). Our feelings about it notwithstanding, not only can you NOT work your way to heaven after you die, but you cannot work your way into the kingdom of heaven in this life either. It simply cannot be done. What the Psalmist wrote about the heathen, Christ will likewise do for those stuck in bondage to law in the churches across this land. The sweet singer of Israel prophesied, "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel" (Ps. 2:9). This severe correction from God is not to kill them, or us, but to bring repentance and correction to them, and to us as well. God's judgments are always redemptive, for when His judgments come upon the earth, the inhabitants of the world, (and the church), learn righteousness! (Is. 26:9).
Counting upon our own self righteousness, our own pride, ego, and control to please God is described by Paul as building upon our own foundation, rather than on Jesus Christ. He said, "Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay stubble: Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss, BUT HE HIMSELF SHALL BE SAVED; YET SO AS BY FIRE" (I Cor. 3:11-15).
The Hebrew writer warns that when we fail to obtain the grace of God, a "root of bitterness" may spring up to cause us trouble (Heb. 12:15). You see those blasted little roots everywhere in churches and in families, don't you? Why? Because works lead to self righteousness, and self righteousness leads to judgment. Let's talk about judgment here. It's a favorite pastime of Pharisees and Christians alike. One passage they use to justify their judgment of others, is I Cor. 6:1, where Paul said, "If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?" (I Cor. 6:1-2, NIV). But wait a minute, here, lest we run off justified in our indulgences, check these scriptures out: "The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment" (1 Cor. 2:15 ). Paul also said to these same brethren that "if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment" (I Cor. 11:31). Jesus admonished, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get" (Matt. 7:1-2). Right after that, the Lord said, "Get the beam out of your own eye, Jan before you start trying to remove the mote in your brother's eye" (Matt. 7:3-5). Sure enough, God has been relentless in showing me those pesky logs in my own eyes. It really compels me to temper any judgment I might be tempted to make with mercy (James 2:13).
Mostly, I really draw back from judgment because Paul said to the Romans, "Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand" (Rom. 14:4). The next time you find yourself judging one for whom Christ died, I would encourage you to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what it is in you that you are projecting out there onto him or her and condemning in them? It is amazing how many times, He has used these occasions to deliver me from my own sins and shortcomings. It is a glorious, though humbling experience! Thank you for your patient deliverance, Lord, for judgment usually wells up from self-righteousness, and Isaiah described all our own righteousness as FILTHY RAGS! (IS. 64:6).
I believe that the root cause of judging and condemning one another and ourselves is that we have never comprehended what God through Christ accomplished on our behalf on the cross. Because of that, we can never rest. We have to continue to work. The 4th chapter of Hebrews specifically explains why the people of God did NOT enter into His rest. It was because of unbelief in the transforming power of God (Heb. 4: 1-2). Of course, before Christ, they could not have had faith because they were under the law, and Paul said to the Galatians, that "no man is justified before God by the law." Why is that Paul? Because, he says, "He who through faith is righteous shall live, but the law does not rest on faith" (Gal. 3:11-12). As you can see, under the Old Covenant, they had little choice but to work. But, praise be to God, the New covenant is based on God's promise to Abraham (Gal. 3:6-9). It rests upon what God will do, not upon what man will do. "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear" (Hebrews 8:10-13, NIV).
The cranky old things in the church and out of it are cross, judgmental, unhappy and tired because they are still trying to live by and conform to an obsolete covenant. Even if they could, it could never bring them the peaceable fruit of righteousness that the Hebrew writer says only comes from the chastening and discipline of the Lord (Heb. 12: 11). Without it, he says, they are not sons at all, but bastards (Heb. 12:8, KJ). Amos says of such people, they have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock (Amos 6:12), which as we all know is a lethal poison to the human body. Self righteousness is lethal to the spirit as well. Though written about the Jews, Paul's evaluation of trying to be good by keeping the law, applies to many Christians today as well: "I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified" (Rom. 10: 2-4).
God will continue the chastening process described in Heb. 12:5-11, in order to transform those who were servants under the law into sons with whom He will share His glory. (II Tim. 2:12). It's the only way. If Christ learned obedience by the things that He suffered (Heb. 5:8), how can we expect otherwise? The cranky, tired old things and all the sons of Levi, which includes every one of us, will be transformed by the refiner's fire and the fuller's soap (Mal 3:2). We may be redeemed from the consequences of the fall on this side of Jordan, or on the other side, but we will be redeemed, saved, and sanctified. That is a promise of the Father! (See Joel 2:32; Jn. 3:16; Acts 2:21; 3:21; Rom. 10:13; I Jn. 2:2; 3:1-2; 4:14).
