There are times when I am moved to do good to others with a conscious awareness that the love of Jesus Christ compels me to do so. I have been God’s work-in-progress for such a long time that I actually do not know what kind of person I would be without God’s gracious work in my life. Any good I do links very directly to impossible-to-count expressions of God’s goodness to me.
I often hear others refer to the good works of people who do not trust in Jesus as evidence that the Christ is not necessary to our expressions of goodness. After all, we hear of Christians setting up social programs for the poor, and we hear of other religious and non-religious social groups doing the same things without Christ. I can appreciate that, at first appearance, this certainly appears to diminish my claim that Jesus is life, and without him, we can really do nothing at all.
However, as these thoughts were tumbling around my mind this morning I realized something that had not stood out to me so clearly prior to this time. People who do not believe in Jesus were still created by Jesus.
People who deny Jesus Christ cannot do so without using the mind he created. They cannot hold beliefs against God without those beliefs existing in their minds because of the way Jesus created the human brain and mind to live, and move, and have its being. They cannot utter their words of denial without using the mouth that Jesus himself designed to express words that are above and beyond the ability of any other creature he made.
When people of any other religion, or any non-religion, claim that they are doing good works without any reference to Christ, they are speaking like little children who do not understand where they come from, how they are conceived, how they grow in the womb, or how they got out of mommy’s tummy. Their claim that they are working independent of Jesus is mistaken since they are using the body Jesus created in order to do their independent good works. They are thinking of these good works at a level that no other creature thinks of such things because Jesus himself created humanity to be in his own image and likeness. They are geared to do good because Jesus himself is the shining radiance of goodness always seeking good to do for all his creation.
When I do a good work with a consciousness that Jesus so loves me that his living love inside me makes me want to do specific acts of kindness to others, I may not appear to do good works any better or greater than those who do not know the love of Jesus. I simply know the Jesus who causes both his friends and his enemies to do good things he designed into us as the only bearers of his image and likeness.
Knowing such a thing is an invitation to all of us to let every desire of goodness we feel within ourselves to point us back to the Lord Jesus Christ who created us to be like him in such goodness.
However, we must also consider this warning: a branch that is cut off from an apple tree still has all the design and potential to produce good fruit, but it is going to die by the very fact that it is cut off from its live-giving tree. In the same way, people who are not united by faith to Jesus Christ may appear to produce the same good works as those who are united to Jesus Christ by faith, but such an appearance is short-lived. Those doing their good works independent of Christ are already dying.
One fall we did a major pruning of a large tree in our backyard. Many of the branches were hauled away, while larger chunks were cut to length for firewood. Because the firewood was green, I stacked it against the fence to cure until the following winter. However, that spring I made this startling discovery: my dead pieces of firewood were sprouting tiny shoots. I began taking pictures to see how long these dead logs would appear to produce the same signs of life as the branches still attached to the tree. It was quite amazing to me that I could actually see such a similarity between the living and the dead wood. That is, until the residue of sap in the dead logs dried up and the shoots and leaves died.
This illustrates to me why it can appear that those lives that are cut-off from Christ sometimes appear to do just as good works as those who are united to Christ. We cannot look at the good works of Worldlings as proof that we do not actually need Jesus. Everyone who does good works apart from Christ does them because there is still some residue of the created image of Christ seeking to be what Jesus made them to be. The issue is that without the life of Christ, good people are dying and destined for hell. Only those who are united with Christ by faith do good works that will remain forever.
As we have been celebrating Jesus’ first coming into the world in the Christmas holiday that bears his name, we are all going to see the day when Jesus comes again and judges us by how we have related to him in our lifetime. If we received his Christmas gift of life, we will be filled with joy when he comes. If we have rejected his gift of life, the residue of life that has kept us going, and even moved us to be good, will reach its end, and we will be terrified of his coming.
Putting any suggestion of my opinion aside, here is what God’s breathed-out word declares: For those who have received the life of Jesus Christ their Creator, there is this promise: “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28).
For those who have refused the life of Jesus Christ their Creator, there is also a promise: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him” (Revelation 1:7).
If you ever notice that I have done some small act of goodness towards you, please receive it as two things: one is the declaration that Jesus Christ created humanity in his own image and likeness, and every good thing that any human being does is because Jesus Christ created us for such goodness.
The other is that the good works of Jesus’ brothers are a specific invitation to you to come into the family of God and share in the goodness of God as only the children of God can know. Once you are a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, the world may not notice that your good works are different from theirs. But you will now find yourself doing good works that can actually bring people back to life in Jesus Christ their Creator and Redeemer.
My testimony remains: Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” Titus 2:14).
From my heart, Monte