I’ve often thought that the older generation of Christians is very concerned about not giving the impression that good works will get us to Heaven. I think that is a great concern since God makes it very clear that salvation comes on the basis of His grace and not works (Titus 3:5-7, NASB):
5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. when we have faith that Jesus died to justify our sins and rose again to defeat the power of sin and death once and for all, and this gift of salvation is offered to everyone, apart from his works.
Yet, now I am concerned that the pendulum has swung to the other side. Do Christians in this generation have the biblical view that doing good works is both an individual and a group responsibility and privilege? Jesus said it this way (Matthew 5:13-16):
13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
To be clear, Jesus could not have meant that our measure of works justifies our sins and allows for God to forgive us. This would have rendered the cross either unnecessary or not completely sufficient.
Yet, I say that doing good is an individual and a group responsibility that God expects every Christian and church to fulfill. We don’t fulfill this responsibility only by belonging to a church that does some good things through occasional programs. This is good and God does want churches to do this, but the purpose of Jesus’ command is “that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
If I simply conclude that it is sufficient to belong to a church that does good works regularly, but I personally don’t anything that my neighbors can value as good, how will they see my good deeds or my church’s good works and praise my Father who is in heaven?
Additionally, I want to emphasize that if my aim is to be salt and light for my neighbors, they have to judge my works as being good. This means doing more than just communicating the message of salvation to them. They don’t perceive the value of the gospel until God opens their eyes and they understand it. My neighbors can perceive the value of me bringing their trash cans in for them or giving them some freshly-baked bread.
If my only goal is only to share the gospel with them (the other side of the pendulum), I think I would short-circuit God’s way of showing them that what I claim to believe is really useful and good in this world now. If we Christians aren’t being salt and light in both a group and an individual, practical, and in daily way for our neighbors, then who will? Do we expect the unbelievers of this world to do good?
Currently, the world perceives that it is unbelievers and secular groups doing all the good, so much so that Christians and churches have been “trampled under foot by men,” because, in their minds, rather than doing good, we are more interested in “hating” them, taking away their “rights,” and condemning them for their abominable practices.
Therefore, I say that we must make every effort to be salt and light through a lifestyle of doing wherever and whenever. This is the primary, clear, and practical way that we demonstrate that our faith works, not just for the sake of eternity, but also for the sake of life now.
Most unbelievers can’t readily relate to eternal things; they are just trying to survive now. If we make it our aim to live out our faith with a life filled with good works, we will be salt and make men thirst for the truth of Jesus. If we tangibly bless our neighbors, like an isolated city on a hill in a very dark land, they will be drawn to the truth. If all of us Christians live this way, our communities will be radically transformed and God’s kingdom will advance. He will be glorified!