In some circles of Bible study, it appears that the possibility that the word “works” can refer to different categories or types of works has never been honestly and fairly considered. This is an unwise and unScriptural approach.
As noted previously (see yesterday’s blog), the first ten verses of Hebrews four do not make any sense if the word “rest” refers to exactly the same thing. From the obvious context clues, this word is used in reference to three different rests of God: 1) The cessation of creation which began on the seventh day of human history (v. 4); 2) The rest which Joshua and his generation enjoyed in the land they had conquered (vv. 3, 5); and 3) The eternal Sabbath-rest of heaven that belongs to God’s faithful (vv. 1, 8-11). This passage is proof positive that a Bible word can refer to different things.
The New Testament word “works” is also like this. It is used in reference to: 1) Works of merit which presume that God becomes our debtor once they have been performed (Luke 10:25, 18:11-12); 2) Works of the law of Moses which presumes God is obligated to recognize and accept the same practices under the law of Christ (Galatians 2:16); and 3) Works of obedience which demonstrate an active, trusting faith in God (James 2:14-26).
Without a recognition of the fact that “works” can refer to different categories or types, many mishandle God’s word where it reads: “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” (Ephesians 2:8-9).