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Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Value of Good Works

I've now indicated that the primary point of Christianity is not good works, but salvation. The aim is not being good enough to get to heaven (a possibility that Christianity denies at the outset), but to be "born of God", to have a relationship with the living God that we do not have at the start. I've further indicated that good works then function as an indicator. Good works in Christianity are the unavoidable result of a restored relationship, the natural outworking of the presence of God in the believer. And, there, in just a couple of sentences, I've summed up two days of posts.

There remains a question, I think. If Christianity is not about being good, but about being saved, then why do Christians care about the morality of the society in which they live? If we hold that we cannot earn God's favor, why would it matter if our world is a moral place? If we argue that all have sinned and deserve punishment from God that can only be avoided by faith in Christ, why do we make so much noise about all the misbehaving in the world? I mean, look, if we were wildly successful and passed laws to ban abortion and made it a universal rule that marriage is the union of a man and a woman and we could outlaw divorce and, oh, I don't know, you can make a list of the behaviors Christians are so concerned about ... if we could get all that straightened out so we had a more moral society, what would we accomplish? Since good works do not achieve salvation and morality does not earn God's favor, this new, moral majority would not be saved by this condition. So why do we care about voting against pro-abortion candidates and passing laws protecting marriage and all that? Of what value are good works to the general, unbelieving public?

First, keep in mind that "good" is a relative term. The biblical definition is that which is done by God and for the glory of God. The biblical definition, therefore, denies the ability of any Natural Man to do good. Thus, Jesus said, "There is none good but God" and Paul said, "There is none who does good; no, not one." The "good works" about which I speak are simply the alignment of our actions to what God has said we are supposed to do (or not do).

With that premise, there are still reasons for encouraging biblical morality in our world. First, to do what God commands because God commands it is, intrinsically, the right and proper thing to do. It is best. It is wise. It is good.

Second, God, as Manufacturer of humans, knows best how the human works. As such, His commands are not intended as some sort of killjoy technique, but an optimizer. If you want the best "performance" out of life, you will need to follow the "Manufacturer's" instructions.

Third, God will punish people in kind with their level of evil. All sin is evil. All sinners will be punished. The level of that punishment will vary depending on the depth of their depravity. As in our own legal system, all violators are punished, but the extent of that punishment is a response to how bad the criminal behavior is. Minimizing bad behavior in the unsaved will result in less torment.

For God's creation to do what God has commanded is the right thing to do. It makes sense. It is beneficial. Further, it is the best thing for happiness, for relationships, for self-fulfillment, for all aspects of life. Doing what is right is just a good thing to do. And, of course, even if a person rejects Christ to the very end, the final judgment will be far worse for those who indulge in more evil than those who avoid it.

Doing good doesn't earn salvation. We don't get to heaven by being moral, by some cosmic balance sheet where we're more "good" than "bad". There is no grading on a curve. Being good doesn't earn God's favor. There are, however, many benefits from a morality based on God's instructions and serious costs in violating that morality. Anyone with a heart, therefore, would want to encourage a godly moral structure for society rather than letting our world slip into its natural evil. It just makes sense.


Cindy said...

Hi Stan can you give some verses that support your "degrees" of punishment in today's post.? Thanks

Stan said...

The best references are from Christ. In Matt 11:21-24 He warns cities of Israel "It will be more bearable on the day of judgment for ..." (and the rest would be some known evil city like Sodom and Gomorrah) than for Chorzin or Bethsaida or Capernaum because they had seen Christ's works and rejected them. This clearly indicates that 1) in both cases sin was punished, but 2) that there were degrees ("more bearable") of punishment.

David said...

Would that be an indication of degree? Or a means to prove a point? I mean, how can it get any worse than completely separated from God? I don't buy into the "Dante's" hell of multiple layers of demons tormenting souls, since the demons will be being tormented as well for their sin. I've heard of different levels of reward for Christians, but when the punishment for sin is eternal separation from God, I don't see how it can get any worse.

Stan said...

If, to prove a point, Jesus said "It will be more bearable on the day of judgment" but meant, "Well, there won't actually be any difference", I don't understand the point He was proving. If all sin is punished to the same degree, why would He use a comparison ("more bearable") if there is no comparison? If the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was equivalent to the sin of Chorazin, what point was Jesus making?

Or, how about this direction? If you understand that there are levels of rewards for Christians, what possible levels can there be beyond being in the presence of God?

It seems as if Jesus is drawing a comparison, where some will be worse off than others. I actually don't see how it can be understood as other than that. Beyond my opinion on the Scriptures, I've read works from Jonathan Edwards, John Bunyan, John MacAurthur, and others who all agree that there are degrees of torment in Hell. None agree with Dante's "levels of Hell", but there is a general agreement that Hell will be worse for some than for others. And if there are degrees of reward for the believer, it seems rational (even though neither is within our current understanding) that there would be degrees of torment for unbelievers.

Stan said...

Here's what CARM has to say about it. (More references.)