In staff meeting this morning we discussed a related question -- how then do we do good works as Christians without lapsing back into moralism? What exactly is a good work for the believer, the kind of good work God is looking for? How do the good works we attempt before salvation differ from the good works that God expects of the believer after salvation?
I think there are at least four differences between a moralistic approach to life and the life of the Christian seeking to do good.
1) There's a different standard. For the believer God's word is the source book for what constitutes a good work. Before, it was what seemed right or good to us at the time, or what is popularly viewed as good in our culture. Though there are many good works from a humanitarian viewpoint, the believer increasingly views his works in terms of God's will and from his perspective. God declares what is good. (Matt. 15:7-9; John 14:21; 1 John 3:4)
2) There's a different motive. Once it was insecurity and fear of judgment, or gaining approval of God or others, or keeping up an appearance, or having pride in our goodness, or proving our own righteousness which drove us to do good. Now it is more and more a matter of faith (trust in God, his Word, and his ways) working through love (love of God and neighbor). Once it was a lot about outward actions, and now it includes the heart of our actions. (Matt. 22:34-40; Rom. 14:23; Gal. 5:6; Heb. 11:6)
3) There's a different dynamic. Previously, it was mainly our dedication, will-power, and self-effort which was producing our good deeds, or perhaps family and societal expectations. Now we are finding power through the Holy Spirit to manifest the fruit of our union with Christ to walk in the goodness he has called us to. (John 15:5; Gal. 5:22-25; Eph. 2:10)
4) There's a different goal. Formerly, it was self-glory (to be seen as good) or a humanitarian concern (to do good for the human race, as good as that may be). But now it is the glory of God that we want to display -- that he might be honored, that God and his ways would be seen as true, good, and beautiful. (1 Cor 10:31; Matt 5:16)
What makes me right and acceptable before God has nothing to do with me, my goodness, my worth, my works, my anything, but rather the righteousness of Christ (crucified and risen) given to me as a gift to be received with the empty hand of faith. There's no boasting, no self-pride, and no craven fear anymore!
The grace of God I now have (and forever have in Christ) frees me to actually begin to do good works, the kind of good works that God created me to do. I'm not doing these good things out of fear of rejection and loss of salvation, nor am I doing them to commend myself to God or others, or to feel good about myself. I am now doing good works in living relationship with God, by faith, out of love, and with the desire that he -- not me -- be honored.
It is really only after we've been humbled (of our pride) and saved (from our fear) that we can actually do something good, not only in the sight of man, but in the sight of God.
So, as we walk day-by-day with the Lord, and as we want to be careful not to lapse into moralism, we can ask ourselves some questions about the good things we are seeking to do:
- Am I seeking to do this in accordance with God's word, ...or is it about my idea, tradition, the expectation of others?
- Am I doing this out of a loving trust in the Lord, ...or am I acting in pride or fear of someone or something?
- Am I relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, ...or is it my will-power going through the motions?
- Am I doing this to bring glory to God rather than myself?