What do good works have to do with The Good News?

We’re talking about what is the Gospel, what Gospel work is and how the local church is involved. It’s a twitter conversation provoked by Stephen Kneale’s article here.

Then I receive this response:

“When we separate the gospel (good news) from the word ‘good’ we’re in trouble!”[1]

Now, that’s a snappy little slogan isn’t it? However, I’m not exactly sure what it means. So I ask “Who is saying that?” To which the answer comes back:

“anyone who says ‘good deeds’ have nothing to do with Good News!”[2]

That is even more intriguing isn’t it. It seems to imply that the phrase good news is made up of

–          Some news: which is not in and of itself good

–          Something good: which has to be joined onto the news. The goodness is not in the news but is found in deeds.

I want to follow up on that a little. I genuinely hope that the author did not mean what they seemed to be saying but I also think that there is a little bit of a subconscious way of thinking that creeps in. I’ve spotted two dangers. The first is the assumption that anyone who emphasises the vital work of proclaiming the good news that Jesus came to die for our sin isn’t interested in what we might refer to as mercy ministries.[3] It is worth mentioning that Steve in his article emphasises that he is not denying the goodness of such things. Indeed, we as a local church have been involved in ESOL, classes, advocacy for asylum seekers, food help etc for some time.[4]

The second risk is that we think of the message of salvation as needing to be sweetened and made attractive in some way. We either do that by having lots of entertainment or we do it by front loading with lots of good works. I remember talking with an OM team we had with us, they wanted to give out free cups of tea and coffee outside the building in the hope that would attract people so they could then talk about Jesus, give literature etc. Now, I have nothing against giving people cups of tea, it’s a nice thing to do. We had great fun with the teams doing balloon modelling, face painting etc. We’ve had family fun days, arts days, a Jubilee Street Party etc. However, in my experience people are just as likely to say yes to receiving a free copy of Luke’s gospel as they are to accept a free coffee, cake, or whatever. People who don’t want to stop and are wary of receiving something are wary full stop.

What is more, we need to remember that the Gospel does not need sweetening up. It is good news.

Thirdly, we want to think carefully about what it means to separate good works from the good news.

  1. Throughout history, people have assumed that their own good works will save them. We desperately need to emphasise that in this context good works and the good news are separate.
  2. Liberation, social and prosperity Gospels lead us to believe that the salvation we need is from poverty and sickness. From that point of view, good works are the good news so that other people are saved by my good works. We need to be clear that this is wrong. Salvation is from sin and death for eternity. That’s why Jesus didn’t simply come to heal and to teach but to die and to rise.
  3. When people hear and respond to the good news, they are forgiven. The fruit of their salvation is seen in their new lives. Good works should follow from the good news. Luther talk along the lines of “I am saved alone but that saving faith never comes alone.” Jesus told us to make disciples, baptising them and teaching them to obey all that he had commanded. This means if we are making disciples we are teaching them to obey the command to love God and love our neighbour.

The Good News and good works that follow go together, there is a close relationship but first of all remember that the Good News must come first and everything else follows. Secondly don’t confuse the two.

[1] https://twitter.com/parttimepriest/status/989179236324990976

[2] https://twitter.com/parttimepriest/status/989423572077727744

[3] To be fair, the suspicion probably runs the other way, if someone only ever emphasises mercy ministry then it leaves me wondering when and how they get to talking about sin, the cross, and forgiveness. If I am being unfair on this, I apologise but I do wish people who do believe the Gospel would be more excited and up front about the hope we have!

[4] It’s also worth noting that there is a debate within Evangelicalism about to what extent churches are corporately responsible for these acts of mercy as part of their mission and to what extent these things are part of wider Christian discipleship but not under the corporate responsibility of the church.