The late Catholic Priest, Henry Nouwen, believed, as many do, that we are saved because we have been good. In 1992, when writing to a friend on how to prepare AIDS victims for death, he writes:
· I am deeply convinced that Jesus is completely unique in the world as the full revelation of God’s life, but I also believe that many people can come to Christ even when they have never formally known Christ or had the opportunity to accept him. The final judgment, as Jesus says, is not based on whether or not they have known Jesus but whether or not the people have cared for those who are hungry, naked, prisoners, all the people in need.
Jesus did provide us with a portrait of those who are saved (Matthew 25:30-46). It was a portrait of those who had served Him with compassion. However, nowhere did He ever dismiss the idea that faith was at the core of this service. Instead, He would teach:
· Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)
To the religious leadership, He proclaimed:
· Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29)
· I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24)
If salvation is by faith, why then did Jesus also insist on performing good deeds? Well, if we truly trust in Him, we will do what He tells us to do. In the same way, if I trust in my doctor, I will do what he tells me to do. If I do not trust in him at all, I will not follow his instructions. Therefore, Jesus also taught:
· Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. (John 14:23-24)
The fruit of faith is therefore obedience. If we love Him, we will obey Him. Therefore, those who are obedient are those who trust Him. Therefore, Jesus taught that the ones who obey Him are the ones who trust Him and are saved.
This has been the message of the entire Bible. Faith in God had to be the foundation of a life in God. To not believe in God is to despise Him:
· And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? (Numbers 14:11)
Through the Prophet Jeremiah, God cries out to His people:
· Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, “‘Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the LORD; I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the LORD your God and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree, and that you have not obeyed my voice, declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 3:12-13)
Restoration required confession of sins. If we have faith, we also confess our sins to God and find mercy and salvation (Luke 18:9-14).
Without faith, which includes the confession of sin and the renunciation of it, God will not be pleased with our good deeds:
· And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
Why is it impossible to please God without faith? Without a changed disposition towards God, our good deeds are built on a foundation of self-righteousness and self-pride. Jesus taught that our lives had to be built upon a foundation of believing His teachings and then acting upon them:
· “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
A faithful disposition towards God has to be at the foundation of our lives. Without this, our deeds might look good, but they are not good. Just think of a friend who does many good things for you. However, the foundation of his house is corrupt. He is just setting you up to use you.
If we are using the abilities that God has given us while rejecting the One who has given us everything that we have, we are evil and our motives are evil, however much we convince ourselves that we are worthy.
I know, because this had been me. I did good to prove my goodness. Meanwhile, my foundation had been built on the sand of self-absorption and arrogance. Jesus gave us a portrait of such a person:
· He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. (Luke 18:9)
Self-righteousness and contempt for others are inseparable. Where we find one, we find the other. Self-righteousness also represents a refusal to see ourselves as we really are.
By the mercy of God alone, He revealed to me what was really at the foundation of my life. Once He humbled me, He began to build me up and to release me from my self-imposed prison.
Without faith, our “good deeds” inevitably poison. This is why far more carnage has been caused by do-gooders – those convinced of the goodness of their cause – than by common criminals.