Dear Children: Doing Good Doesn’t Make You a Christian

Bald EagleThis is the first post in a series I’m starting called “Letters For Christian Armour”. Read what this is about here.
 
Dear Children,
 
One of the most common misconceptions you’ll run into in life is that Christianity is mostly (if not entirely) about doing or being good. Non-believers often minimize the difference between Christians and those who do good things. It is really important that you understand why this is a fundamental misunderstanding of our faith.
 
You see, even if someone knows absolutely nothing about the details of what we believe in, they know that Christians strive to do good things. Indeed, if we live the way that Jesus taught, it results in behavior that the world defines as “good” – putting others first, giving our time and money to those less fortunate, not partaking in sinful activities, etc.  So, on a cursory level, there is of course a correlation between being a Christian and doing “good”.
 
The problem is that, because this outward behavior is more obvious than internal beliefs, many non-believers think Christianity is defined primarily by doing good. They tend to see the additional “stuff” in which Christians believe – that Jesus is the Son of God and that the Bible is God’s Word – as frosting on a cake of good works that can simply be scraped off to find secular relevance. Romans 2:14-16 says that all people have the moral laws of God written in their conscience, so it isn’t surprising that non-believers often seek to do good works in the world themselves.
 
Here is what they don’t understand, however:
 
For Christians, doing good is an outcome of a belief that Jesus is God’s son, and it is motivated by a desire to point others toward God and lead them to salvation. (Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”) 
 
For non-believers, doing good is a goal in and of itself, and is motivated by a number of (usually self-serving) reasons, whether it is consciously realized or not.
 
I will leave it to your college psychology classes to discuss the many reasons people do good apart from religious faith, but suffice it to say that if good is not done for God, it’s done for oneself (e.g., compensating for guilt, wanting other people to admire you, wanting to feel morally superior to others, etc.). This means the very nature of good works is different between Christians and non-believers.
 
Let me illustrate why this distinction matters so much.
 
Picture a penguin and a bald eagle. Consider the similarities. Both are birds. Both have feathers. Both have beaks. Both have wings. Both lay eggs. Both are beautiful creatures that we can admire and appreciate.  Both are lovely to have in the world.
 
Even though they look similar, however, there is something highly significant that sets them apart: a bald eagle can fly. The bald eagle is admired for its majesty as it soars with a power that leaves its witnesses in awe. A penguin is beautiful and can swim fast, but it will never fly. It will never experience nor demonstrate the power that lifts the bald eagle over the highest mountains.
 
When good is done independent of God, it is like the penguin – beautiful but powerless. Its impact is limited to the scope of this world; a finite time and place. When good is done in God’s name, it is like the bald eagle – beautiful and powerful. Its impact extends to eternity because its purpose is eternity and its power is God’s. That is why Christians do “good” things. The good works of non-believers and Christians are not opposites; they just simply aren’t the same bird.
 
Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Christianity is defined by this belief, not by how much good one does. The good works of a non-believer may be beautiful, but in the absence of a belief in Jesus Christ, they have almost nothing to do with Christianity.
 
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
 
So, my sweet children, if you ever find yourself pursuing good, stop. You need to be pursuing God. When you pursue Him, goodness will be an authentic response that is rooted appropriately in His power and purpose.
 
Love,
 
Mommy

1 Comment

  1. Katie on March 3, 2012 at 10:18 AM

    I love the simplicity and truth of this post. I was recently struggling with explaining why “good” is not equal to “Christian” or salvation and have been disappointed in my (seeming) inability to do so. Such clarity!