Does Doing Good Make You Good?

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.

Galatians 2: 21

This passage always makes me pause.  Why?  It’s because of how little Peter did to bring it about.  I know, as a leader he should have considered the consequences of his choice.  However, Paul doesn’t say that Peter said the wrong thing.  Paul wasn’t accusing Peter of teaching that the law makes a person more acceptable to God.  Peter hadn’t said under his breath something like, “Those backsliding Gentiles, I’m glad you guys got here.”  All he did was start to fellowship with the Jewish believers rather than the Gentiles.

Yet, for Paul, that was enough.  It was enough to communicate to the Gentile believers that they were somehow second class.  It was enough to make some in the crowd wonder if they ought to become Jewish in order to be acceptable to Peter.  Just the hint of ‘works’ set Paul off.

What about me?  Do I have that sort of passion about all the glory going to Jesus?  Do I want my righteousness to be Jesus alone?  Oh, I don’t want to go back to the Jewish law, but do I create my own “law” to measure my righteousness?  A law like this:

    1. I brought my Bible to church.

    2. I didn’t beat my kids this week.

    3. I read my Bible 5 times this week.

    4. I prayed this week.

    5. I didn’t use any bad words.

    6. I didn’t look at pornography.

    7. I put a 20 in the offering plate.

    8. I signed up to do VBS (missions team, Sunday School, small groups, etc).

    9. I called my mother/father on Mother’s/Father’s Day.

    10. I listened to the pastor as he shared the Word.

It’s a new 10 commandments!  Are any of these on your list?  When we do them, we feel good because we have achieved our standard of righteousness.  We think that we are better people because of it.

Yet, are we better people?  In the book of Galatians, Paul declares that it is only by grace through faith that a person is made righteous.  In fact, he says that when we start living by rules we are going back to God’s ultimate standard: we have to obey EVERY rule in order to be righteous.  Can you or I do that?  Can we obey EVERY rule ALL the time?

Paul says emphatically, “NO!”  Any honest person would have to say the same.  So, I don’t want a rule book.  I want a person.  I want Jesus.  I want to depend on Him alone for my righteousness.  I want to communicate it clearly.  I want to live by Him earnestly.  I want to listen to His leading so that He gets all the glory.  How about you?  Are you ready to put away your list?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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3 Responses to Does Doing Good Make You Good?

  1. Christine says:

    Dear Pastor John,
    Thank you for this. I have some questions that this brings up with me:
    1. I have been taught about freedom in Christ, but yet, I have learned that doesn’t mean that we can do whatever we want. In Galatians 5:13-15, are we not to use our freedom to serve one another humbly in love? Not in the flesh? In verse 16 of that same passage, it also talks about walking in the Spirit. What if I’m trying to do that (walking in the Spirit) instead of walking in the flesh or instead of walking in ‘rules’, but someone thinks that because I’m doing that I must be following rules? I was teased a lot of my life because I always tried to do what’s right. A lot of the times it was because of the consequences if I didn’t do what was right and because I was trying to protect others. However, as an adult, though, I’ve learned to be free AND to learn that the freedom doesn’t mean living for myself in the flesh. Instead, I have to think NOT what I want, but live as the Spirit of God in me would have me to live. As a result, I’ve ventured into situations that God has led me that I would have NEVER dared to dream of entering before! I learned to follow His leading instead. This has been a whole new concept for me, to follow His leading instead of a bunch of rules. I’ve learned to tread where I feared to tread before!…..all the while vulnerably trusting His leading. I don’t see it as a list of rules, but unfortunately, it breaks my heart that some would think that of me. How do I explain to those who think I’m following rules that I’m really listening to God’s guidance now? (Psalms 32:8-9) How will they ever believe me?
    2. Something that you don’t mention here, but I read in your book, I wanted to ask you about. You said, “We forget that God’s plans for the Israelites even included a time of struggle…. In fact, God’s Word encourages us that even when we go through times of despair, we can know that God has plans for us.” Some may think that despair cannot be in a Christian’s life when they are trying to “live by Him earnestly”, but yet I am encouraged by what you say in your book that, even then, we can know that God has plans for us. Thank you for that. I am trusting Him, and I am hopeful. Do you have any more thoughts on this?
    3. I should also add that another thought from your book does apply here to your blog topic as well, “Do we really want righteousness, or do we want righteousness on our terms? It is here, when we hurt and want answers, that God’s call to faith rather than sight truly stretches us. It is when God Himself throws us a curve (not circumstances or people) that we must trust Him most.” I recently had something like this happen with me. God wouldn’t let me sleep until I did something. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but He made it very clear that I was to do it. Over and over, He kept waking me up in the middle of the night (3 nights in a row!) and wouldn’t give me peace until I did it. It really was a call to faith rather than sight. Since then, He has sent me messages through songs and random people that He works everything out for good. I want to thank you for your book and how it has taught me. Do you have any more you would like to add?

    In conclusion, your words here in your blogs and in your published book are a great comfort to me. On page 217 of your book you say, “The call of faith is to make being like our Savior the chief joy of our life. (not a painless existence)”. Amen!
    Thank you,

    • Pastor John says:

      Christine,
      Let me see if I can answer your questions…
      As you pointed out, we are to serve one another in love. You said, “someone thinks that because I’m doing that (walking in the Spirit) that I must be following rules.” You finished your question with, “How do I explain to those who think I’m following rules that I’m really listening to God’s guidance now? (Psalms 32:8-9) How will they ever believe me?” The answer your question is two-fold: TIME and JOY. When I say TIME, I mean that your persistence and faithfulness to doing things by listening to the Spirit will demonstrate that it is the Spirit you are listening to over TIME. Faithful consistency is key. Secondly, when I say JOY, I mean that as things like guilt, remorse, and regrets are replaced with satisfaction, faith and consistent hope then the reality of living by listening to the Spirit will demonstrate itself. You don’t have to prove anything. The fruit of the Spirit (see later in Galatians 5) bears witness when we are listening to and living by the Spirit. Just give it time.
      Your second question was regarding despair. We must separate in our minds temporary feelings of despair from a persistent despair that plagues our hearts and minds. Temporary feelings of despair are a normal physical response to suffering. If we experience persistent despair, we should ask for help from fellow Christians who are walking the path with us. They are there to give us encouragement, support, and even challenge. Christians are encouraged to combat temporary feelings of despair with the promises of God. This is our hope. It does not disappoint because we know the character and power of our God. He is trustworthy. So, hope empowers us to overcome despair.
      Last thoughts… wanting righteousness on His terms is key. He gets to be God. We get to follow Jesus with all of our lives. Let’s follow Him. He is worth it!

      • Christine says:

        Pastor John,
        Thank you very much for this. This gives me much peace of mind. I had never thought of the fruits of the Spirit in that way before. Thank you for your answer on despair as well in a Christian’s life. I knew that in “Pilgrim’s Progress” that despair was a part of the journey. It just took me by surprise when it happened. I will keep looking to the promises of God as you advise. In regards to your last thoughts, yes! He alone is Worthy. Thank you!

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