Titus 2:14 says, "who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”
A rising trend that I have personally seen in many churches is an emphasis on excitement in serving God. The American church, from my perspective, has seemed content to sit on the sidelines and not get involved in social issues. Now we are seeing a rise in missions, locally and worldwide, along with a renewed interest in engaging our nation’s political and social causes. These areas are long overdue for a real encounter with the God and the gospel we proclaim.
But as always, along with the good comes a danger. We see in the Scripture above that zeal for good works is not optional, but when we zoom out a bit and look at the rest of the passage we see an area we could be in danger of failing in.
Titus 2:11-14, says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”
Paul says we “should live soberly, righteously, and godly,” looking for the appearing of Christ, but that we will be zealous for good works. We see that we must strive to be righteous, but that we will be zealous as a result of Christ’s redeeming power and purifying work.
We see where the zeal comes from. We do not make ourselves zealous for good works. We do not stir ourselves like cheerleaders getting pumped for a game. Our zeal comes from Christ’s transforming work in our hearts. With the modern church putting so much stress on young people being “on fire” for Jesus and excited to go out and do good stuff, we must be careful about our excitement. Zeal not built on the foundation of Christ’s work in us will lead to a restlessness that is misdirected and ultimately sinful.
How can restlessness for good works be sinful?
Are we excited to simply “do good stuff,” or is genuine love for Christ our great motivator? We often get so “zealous for good works” our attitude becomes, “Do all the things!” Christ did not do every “good thing” He could have during His time on earth. How many countless lepers, lame beggars, and blind men did He pass by? He only did what His Father directed Him to do: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). We have to live in a stature of prayer and depend on God’s wisdom for discernment to know the difference between His will and those things that are simply good ideas. Obedience to God is not only doing what He commands, it is also not doing what He does not command.
Being restless for good works is not a sin. Restlessness is the chomping-at-the-bit excitement to get out and do something. But if we are restless for any reason other than God’s reputation and the salvation of sinners, then the good works flowing from this restlessness are misguided and in danger of becoming acts of self-righteousness. When we feel this excitement and impatience to get our hands dirty in gospel work, we need to bring our hearts in line with God’s heart and ask Him whether or not we are restless for the right reasons.
How do we know we are restless for the right reasons?
Christ’s work in your heart will make you love sinners and not want to see them condemned. If your restlessness is empty of a real love for the sinners you are ministering to, you can be sure the influence of Christ is not in your zeal.
Christ’s work in your heart will cause you to love righteousness. Not the self-righteous legalism of the Pharisees, but a true desire to see the gospel transform the world around you without bringing you recognition. Jesus illustrates this truth in Matthew 6:16-18 speaking of hypocritical men who fast, who“disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” The purpose of the fast is in God seeing us, not man.
Christ’s work in your heart will give you a desire to see God glorified. This should be the Christian’s ultimate goal in all good works. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). A Christian does not do good works from a knee-jerk reaction to the apathy of the church, nor does a Christian do good works so the world will think better of the church. The reputation of God is the Christian’s greatest motivator.