On May 20, 2013, an EF5 tornado hit the town of Moore, Oklahoma. The state’s Department of Emergency Management reported that 25 people were killed, 377 people were injured, and approximately 1,150 homes were destroyed. Reporting for NBC from the disaster site two days later, anchors Brian Williams and Harry Smith had the following exchange. Williams: “In the briefings today it was apparent there’s FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and then there’s the faith-based FEMA. I counted no fewer than thirty churches banding together and that’s going to be a huge part of the recovery.” Smith: “And as we’ve seen in so many different places in this country, if you’re waiting for the government, you’re going to be in for an awful long wait. But the Baptist men, they’re gonna get it done tomorrow.”
What a testimony to the world to hear Christian churches recognized for their good deeds! The Bible is clear that we are saved by God’s grace, not our own good deeds (Eph. 2:8–9). But in many passages, including today’s reading, Scripture is just as clear that good deeds characterize those who are followers of Christ.
Works are not the opposite of faith; they grow naturally from faith. “Having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (v. 7)—and as a result, devote ourselves to “doing what is good,” not primarily for ourselves, but in ways that are “excellent and profitable for everyone” (v. 8).
Theologian Alex Kirk says that in this context Paul is not primarily talking about giving speeches, passing out tracts, or telling people about Jesus. He is talking about good works in the ordinary sense of doing things that meet people’s needs, like swinging hammers and rebuilding homes after a tornado.