Understanding the true application of what Jesus stated is vitally important, and far too many people misapply what is meant.
The exact quote from Matthew 16:27 is as follows: “‘For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.’”
This statement is amplified by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
The implication of Paul’s teaching points to how Christians fulfill their calling as members of the body of Christ—the Church of God (compare Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:24).
The Bible reveals the kinds of “works” that are acceptable to God, and these are done in the context of His calling us into the truth. Our reward that will be given to us entails our bearing fruit through the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus carefully explained that we are to bear fruit (compare John 15:1-16).
What kind of fruit? A contrast is drawn between “the works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:19-23. The works of the flesh are actions in rebellion against God’s laws, while the fruit of the Spirit is the outgrowth of obedience to God. Either one or the other of these opposing lifestyles frames our work—the way of this world or the way of God.
Paul challenges Christians to “…be imitators of God as dear children” (Ephesians 5:1). Continuing in chapter 5, he enumerates a different way of living, and he calls those who practice these vile actions “…sons of disobedience” (verse 6). In the next verse he warns us: “Therefore do not be partakers with them.” We find a similar warning to God’s people in Revelation 18:4: “And I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.’”
The kinds of works that are acceptable to God are the same kinds of works that Jesus Christ accomplished (compare Matthew 17:5). What were Jesus’ works?
The answer is found in what Jesus testified about Himself: “‘…for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of me, that the Father has sent Me’” (John 5:36). Jesus also said: “‘…My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work’” (John 4:34). In the prayer of Jesus Christ to His Father that is recorded for us in John 17, Jesus says, “‘…I have finished the work which You have given Me to do’” (verse 4). He continues in His prayer and mentions in both verses 14 and 16: “‘They [His disciples] are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.’”
Yet, while being separate from the world in its ungodly practices, Jesus was sent into the world so “that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17)! Note what Jesus taught: “‘The spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD’” (Luke 4:18-19).
Jesus spoke of these kinds of works when He gave an answer to John’s disciples about Who He was: “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them'” (Luke 7:22).
In considering what kind of works we are to be doing, we see in the example of Jesus Christ that He focused on what would ultimately be of the most help—He preached the good news of the Kingdom of God (compare Mark 1:15). Jesus Christ has also left this instruction for us: “‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven’” (Matthew 5:16).
Our “good works” are focused on preaching the gospel, but we have further responsibilities. Like Jesus, we are to reach out to others in our sphere of contact. Paul states: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10); and: “But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13:16).
Jesus taught that we should consider those in need: “‘When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just’” (Luke 14:12-14).
The application for us is the same as it was for Jesus. His actions were focused on the work given to Him to preach the gospel. In the course of His ministry He was able to help, to heal, to even feed and to give hope! However, Jesus understood that His role was to point people to God’s Kingdom: “Jesus answered them and said, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him’” (John 6:26-27).
Some have mistakenly adopted an attitude that does not follow the true example of Jesus Christ when it comes to their purported “Christianity”: “‘Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
The principle of God’s Word is that we do good whenever we can—that serving others in love is true godliness (compare 1 Corinthians 13:3). Carefully note the following concept as we prepare for the rewards God offers to those who love Him: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
The kinds of works we should be sowing include the following: “‘But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For he is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful’” (Luke 6:35-36).
And, Paul, speaking of the righteous judgment of God, states: “[W]ho ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’; eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality, but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil…” (Romans 2:6-9).
Lead Writer: Dave Harris