Works: The Spirit vs. The Flesh
by Nancy Missler
I hope and pray that you had a very blessed Holiday Season. Truly, even with all that’s going on in many of our personal lives, and all that’s happening in our country, we still have so much to be thankful for.
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Last month, we continued our study of “faith” and “walking by the Spirit”. We saw how faith is basically a constant choice to follow God and do what He asks, regardless of how we feel or what we think. We also saw how when we “walk by faith,” the fruit of the Spirit is produced.
We looked at the parables of the unfaithful servants in Matthew 24–25 and saw the importance that God puts on being faithful and bringing forth “fruit.” Paul validates this when he says:
For 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…
The question is: What exactly is the “work” that Paul is referring to here? The Pulpit Commentary says:
Work is our fruit. It is the product of our very being … All real work is a growth from a man’s life. The worker will be judged by his work … Just as the tree exists for the sake of its fruit. It must bear fruit or it is useless. God’s test of the great judgment will ignore the fame of popular preaching, the glitter of daring thinkers and the honor of exalted positions. All will be judged on the quality of their work.
“Works” (Strong’s #2041, ergon) mean “toil or labor,” and can have either a good connotation or a bad one. The works that God refers to as “good” in the Bible are those deeds and actions that the Holy Spirit produces through us by His power. The “bad works” that the Bible refers to are those things that the flesh prompts and that are accomplished by our own power and ability. The difference between “works of the Spirit” and “works of the flesh” is not only the motive behind the action, but also the one accomplishing the work (Romans 12:9–18).
“Works of the Spirit” versus “Works of the Flesh”
“Works of the Spirit” are those actions prompted, directed, and produced by the Holy Spirit in us and that will ultimately bring glory to Christ. In contrast, “works of the flesh” are those deeds done in our own power and strength and that elevate us.
That’s the “litmus” test. That’s the defining line—who is lifted up, the Lord or ourselves? The Bible tells us that everything we do must be to magnify Christ, not ourselves.
So it’s not that we do “good works” to earn God’s Love or to earn a place in the future kingdom. We do good works simply as an outgrowth of God’s Spirit in us. Here’s a perfect example:
The pastor of a small fundamental church in Wisconsin had an elderly couple in his congregation who lived on a farm. However, because of their advanced ago, they were unable to milk their cows anymore. It had become far too difficult for them. The Holy Spirit prompted the pastor of this small church to get up at three A.M. every morning, travel over to their farm—many miles away from his own home—and milk their cows for them. No one in the congregation knew about this. We found out only through some friends of the couple.
Now, this pastor didn’t do this to earn God’s Love or to secure a place for himself in the coming kingdom, but it was simply a natural outflow of the Life of God in his heart. The Spirit of God prompted him to do it and he just obeyed.
This is an example of the work of the Spirit that God will reward at the Bema Seat.
“Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works; show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works” (James 2:18). Our faith will be demonstrated by our “good and righteous works.”
Other “Works of the Spirit”
What are some of the other works of the Spirit or fruit of the Spirit that God desires in our lives? It might be doing something godly for someone who has betrayed us, belittled us, or used us. It might be praying for someone who has told lies about us. It might be reaching out to someone who in the past has ignored us or snubbed us. “Works of the Spirit” means responding in a godly way in situations like these. It’s simply doing what Jesus would do.
When we are in the flesh, godly reactions like these are totally impossible. Only through God’s Spirit of Love can we react like this. (John 3:6) Now, we want to emphasize here that we’re not talking about being some sort of a “doormat.” (1 Peter 3:8–9) Remember, God’s Love has two sides to it: God’s Love is not only a longsuffering Love, it’s also a tough Love. “Works of the Spirit” simply means reacting as Jesus would and allowing Him to live His Life out through us. Scripture tells us that God created us for these kind of “good works” which He ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
Again, our motive in doing good works is not trying to earn or work our way to heaven, but simply allowing God to have His way in our lives. When we do this, we will become partakers of His Life, and “fruit” will definitely result.
The following is another example of Spirit-led works: Andrea, a real-estate friend of ours, had just listed a home for sale by a family with two young children and a mom who was eight months pregnant. The home was adorable but the yard was totally trashed, obviously because the mom was unable to pick anything up in her present condition. Her hands were full just keeping up with her two young children and expecting a baby shortly.
As Andrea left the home with the signed contract in hand, she noticed the yard and briefly thought about hiring a gardener. But realizing the suggestion could possibly offend the owners and that they probably couldn’t afford one anyway, she quickly rejected the idea.
When Andrea got to the car, she felt the Lord say, “I want you to help them.” Andrea was also stressed financially, so she quickly thought “no way!” God, however, would not give her peace until she finally said, “Okay, Lord, what do you want me to do?” In her heart, she knew immediately. She went straight home, changed her clothes, and out of obedience to the Lord went back to the little home and spent the rest of the afternoon picking up the fallen tree branches, the weeds, and overgrown bushes, and renting a U-Haul to take it all to the dump. She even bought and planted flowers to replace the old dead ones. That night she experienced the “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
Therefore, “works of the Spirit” are not things we do to earn God’s approval or our own sanctification, but simply things we do out of obedience to God’s Spirit when He prompts us. Our motive in doing these works then is simply the outgrowth of partaking of Christ’s Life, the result being that He will be lifted up, not us.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.