Today we take up the conversation of civil good works versus what are truly good works in God’s eyes. First we look at civil good works and define what we mean by civil good works. Civil good works are indeed good works, at least in the eyes of those who perform such works and in the eyes of those for whom the good work is performed. The problem with civil good works and why they are not truly good works in God’s eyes is because first and foremost civil good works tend to point to self. A civil good work is performed because I am a good person, and this belief is true no doubt, and because I am a good person I do good things. Although a civil good work may seem altruistic, that is it is done simply to do a good deed, the one performing the work often does so because they feel good about themselves in doing it. Indeed, as St. Paul reminds us, the good that we desire to do we do not do, but the evil that we do not want to do that is what we do. We will contrast this to what is a godly good work in a bit.
A civil good work is also one that often seeks self adulation that is I get something out of it whether consciously or unconsciously. In other words, I feel good about doing some good deed. I feel good about myself or I feel good because I did something nice, or I did good and got a nice thank you for what I did. Perhaps I did good and got some public recognition.
It may appear and it may be said that civil good works are performed for the sake of human altruism but for the most part this would be an outward altruism. In other words, although it may look like a deed done purely out of selfless concern, what cannot be seen is what is in the heart of the one doing the deed. One who is an atheist or an agnostic may perhaps do what seems to be an altruistic civil good work, but if one has no god or professes faith in no god then in essence that one becomes their own god, thus the altruistic deed is done for the sake of ones own feelings of happiness. When we understand that the heart of idolatry is self, then we can understand that apart from the one true God there can be no true good work.
Civil good works are good works, but not necessarily good works before God. Again, if one has no faith in the One true God, then the good work which is done is only done for self. Only as one has faith in the One true God can one do what is truly a good work. So, what is considered a good work before God? A good work in God’s eyes is one that is motivated by God, that is one that is motivated by the Gospel. A true good work is not a have to but a get to. It is not a condition, but an I cannot help but do it. It is a response of faith in serving God by serving others. As we are given faith by God so the desire of faith is to be given even more and to respond with thanks and praise and that response is seen in one’s desire to be of service.
A good work in God’s eyes is one that is worked in and through us by God. Again, as Paul reminds us, the good that we want to do we do not do, instead the evil that we do not want to do that is what we do, that is after all our fallen nature. Thus, to do a good work means that the desire and the deed must come from outside of us. Here again, as in justification we get it right when we point to God, so in sanctification we get it right when we point to God as well. He moves us, He stirs in us and we do as a response of faith, a response to all that He does and gives.
And a good work in God’s eyes is one that gives glory to God. This last understanding of a good work in God’s eyes means that it is very seldom that we actually do good works in God’s eyes. I say that because more often than not our human desire is to be given some adulation for those good works we perform. More often than not when we do good works that are good works in God’s eyes we do not even realize we are doing them. How often it is that after the fact we are told by someone that what we did made a difference when the truth is that when we were doing what needed to be done we did not even think about or realize we were doing something anyone would consider good. We were simply doing what we were moved to do.
What does this mean? In reality we know civil good works when we see them and they are good. We need civil good works to be done to be sure. When a natural disaster occurs we need people that will respond with civil good works. Although having said that I would say that 95 to 99% of those who respond at times of disaster are faith believing people. Very seldom do we see atheist, agnostic or non-faith believing groups participate in times of disaster because it is not a necessary part of their existence. We do see those involved for personal reasons that may or may not be apparent at the time, however, if one is not doing a good deed in response of faith, the one ultimately benefitting from the deed is the one doing the deed, along with the one being helped of course.
When it comes to Godly good works, we do not often see Godly good works, at least not in our own lives because we do them unaware we are doing them at the time. As Christians we simply respond in faith as we are motivated by the Holy Spirit, as He works the deed in and through us and as we point to God and give Him glory.
Civil good works flow from self. Civil good works are necessary for our society. Civil good works fill the void of one feeling helpless and so one pitches in the be of service. The effect of one doing a civil good works is that one has a good feeling about themself. One has a good feeling to the one for whom the deed is done. One may even be given words of praise and adulation making one feel even better.
On the other hand Godly good works flow from faith and God. Godly good works are a response of faith even a work of vocation. As we live our lives we serve God by serving others. Our works of service flow from thankful hearts. Our works of service are simply a response to all the good gifts and blessings our Lord has so graciously given to us. We wonder to ourselves, how can we do anything else, how can we not respond and do good to those whom God loves.
Again, Godly good works are a natural result of faith and point to Jesus. We are born with nothing and we take nothing from this world when we pass on. All that we have while we live in this world is on loan from God. As God has provide us so we are to share with those in need, for as Paul reminds us there may be a time when we will be in need and God will provide for us through others to whom He has provide. So we help and are of service to one another serving God and giving Him glory by serving one another.
Paul sums it up best when he says, “8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10). Paul points to God for our justification, He has made us right with Himself by the faith that He gives to us in Jesus who forgives us. We have always been good at quoting Ephesians 2:8-9, but Paul also adds verse ten and points to God for our sanctification, our good works as well. Indeed, we have been created to do the good works which God has prepared for us to do and we do them because God moves us to do them. So, we end as always, pointing to God and saying, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.