by Rev. Tim Pauls
Is being an all-around nice person good enough for God?
As Christians, Jesus is at the center of everything we do.
Let’s say that you’re a multibillionaire and all-around nice person, and you’ve dedicated your life and fortune to helping others. You’ve built orphanages and infrastructures. You’ve paid for surgeries and scholarships. You’ve refused any sort of recognition for all that you’ve done, and you’ve done a lot. But are these good works before God?
The answer is that it depends on whether or not you do these things in faith. Consider this: If you’re not doing these things in faith, you’re not doing them in service to God. That means you’re doing them in service to another god instead, because everything you do is in service to something or someone. It may be that you do them to honor a different god of a different religion. It may be that you do them because you mistakenly think that you’re earning God’s love, perhaps because you’re trying to make up for past sins. It may be that you do them because you deny that there is a god at all so that it’s left to us to keep the world turning.
Apart from faith, your works aren’t in service to God, whether you’re the multibillionaire or whether your work is rebuilding an entire nation after a tsunami or packing your daughter’s lunch for school. If what you do isn’t done in faith, then it’s in service to a false god, no matter how helpful it is to others.
That’s why, in the Formula of Concord, the Lutheran Confessions say,
These works are commendable before the world and rewarded by God in this world with temporal blessings. Nevertheless, they do not come from true faith. Therefore, in God’s sight they are sins, that is, stained with sin, and are regarded by God as sins and impure because of the corrupt nature and because the person is not reconciled with God. “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit” [Matthew 7:18], as it is also written, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). A person must first be accepted by God, for the sake of Christ alone, if that person’s works are to please Him” (SD IV 8)(emphasis added).
Works without faith are dead. This is why Jesus is at the center of everything we do. On His way to the cross, the Savior lived a perfect, sinless life; everything that He did was a good work before God. Along with His death, His life was for you too. Risen again, He takes away your sin and gives you credit for His holy life; for Jesus’ sake, you appear before God as holy and sinless. He cleanses your works of the sin that clings to them, so your works are now good and holy before God.
For Jesus’ sake, you’re righteous. Your sins—your bad works, if you will—are gone. Your good works are cleansed and pleasing to God.
As what you do begins with Jesus, so it continues in Jesus too. Forgiveness changes your interaction with others. Many will live their entire lives as if God’s an angry boss and their inferior work will get them fired; instead, you live as a child of God with a Father in heaven who delights in what you do.
Many will live their lives thinking that good works are only extra-special efforts, above and beyond the daily calling. But you have a heavenly Father who delights in everything you do, like new parents delight in every expression on a baby’s face. In Christ, you’ve already been doing good all day today! Furthermore, your relationships with others are always troubled with the uncertainty of sinners interacting with each other, which will mean everything from misunderstandings to betrayals. But you know that the Lord uses all things for your good, including the failures and pains along the way. You know He’s not out to get you. He can’t be, because He “got” Christ on the cross for all of your sins, and there’s nothing sinful left to get you for.
Outside the town of Nain, Jesus raised a young man from the dead; once the man was alive, he was able to help his mother (Luke 7:11–15). So it is with you: Once Christ has made you alive in Him, you are able to help and serve others in God-pleasing ways. Eph. 2:8–9 is the well-known announcement that you are saved by grace through faith, solely God’s work and gift to you. And what does the next verse say? You’re “created in Christ Jesus for good works.”
Jesus is at the center of everything we do.
> Did you know? The Formula of Concord’s “Solid Declaration” was completed in 1577.
About the Author: Rev. Tim Pauls is pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Boise, Idaho.