Are good deeds—well, good?

Our work reveals the quality of our relationship with God. A fake friendship cannot last.

Jiří Moskala, ThD,PhD,is professor of Old Testament exegesis and theology and dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

Many Christians undermine the value of good deeds due to misunderstanding their role in their walk with God. Meaningful work and acts of kindness are extremely important, but what is their real value? We believe, together with the Reformers and many Protestants, that we are saved sola gratia, sola fide, and solo Christo—by grace alone, by faith alone,and by Christ alone. Yet, good work plays an unalterable, unmovable, and irreplaceable role in the Christian life.

As Christians, we confess that we follow Christ and keep His commandments not to be saved but because we are saved; therefore we obey God and do charitable work out of our gratitude for the free gift of salvation. We can do good deeds only because God enables us to do them. They are the result of His prevenient grace and the work of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:10; Phil. 2:13).

We believe that we are not saved by our works but solely by the works of Jesus, by His victorious, unparalleled, and holy life and death (John 3:16; Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:21). His atonement on the cross secured our salvation, and there is nothing we can add to it (Rom. 3:25; 5:8; Heb. 9:28). He is alive today to intercede for us as the only, all-powerful Intercessor (Rom. 8:34; 1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 7:25).

Because we are saved by God’s grace alone (Rom. 4:5), many people wrongly conclude that good deeds, works, or obedience are not an essential and indispensable part of the Christian life. This is a huge mistake and a misunderstanding (Rom. 3:31; 6:1–4; 1 Cor. 7:19). What is therefore the function of good deeds? Practically, good deeds comprise five crucial roles:

1. Our work is not important for our salvation (our righteousness is like “filthy rags,” [Isa. 64:6])1 but it is crucial for the salvation of others. Jesus underlines: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16; cf. 1 Pet. 2:12), and again, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34). Meaningful actions are mighty instruments in favor of evangelism to fulfill God’s work, His mission, and vision.

2. Our work reveals the quality of our relationship with God. A fake friendship cannot last. Our behavior speaks louder than words as to whether our faith is alive or dead (James 2:14, 17–20, 26). James brings it to the practical level and argues that failing to help people in need proves that such faith is empty, dead, and useless (vv. 17, 20).

3. Good deeds make us pleasant and easy people to live with (Rom. 12:9–21; Gal. 6:2; 1 Pet. 2:11, 12). Our joyful lifestyle must be positive and thus will be contagious. As God is serving, we should serve; as God is unselfish, we should be unselfish; as God is gracious, we should be gracious; as God is forgiving, we should be forgiving; and as God is encouraging, we should encourage others.

4. Good works are important for growing in and maintaining our relationship with Christ (1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 1:10). Daily prayer, regular Bible study,witnessing, fasting, systematic giving, tithing, a healthy diet, stewardship, and involvement in worship are significant habits that help us enjoy a good spiritual life. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), thus cultivating self-control and discipline is a sign of God’s Spirit working in us.

5. Good deeds bring a deep satisfaction and make those who do them happy. Good work not only affects people around us but it also has a very positive influence on us and our feelings and thinking process. Working for others strengthens our own happiness and relational and social well-being. Feelings of gratification and approval are the results.

These five functions of our good deeds reveal our identity—who we are. They, therefore, confirm that we are God’s children. Paul explains that what really counts in life is “faith expressing itself through love” (v. 6). This is why God’s followers are exhorted: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Heb. 13:16, ESV). “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

1 Unless otherwise noted, Scripture is from the New International Version

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Jiří Moskala, ThD,PhD,is professor of Old Testament exegesis and theology and dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

May 2019

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