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Doing Good Works

Many Non-Believers do Good Works

Will they be Resurrected to Eternal Life?

God’s Law is written on people’s hearts. So they instinctively obey it even without having heard it. [Romans 2:14-15]

Let’s have a “Good” Discussion

Lucy and John discuss a fundamental biblical question asked by many people. She is not a Christian but is curious about something Jesus said. John, a believer of many years, tries to give a biblical answer.

LUCY: Jesus said a curious thing. Let’s use an amplified version of the Bible. He said:

Do not be surprised at this; for a time is coming when all those who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and they will come out—those who did good things [will come out] to a resurrection of [new] life, but those who did evil things [will come out] to a resurrection of judgment [that is, to be sentenced]. (John 5:28-29, AMP)

So it’s simple. According to Jesus all you have to do is do “good things” before you die and you will be resurrected to everlasting life? I know lots of non-Christians – unbelievers – who live good lives and do good works. They are very pleasant people and wouldn’t hurt a fly. So what’s all this “born again” stuff?

JOHN: Good question. Yes, it seems confusing doesn’t it. But in John chapter 3 Jesus did indeed say a person must be “born again” – born of God’s Spirit – in order to enter the kingdom of God and have everlasting life.

LUCY: Hold on. That’s side-stepping the question. John 5 talks about “doing good”. What does the Bible say about “doing good ”? How do we do “good works” in order to be resurrected to life? The internet gives lots of examples of “good works”. Give me some biblical examples.

good works
A good work – helping others enjoy life

JOHN: OK. Let’s see what the prophet Isaiah said:

Learn to do good. Seek justice, Rebuke the ruthless, Defend the fatherless, Plead for the [rights of the] widow [in court]. (Isaiah 1:17, AMP)

LUCY: There you are! Lot’s of non-Christians – good people – do things like that. So according to John 5 their good works will enable them to be resurrected to eternal life. Correct?

JOHN: Well . . . not exactly. That text is not giving the full picture. Let’s go a bit deeper. The gospels record a rich young ruler who asked precisely your question. He asked Jesus:

Teacher, what [essentially] good thing shall I do to obtain eternal life [that is, eternal salvation in the Messiah’s kingdom]? (Matthew 19:16, AMP)

This question comes straight to your point. Jesus replied to him: “if you wish to enter into eternal life, keep the commandments”. He gave examples of “good works”, like honouring one’s parents, loving one’s neighbour, not stealing and not committing adultery. The young man said he had done all these. But he failed the last “good” test Jesus gave him – to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. We both know it’s impossible to be good all the time! It seems we simply can’t be “good enough” to be sure of a resurrection to eternal life!

Do you agree?

LUCY: OK. You seem to be saying that the route to the resurrection of life is not via good works alone. Yet our key text in John 5 suggests precisely that; if we do at least some good things – or good works – then we WILL inherit the resurrection of life – and not the resurrection of judgement! Jesus’ statements are not making sense.

JOHN: Yes. It might seem like that. But read on a bit. In Matthew 19:21 Jesus suggests that, despite good works, a person must be perfect in order to have eternal life. He said to the rich young man:

If you wish to be perfect [that is, have the spiritual maturity that accompanies godly character with no moral or ethical deficiencies], go and sell what you have and give [the money] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. (Matthew 19:21, AMP)

It seems there is an absolutely perfect form of “good” that is unavailable through human endeavour alone. For example, consider the Creation account in Genesis:

And God saw every thing that He had made, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)

Do you see anything strange, even contradictory about this verse?

LUCY: Well . . . maybe. If God is perfect, why did He make something that apparently was only “very good” but not perfect?

JOHN: That’s the point. The Hebrew word “good” in verse 31 is “tov” which means to be in harmony with God. So “very good”, which is generally seen as better than “good”, must mean perfect harmony with God. It seems the rich young ruler could not achieve this perfect goodness alone. Neither can we.

LUCY: So how can we be good enough to be in perfect harmony with God – good enough to be resurrected to eternal life?

JOHN: It might sound sanctimonious, but the Bible says we must become “righteous” in God’s sight. In essence the concept is both simple and profound. Our righteousness, or perfect harmony with God, comes through a simple step of faith in God and His Son Jesus Christ:

And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith. (Genesis 15:6, NLT)

For Christ has put an end to the Law, so everyone who has put his trust in Christ is made right with God. (Romans 10:4, NLV)

LUCY: But you can’t have faith in someone unless you believe they are there in the first place! It seems you have to first believe that God is there – and then have faith in God. Correct?

JOHN: Yes. That’s logical. In fact Jesus said precisely that:

He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live – whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. (John 11:25-26)

We need to first believe that Jesus is alive and knows all about us – read Psalm 139. And then have faith that He will guide us through life, and at the end of the day resurrect us to eternal life.

The apostle Paul said he trusted in Christ to gain righteousness in the sight of God. He said:

I suffer so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (Philippians 3:8-9)

Here Paul admits that his righteousness in the sight of God came from his faith, rather than trying to obey the numerous Old Testament Laws.

LUCY: So what about all the good things I have done in my life? Were they a waste of time? Did God notice what I was doing?

JOHN: Another good question. In our key text, John 5:29, the word “good” is a translation of the Greek word “agathos”, meaning, broadly speaking, an act of benefit to others (see Strong’s Concordance). Biblical examples are fighting for justice, giving secretly to charity, visiting the sick and feeding the hungry.

So even before we gain righteousness through faith, these good works demonstrate that the general laws of God are written on our hearts. We instinctively know what is good and what is not, and try to do what feels good (Roman 2:14-15). So why should God forget how you have naturally done His Will by benefitting others – even before you put your faith in Christ? God judges righteously.

Doing good works

The biblical point is this: good works alone cannot make us righteous in God’s sight. Despite our good works, all of us sin (fall short) sometimes and need reconciliation to God (Romans 3:23). Each of us must change and have faith in the saving work of Jesus on the cross.

From then on we are encouraged to continue to do good works [Titus 2:14]. And we will be rewarded for such works when Christ returns [Revelation 22:12]. Remember, there are really only two paths in life, and we must choose the good path. Besides leading to the resurrection of life, the good path has many benefits in this life!

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