God commands us to do good works. He wants us to do them for others. You cannot read the Bible, especially the Gospels or the letters of Saint Paul, and miss this.
Jesus teaches His disciples to avoid anger, resentment, lust, divorce, lies, vengeance, harsh judgments, and anxiety about the future. He teaches them to care for the poor, to pray, to practice self-discipline, and to treat others the way they wish to be treated. Obviously Jesus wants His followers to see this as their way of life.
Paul says very similar things at the end of each of his epistles. Romans, Colossians, Philippians, Ephesians, and others all end with encouragement for these people to act like Christians, to be what God created and redeemed them to be.
And all of this holds true for us today. We are called to do good works, to live lives of sacrifice for others. We are called to love our neighbor, everyone we meet, as ourselves, and to love God above all. A life of worship and prayer, a life of charity and generosity, should mark each and every Christian.
It is a good thing when you prepare a meal for your neighbor who has just had a baby, or when you mow the lawn for the neighbor who has been injured. When you are attentive to the needs of your spouse or children, or care for your ailing parents, it is a good deed. This is the will of God, that people live in service to one another, doing good works.
But we must forget about them when we come before Him. It is a conundrum, I know. God commands, and even delights in, the good works of Christians, yet they count for nothing as we stand before Him for judgment.
Saint Paul says that he counts all of his good deeds as rubbish. They are nothing when he stands before God, they are manure, dung. He was as good of a Jew as anyone could possibly imagine, yet all his good deeds count for naught.
You and I, in doing good deeds, are not performing above and beyond the call of duty. We are not doing anything great or grand that earns us any favor with God. We are only poor servants doing the least of what is expected.
You see, there is the danger that our works, as good as they may be for the sake of the people around us, might become matters of pride. And they often do. It happens when we lay Christ aside. We start to think that God should answer our prayers because we have done His will. He should reward us because we have helped others. We are at the least more spiritual than those “other Christians”.
But this is all nonsense. It is rubbish. We come before God as beggars-through and through-or we might as well not come to Him at all.
Imagine the scene in this way. You approach the gates of heaven, but rather than Saint Peter guarding the way, it is God Himself, in all His glory. And His question to you is, “Why should I let you in? Why should I not hit the trap door and let you plummet into the depths of hell?”
If your answer has anything to do with your own righteousness, your own good deeds, your own acts of mercy and generosity, then you are in big trouble. “I attended church every Sunday. I was a faithful wife. I was a dutiful father. I read my Bible every day. I gave 90% of my wealth to the poor.” No, wrong answer.
If you think, for one moment, that your righteousness, your own personal best deeds, will measure up to God’s standards then you are sadly and tragically mistaken. Trap door straight down. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.
Rather, before God we hold fast to the righteousness of JESUS! Imagine the scene again. You stand at the gates. God asks the question, “Why should I let you in?” And what is your answer?
Are you sure? You have no righteousness of your own?
Nope. Just Jesus!
You don’t want to claim anything for yourself, no good deeds?
No. That is all rubbish. Just Jesus. Jesus. Jesus!
That is the answer. Jesus is our righteousness, not attained by works, but given to us by faith. He did all the deeds that God sees as good. He lived a perfect life, died a perfect death, for you, to make you righteous. He has risen from the dead so that you may know the power of His resurrection.
We hold fast to Jesus because before God Jesus is the only person that counts as good. He is the only thing that counts as righteous. And Jesus has bought us, adopted us, and revived us. We are His, and He is our righteousness.
And this makes us very bold. We can now pray with confidence because we are righteous in Christ. We can live the lives we have been called to knowing that God is pleased with us as husband, father, son, brother, all because Jesus covers us. Back with our neighbors we can strive to reach the goal because the goal is already ours in Christ.
We are not yet made perfect, but we will be, not in this life, but in the life to come, in the resurrection. And so we press on toward that goal, striving to do good works, letting the good deeds of Jesus, the righteousness of Christ pour through in our lives.