Created For Good Works
Text: Ezra 7-8:23
Proposition: The beauty of grace is that it brings the gift of salvation to us, it awakens us by conscience to see what God has set before us… the consequences of works.
Introduction: A number of years ago the US government set up a fund that was really a response to a number of letters it was receiving. People were writing in and confessing that they had in some way stolen or cheated from the government. So the government set up the Conscience Fund, in 2002 over $12,000 was received. Billy Graham once said , “Conscience is a vigilant eye before which each imagination, thought and act is held up for either censure or approval.” Immanuel Kant observed, “Two things fill me with constantly increasing admiration and awe, the longer and more earnestly I reflect on them: the starry heavens without and the moral law within.” Simply defined, the word ‘conscience’ means, ‘with knowledge’. Conscience is therefore built up by what you have come to hold as true and good. So the adage, “Let your conscience be your guide ”, is not necessarily good advice if the knowledge that it has been built with is poor or corrupt. It’s why Paul referred to seared consciences in those who acted legalistically and forsook faith. We are a people that are born with a sin nature, when the Scripture says, “there is none righteous, no not one”, it is exactly right as it describes the flawed will and state of man in his relationship to God. On the other hand, conscience does seem to begin with a base level of truth, a knowledge of good and evil, of right and wrong. This is that moral law that Kant was referring to and to which Billy Graham acknowledged as the greatest evidence for the existence of God. I don’t think that there would be many who would dispute the existence of conscience but is it possible that conscience has a greater purpose than just the prompting to make the good choice? What if our basic conscience was an enabling to see good for what it is and to see evil for what it is, to be able to distinguish not just between better and best but right and wrong. What if conscience is there to confirm that there are absolutes when it comes to good and evil? If that is indeed the case, what if the purpose of conscience is then not only to prompt us to choose good but also that we would reap the reward of choosing good. In short, what if the ultimate purpose of conscience is that we would do good works that proclaim Who God is and that God rewards people for doing so. Read with me from Ezra chapter 7 to chapter 8:23.
I. Conscience Causes A Prepared Heart To Seek Three Things.
In chapter 7 we are introduced to Ezra for the first time. He is about to lead the second wave of Jews back to Israel. It has been about 22 years since the first group of 50,000 people was given permission from the Persian king Cyrus to return to their land and rebuild the Temple. Now Ezra leads the second wave of about 1800 key leaders, priests and Levites, the agency of God for the spiritual reform of Israel. Have a look at Ezra 7:10. “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, to do it, and to teach the statutes and ordinances in Israel.” Let me suggest that God was building a prepared heart in Ezra through the desire for good, the ability to recognize it and the will to pursue it. That is how God reforms conscience, building it and then fueling it with passion and commitment. In 1 Cor. 8:12 it refers to a weak conscience, in Hebrews 10:22, an evil conscience and in 1 Timothy 3:9, a pure conscience, so Scripture does refer to a reforming of conscience, even a transforming of conscience. The effect of this reformed conscience for Ezra was that he set his heart to seek three things: 1. The Law of the Lord- especially to know the details and commands within the Penteteuch, God’s Laws for life; 2. To do it – Ezra sought to learn obedience, to trust God and submit to His methods and desires; 3. To teach statutes and ordinances in Israel- his desire was to multiply disciples of God by showing the principles and commands of God… in Israel, a distant place, a prepared place. God had prepared beforehand a whole series of events and tasks for Ezra to work in, Israel needed Ezra and God would bless Ezra for the work if he would walk in it. This sounds like a passage from Ephesians doesn’t it, where it says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast, for we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” God reforms conscience to fuel the desire to recognize and do good that we would follow what He has designed and reap the reward for doing so. I like what Randy Alcorn says, “In regard to salvation, our work for God is no substitute for God’s work for us. In regard to rewards, God’s work for us is no substitute for our work for God.” – ‘In Light of Eternity’
II. Through a Good Conscience the Holy Spirit Directs Us Into Acts of Faith.
The Spirit of God prompts Ezra by conscience and wisdom to take ever deeper steps of faith. He sees God’s hand more and more, the king issues this incredible letter of support for his return, the door is opened up for all who would like to return to go with Ezra, the power to govern is put into Ezra’s hands. In 7:27,28, Ezra acknowledges all this as coming from God’s hand. It prompts him to pick key leadership to go with him to Israel. Ezra had this huge group of people to care for as well as the future leadership of Israel, the king had put incredible wealth into his hands, over 24 tons of silver, 4 tons of gold as well as other valuables. The trip to Israel would take 4 months over treacherous terrain. So look what happens next. Ezra assembles all the people for a three day prayer meeting, to fast and seek God’s direction for the route they were to take. But look at 8:22. Ezra had proclaimed to the king that God keeps those that are His and that He is their protector. Having said this he now feels a particular sense of shame that prevents him from going to the king to ask for an armed escort. So would you say that this emotion of shame originates in Ezra’s conscience? Could it be that the Spirit of God prompts this sense of shame which in fact prevents Ezra from obtaining a security force and directs him to a greater step of faith? Is it a choosing of that which is good and moving towards faith and turning from unbelief? Ezra said he trusted God, an act of faith, now there is considerable value and peoples lives at stake, do you still trust God? I think that the shame Ezra felt was that he was even tempted to go back and ask the king to do what he believed God wanted to do. So for three days they fast and pray and ask God to show them the right way to go. Would you say that this was a reckless act of faith or was God using this faith to forge the future leadership of Israel into a place of depending and trusting on Him? God will use conscience and wisdom to provoke you to acts of faith called good works. In fact God has already set it up for you and not only will He prompt you towards them He will reward you for what you do. This week expect that God will nudge you to move in ways that glorify Him. This week you will have an opportunity to gain reward, here and now and even more so in the future of eternity. God will hold you accountable for these opportunities and He will judge us fairly and generously. The intent here is not to prime your bank accounts, it’s to prime your love for Jesus Christ, your understanding of the temporary nature of the moment we have and to make the best use of it and to grow in a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit so that you learn to recognize His voice and method more and more. Let me leave you with these prompts to good works from the Scripture:
Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
Hebrews 10:35 Do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord, no matter what happens. Remember the great reward it brings you!
1 Tim.6:17-19 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
Matthew 16:27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
Ephesians 6:7,8 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.
Luke 14:13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
1Timothy1:5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.