When’s the last time you did a good deed? When you think of good deeds, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Maybe this is stereotypical and wrong, but I always think of Boy Scouts. I’ve only known a few Boy Scouts, although the ones I known have made it to Eagle Scout, and they’ve all been very kind people who would go out of their way to do good things for others.
This month I’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22-23, which says: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” In the last few days, I’ve really been focusing in on goodness because it seems to be, from what I can tell, the kind side of goodness, rather than the moral excellence part. Moral excellence certainly is involved, but the actual word used is more like benevolence instead of righteousness. And I didn’t know that.
It’s good to be benevolent. It’s good to do good deeds because it’s the right thing to do, but with that kind of thinking, how long will you keep doing good deeds? What makes a good deed the right thing to do? What do good deeds look like? Are we talking about helping little old ladies with their groceries? Are we talking about tackling a purse snatcher? Are we talking about supporting a charity financially? Because if I’m just doing good deeds for the sake of doing them, I’m going to get tired of it. I know people who do good things for others because it’s the right thing to do, and that’s admirable. But in a broken world where good deeds are rarely rewarded, often unrecognized, and usually more trouble than they’re worth, I believe you need something better as a motivator than just: “It’s the right thing to do.”
If you don’t, you’re a better person than I am, because I get tired of doing the right thing all the time. And I don’t always do the right thing. I’m just going to be honest.
Aside from the fact that this kind of benevolence–this type of goodness–is a gift from the Holy Spirit, what motivates good deeds? Where should the desire to do good deeds come from?
Today’s verses are James 2:14-26.
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?
Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.
This is a really long bit of scripture for today, but I think it’s relevant. I love the Book of James. It’s short, to the point, and doesn’t pull any punches. This passage is often used out of context to prove that our salvation is dependant on our actions. If you think that, read the whole thing again please, especially verse 23. Here, I’ll put it up again in case there’s any doubt:
James 2:23 – And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”
It’s ironic too because this is basically a restatement of Genesis 15:6, which says, “And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.”
Get the picture? It’s not our works that save us. Our works demonstrate that we have been saved. We’re not doing good things so that we can be righteous. We do good things because we have been made righteous. It’s outward expression of an inward change, like baptism. It doesn’t save you; it’s just evidence that you are saved.
And conversely, if you don’t show evidence that you have been saved, have you been? I’m not judging. I don’t know your heart. But it’s a good question to ask yourself, especially in a study of the Holy Spirit. If your life doesn’t display the Fruit of the Spirit, which is the evidence of God working in your life, maybe you ought to start asking some really personal questions about what you believe.
If you believe in Christ, you have the Holy Spirit in your life. So where is the evidence of your faith? I have to say, I’ve been blown away by what I’m hearing about people stepping up to help the victims of the tornado that tore Moore, Oklahoma apart on Monday. Maybe not all of them are Christ-followers, but I know many who are. And I am so honored to be able to call those people making such huge sacrifices my brothers and sisters.
What about you? How do you see good works? How do you view good deeds? Are they just something Boy Scouts do to earn a badge? Or are they just the right thing to do? Or are they an expression of what you believe? Think about it. Good works alone aren’t enough, just like quoting scripture isn’t enough. You’ve got to back it up. You’ve got to live it. You’ve got to get it in your life.
And the true irony about doing good for other people is that even though you’re sacrificing to help someone else, you get a bigger blessing out of it than they ever will.