“[He] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).
At the heart of Christianity is the truth that we are forgiven and accepted by God, not because we have done good works, but to make us able and zealous to do them. The Bible says, “[God] saved us . . . not because of our works” (2 Timothy 1:9). Good deeds are not the foundation of our acceptance, but the fruit of it. Christ suffered and died not because we presented to him good works, but he died “to purify for himself a people . . . zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).
This is the meaning of grace. We cannot obtain a right stand- ing with God because of our works. It must be a free gift. We can only receive it by faith, cherishing it as our great treasure. This is why the Bible says, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Christ suffered and died so that good works would be the effect, not the cause, of our acceptance.
Not surprisingly, then, the next sentence says, “For we are . . . created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10). That is, we are saved for good works, not by good works. And the aim of Christ is not the mere ability to do them, but passion to do them. That’s why the Bible uses the word “zealous.” Christ died to make us “zealous for good works.” Zeal means passion. Christ did not die to make good works merely possible or to produce a halfhearted pursuit. He died to produce in us a passion for good deeds. Christian purity is not the mere avoidance of evil, but the pursuit of good.
There are reasons why Jesus paid the infinite price to produce our passion for good deeds. He gave the main reason in these words: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). God is shown to be glorious by the good deeds of Christians. For that glory Christ suffered and died.
When God’s forgiveness and acceptance have freed us from fear and pride and greed, we are filled with a zeal to love others the way we have been loved. We risk our possessions and our lives since we are secure in Christ. When we love others like this, our behavior is contrary to human self-enhancement and self-preservation. Attention is thus drawn to our life-transforming Treasure and Security, namely, God.
And what are these “good works”? Without limiting their scope, the Bible means mainly helping people in urgent need, especially those who possess least and suffer most. For example, the Bible says, “Let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need” (Titus 3:14). Christ died to make us this kind of people—passionate to help the poor and the perishing. It is the best life, no matter what it costs us in this world: They get help, we get joy, God gets glory.
*This is taken from John Piper’s book “The Passion of Jesus Christ,” which was later released under the name “50 Reasons Jesus Came to Die.” Please visit Desiring God’s Website for more gospel-centered resources from John Piper. You can also download a free PDF of “50 Reasons Jesus Came to Die” here.