The world wrestles with its understanding of why Christians feel compelled to do the good deeds that they do.
It is the assumption of some, for example, that Christians “do good” and “shun evil” in order to attain some sort of moral or spiritual sense of superiority over others. And there are some who suppose that an “agenda of good deeds” is the Christian way of securing for themselves power, position and wealth.
Sadly, I cannot say that there are no wolves masquerading as sheep out there in “Christendom.” Nor can I deny that there are those who claim to be Christian, yet wear it as a badge or label simply because it is expedient for their personal ambitions (political, social, material, etc.).
But setting aside such spiritual thuggery, the world might “condescend” to acknowledge that perhaps some Christians mean well (even if it is merely out of naivety or superstition). But even if it does so, it tends to be under the impression that sincere Believes do their good deeds to either earn God’s forgiveness and thereby escape hell, or to earn God’s favor and, consequently, reap blessings (material, physical, relational, and so on).
In regard to the first misconception, that good deeds are done to earn a salvation from everlasting torment, I have found myself perturbed every time that I have watched the movie “The African Queen” with Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. In it, Hepburn’s character, “Rosie”, is a missionary to Africa. As conflict grows with imperial Germans during World War I, Rosie believes that she and “Charlie” (Bogart’s character) are about to die, leaving this world for their eternal destiny. The prayer is interesting because it reveals what was, in the mid-twentieth Century, the understanding of Hollywood of what Christians believe about God and the so-called salvation that brought Rosie and her brother to preach in Africa. It is a salvation based on the good deeds one does to appease an angry and petulant God. Of course, the entertainment industry’s opinion toward Christianity and its message is far less benevolent than what it once was.
But a salvation that is earned by doing good deeds (or by “eschewing evil”) is not the Gospel message. The message of the Gospel is that sinners, people who have not kept God’s Law (in either deed or in thought) and are therefore under God’s judgment, are granted forgiveness (and, subsequently, salvation) through faith (believing, receiving, and confessing) in Jesus Christ, His death, and resurrection. To not put too fine a point on it, salvation is not something one earns.
The second misconception, that Believers can earn God’s favor Who will then reward them because He is pleased, is one with which even Believers will wrestle.
It is true that God is pleased with a man or woman who seeks to live a life that is pleasing to Him. It is even true that if we obey and serve Him that we are living lives that are aligned with His will and are therefore “positioned” best to be blessed.
However, suffering and deprivation do not necessarily indicate a life with which God is displeased (just as wealth, success, and popularity do not mean that God favors the one who is enjoying them).
It could be that a need in someone’s life is the arena in which God intends to bring a healing or some sort of miraculous intervention to demonstrate His loving power. It could be that a need is the “mission field” to which God sends His loving provision as He works through the lives of Christians to address that need. Or it could be that a need is actually a personal wilderness to which God brings His loving presence. This last kind of circumstance isolates the afflicted and teaches him or her the awesome lesson of the sufficiency of Christ.
“…A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7b-10 ESV).
After 2,000 years, one would like to believe that the misconceptions with which we as Believers contend would long ago have been laid to rest. It seems to me that a couple of millennia should more than suffice in convincing us that the real wonder of the Christian experience is not the blessings of God showering down upon us, but rather the Blesser Himself Who has on His heart the priority of real and vital relationship with each of us.
Happily, as God works in you and me to help us to love Him for Who He truly is, we will learn that our righteousness flows from what He is inside of us. In the end, it is only His life spent for us, His life within us, and His life giving birth through us to kindness, sacrifice, joy, and a living message of hope that brings about a practical application of true goodness in our lives and in the physical world around us.
Pastor Thom Mollohan leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.