Scripture undoubtedly has its share of weighty doctrinal paradoxes. It also has straightforward commands and principles that we tend to bypass. It’s perplexing to me how we can vigorously debate the finer points of theology yet ignore something as rudimentary as how Jesus frames our good deeds.
A Simple Principle
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6 is crystal clear. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). Despite this simple principle, how do most churches respond? By posting their good deeds on social media for the world to see.
What exactly goes into our thinking that broadcasting our good works in this manner doesn’t fall within the purview of this biblical principle? We lambaste politicians or celebrities who do good deeds merely for a photo-op yet don’t hesitate to market our good deeds. It fails to understand the true nature of good works.
Back to the Source
We must understand good works in the context of God’s motivational and practical provision. 2 Corinthians 9:8 reminds us of who supplies all that is needed for every good work. When our hands perform good works, we must remember whose hand is at work providing the means and the desire to serve our neighbor.
2 Corinthians 9:12-15 points out the connection between good works, overflowing in many thanksgivings to God, our confession of the gospel, and the surpassing grace of God. It is an inexpressible gift! That gift impacts our hearts and hands to serve others not for recognition but out of the overflow of God’s rich mercy and blessings.
Not by Works
Despite our penchant to work ourselves into God’s good graces, we are utterly incapable and desperately dependent. Even the very best we could offer is insufficient (Ecclesiastes 7:20, Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:9-18). This reality isn’t easy to accept, and it incessantly tries to place the responsibility and weight of redemption on our shoulders.
Our salvation is not by works (Romans 3:28, Ephesians 2:8-9, Galatians 2:16). Our sanctification is not by works (Philippians 2:12-13). Our good works are not by works. It is all by faith through grace.
The Fruit of Faith
Our good works are the fruit of faith. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that Christ created us for good works that God prepared beforehand. James 2:14-26 calls for a living faith that produces fruit. It actively clings to Christ, and the Spirit transforms our hearts to offer more than kind words to those in need.
When we serve others, we do not do so from the natural inclination of our hearts or ultimately from our storehouses. We are those so blessed by the Father, so moved by the Spirit, and so connected to the Son’s death and resurrection that we bless others from the infinite storehouse of God’s grace.
Perhaps we imagine that our good works are the fruit of our labor. Maybe we think that technology can help us spread the goodness of our good works. We may believe that doing good is the way to progress in our Christian lives.
Such notions forget God’s role in supplying all we need and changing our desires. They also tend to lapse back into justification by works. More directly, those notions disregard Christ’s direct exhortation in Matthew 6 and presume that we can reach more people by marketing goodness than God can through faith and grace.
What good works? God accomplishes the good works through us in service to our neighbor by moving upon our hearts through the Spirit and providing all the means to accomplish His will to bless others. Jesus’ rebuke of practicing righteousness before others is hard to hear and heed because we struggle to believe the simplicity of faith and its fruit.
Calvinist Picard is a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies graduate and currently about halfway through a Ph.D. in Leadership program. He has worked in education and ministry in various roles for just a little over a decade. Follow him on Twitter at @CalvinistPicard and on Facebook at CalvinistPicard.