Paul says that we must quit judging and despising each other (Rom. 14:13). I have been every bit as guilty of despising my weaker brother or sister as they have been of judging me. I hate it when I am unfairly critiqued; who doesn't? Yet, I've done it as well. For a long time I couldn't understand why I have been so quick to criticize others. Then I came to see that judgment and condemnation are fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They are the by-product of living by law instead of by grace, but amazingly, even under the law, God was very clear who was responsible for getting the job done. Read Deut. 9:5-6, where we're told that we'll enter our possession, the promised land, not because of our own righteousness, but because of what The Lord will do, "to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people" (Deut. 9:5-6).
Sadly, some of us are still a stiff-necked people, because we have never fully comprehended what it is that God did for us in Christ. To the degree that we think we have to perform good works to please God, to that degree, we have never understood the Gospel of Christ. By our behavior, some of us act as if His blood was powerful enough to get us saved from past sins, but not powerful enough to help us live a godly life here and now. If we are trying to become righteous by keeping the commandments, then, of course, we will obviously be up tight and judgmental about religion. It is a terrible strain just trying to figure out what the rules and regs are, let alone how to keep them properly. Once I was delivered from that kind of mind numbing legalism, and entered into what grace means for the believer, then I could relax, and so can all the other cranky old things in churches everywhere.
The church and the world says we have "to do in order to become." God says we already ARE because of what He has done. "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2:10). We will rest in His works, which He finished from before the foundation of the world (Heb. 4:3), and out of that place of rest, we will do what we see the Father do (Jn. 5:19), and speak what the Father has taught us (Jn. 8:28). Somehow the church got it backwards when they claim that we'll have stars in our crown representing our good works. In fact, according to Isaiah 62:3, and Zech. 9:16, we'll be the jewels in the Lord's crown, and that's fair, for it is He who is working through us "according to his good purpose!" (Phil. 2:13).
We will ALL get there together, folks, or not at all. Many people have bailed out of the churches and divorced God in the process because of the cranky old gatekeepers and doctrinal watchdogs that hang out in organized religion. Disillusioned, they gave up on God and everything associated with Him. The good news is, that He has not given up on these prodigal sons and daughters (Lk. 15:22-24), or on the elder brothers as well (Lk. 15:25-32). What the gatekeepers and watchdogs forget is that even on the day of Pentecost, the only ones answering the invitation hymn that day were those the Lord our God called (Acts. 2:39), i.e. "the ones ordained to eternal life" were the ones who believed (Acts. 13:48).
Our confidence that we're all going to get there together is not in our own works, but in HIS, for our Father and our God will not rest, sleep, nor slumber until He has accomplished the "restitution of all things" (Acts. 3:21). Paul wrote the Colossians, "He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him TO RECONCILE TO HIMSELF ALL THINGS, WHETHER ON EARTH OR IN HEAVEN, MAKING PEACE BY THE BLOOD OF HIS CROSS" (Col. 1:18-20).
What the gatekeepers and law givers apparently don't realize is that these verses DO NOT CHARGE THEM with the responsibility of accomplishing this incredible feat. No, this is God's job. Trying to do it on our own steam will make any one of us very cranky and EXTREMELY TIRED AND WORN OUT as we've probably already experienced. This is why I love all the old prophets, who foretold the glory of God manifesting Himself in flesh. How do we know it will happen? "FOR THE MOUTH OF THE LORD HATH SPOKEN IT!" (Is. 40: 5). Isaiah wrote, "Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The ZEAL OF THE LORD OF HOSTS WILL PERFORM THIS" (Is. 9:7). This takes all of us off the hook as to HOW the end result will occur, or when!.
Though we each have to work out our own salvation (our path, our course), with fear and trembling, nevertheless, "it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:23-24). Meanwhile, we're waiting for God to complete the work He started, (Jn. 4:34), which He "destined for our glory before time began" (1 Cor. 2:7). By the power of the life giving Spirit, we will welcome and accept each other just the way we are, warts and zits and all, because that's the way God has welcomed and accepted us through Jesus Christ (Rom. 15:7).
We did not have to clean ourselves up to come to God. He took us while we were in the ditch, sinners all, and justified us "freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:23-24). It is on that basis that we are empowered to accept and minister to each other. Together, we can glorify God that He knows all about us; including our sins and failures, and still He loves us. In spite of who we are, what we've done, or how we think, the invitation is the same for all mankind: "The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come,' And let him who hears say, "Come.' And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires, take the water of life without price'." (Rev. 22:17). Come, let us all go into the kingdom of heaven together and dine with the King together.
Jan & Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
The Glory Road
We'd like to hear from you!
This page was uploaded to the web in December, 1999,
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 11/07/08.