GOOD WORKS for Salvation

Matthew 5: 1-16    (NLT)

One day as Jesus saw the crowds gathering, he went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them.

God blesses those who are poor and realise their need of him [poor in spirit] for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice [righteousness] for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

11 God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavour? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

Many folk outside the church say: “I’m fine as I am… I don’t need to change my ways… Life is generally good and I’m pretty contented…”

Others say… “I’m not perfect but I do my best, work hard and try to be helpful to others. Most people would describe me as a decent person…”

A cynic might say… “I know people who go to church and say they are Christians, who are no better than I am!” (And no worse!)

A so-called post-modernist might argue… “No religious belief or philosophy is superior to any other; they are all equally valid

Some religions claim that salvation (going to “heaven” when you die) depends upon your good deeds (‘works’) outweighing your bad ones

But in Romans 4: 2 we read this about Abraham

If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way.

Let’s look more closely at the issue of “good deeds / good works”

Even if we were to strive for God’s approval through good deeds, we would need to be clear what constitutes a good deed

  • Putting money in a charity box?
  • Serving members of your family sacrificially?
  • Assisting an elderly person with shopping?
  • Mowing a neighbour’s lawn without being asked to do so?
  • Protesting against (perceived) injustice?
  • Comforting a bereaved or unhappy person?
  • Paying off someone’s debt?
  • Sacrificing a kidney for someone to receive in a transplant operation?
  • Giving your life to save another? (The ultimate “good deed”)

Good deeds (works) carried out by persons of any religion or none should be applauded… The difference between a Christian’s good work/good deed and a non-Christian’s is twofold…

(1) The Christian is motivated by faith in Jesus Christ that leads to obedience, the fruit of which produces good deeds (works) because faith without works is dead [futile/not real]. So, we have:

FAITH and OBEDIENCE and GOOD WORKS

(2) Christians give the praise to God for every opportunity to serve Him through good works because He and only He is the source of goodness. Thus, faith leads to obedience that produces fruit, which results in praise & worship, which gives the glory to God. So:

FAITH and OBEDIENCE and GOOD WORKS and PRAISE and WORSHIP and GLORIFYING GOD

So, while the deed performed by a Christian and a non-Christian might be identical, their significance as far as God is concerned, is very different, depending on the condition of the heart… the motive… the intention. 

To add to the complexity, not every religion or philosophy or ideology would agree with the examples I quoted earlier. Instead, they might argue:

  • Look after yourself and let others take care of themselves
  • The family is to serve my needs, not the other way around.
  • Ignore neighbours and mind your own business
  • Don’t spend time and energy fighting injustice … right and wrong is just a matter of opinion.
  • Bereaved and unhappy people should simply ‘get over it and get on with it’! Sympathy is for ‘losers’!
  • If people owe money, they should pay up or face the consequences!
  • Look after “number one” And so on…

Many of Jesus’ teachings about loving your enemies, taking care of widows and orphans, and serving without expectation of reward dumbfounded His listeners…it was revolutionary!

  • So today, it is the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that transforms individuals and communities
  • That’s why so many hospitals, schools, justice departments, social services and charities came into existence!

Let’s look more closely at what the Bible says about good deeds

First, Jesus was known for His good deeds (works). In John 10: 32 we read of Jesus speaking to the religious leaders, who were intent on stoning Him…

At my Father’s direction, I have done many good works. For which one are you going to stone me?

Note the key phrase: “At my Father’s direction”… Jesus’ good works were God-focused and God-honouring

So we mustn’t be shy about referring to “good works” for fear that we might be accused of promoting ‘salvation by works’…

Indeed, Jesus commended good deeds (works). Thus, in Matthew 5: 16…

Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. (Note again that the motive for good deeds is not only to benefit the recipient but also to bring glory to God)

So it’s true that Jesus often spoke of the importance of good deeds… but not as the route TO eternal salvation but as the fruit OF salvation! 

We might also note that God’s decision about whether to use a person for Kingdom purposes are not always based on the person’s apparent “goodness”. For example in Romans 9: 11-12:

“But before Esau and Jacob were born, before they had done anything good or bad, Rebecca received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes. He calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.).”

Think of the occasions when God has chosen the most unlikely people

  • Abraham was less than truthful about his wife, Sarah
  • Jacob was a deceiver
  • David was a womaniser
  • Jeremiah doubted God’s call
  • Matthew was a Government stooge
  • John Mark gave up and came home

Even the nation of Israel was chosen by free and undeserved GRACE and not through works. Thus in Romans 11: 5-6:

It is the same today, for a few of the people of Israel have remained faithful because of God’s grace—His undeserved kindness in choosing them. And since it is through God’s kindness then it is not by their good works.

So “doing good” forms an essential element of the Christian life, including its influence on others. For example, in Titus 2: 7

‘And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind’

BUT God’s favour is by His grace and not our works… both for our salvation (which we cannot earn) and (as we have seen) in choosing people for specific tasks.

Jesus made it clear that God is interested in our MOTIVES because outward appearance may be deceptive. Thus:

  • A kind word may be out of a kindly heart OR currying favour rather than expressing genuine concern
  • A good deed may be to benefit the recipient OR to create a good impression

Jesus had nothing but contempt for those who offered money to the Temple treasury to gain people’s approval…but He commended the widow’s sacrificial offering

Our behaviour (through works/deeds, including what we say) is a strong indicator of the validity of our faith in Jesus Christ AND an essential ingredient of a loving fellowship. So in Hebrews 10:24 and in James 3:13

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works

 ‘If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honourable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom’

 Imagine that salvation DOES, in fact, depend upon good deeds/ good works

We would need to know how God would determine the level of ‘goodness’? Are all good deeds of equal worth?

  • Is a single heroic deed equivalent to ten average good deeds?
  • How does the “good deed” of (say) faithful prayer match up against a practical deed, such as cooking a meal for a needy person?
  • Do good deeds for members of your family score as highly as those done for strangers? And so on…

It quickly becomes clear that trying to assess people’s worthiness to inherit salvation by reference to their “good deeds/works” is impossibly complex and absurd!

Note: The same sorts of problems apply to evaluating the “wickedness” of a deed

So even if good deeds were the means of gaining God’s approval, we could never be sure if we had reached the necessary standard… not least because what constitutes a ‘good deed’ to us might not be seen that way by God!

Sadly, some major religions place their adherents in just this state of uncertainty, never knowing whether they have ‘done enough’ to merit God’s favour… How sad, stressful and bewildering for them!

Thankfully, salvation does NOT depend on good deeds or merit points or “indulgences” or doing more good things than bad things … but rather on placing our trust in the Christ of Calvary

However, the way we live… (our works)… IS a “barometer” of the progress we have made on the ‘transformation’ journey towards Christ-likeness.


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