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Is doing good works the same as being righteous?

Is doing good works the same as being righteous? Examines a fine issue in our thinking, is doing good works the same as righteousness? No.

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A Simple Answer

Probably, if we want to be “simplistic”, we can just say yes. But do we need to refine our thinking more in order to think about this the same way God does? Yes. When dealing with people who are not accustomed to thinking in the thoughts of God, the ways God presents to us in the Bible, we have to be careful and very specific.

Is doing good works the same as being righteous? There is a difference between doing good works for the wrong motive, and doing good works for the right motive in God´s eyes.

When a Sinner does Good Works

If we consider for a moment, when an unsaved person does good works, does he please God? In other words, when an unsaved person does what is right and just, does that really please God?

Psalms 7:11 God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day.

We would understand that God’s anger with the unrighteous, the sinful, is not actually their wicked acts, or at least, not their wicked acts alone. A person in a coma would be a saint, therefore. But no, they are not. The person who does not have faith in God is an object of God’s anger. It is not “just his evil works“, but the heart in opposition to God and Go’s character that God opposes. An unsaved person can never please God except with the singular spiritual activity of having faith in God. This activity is more than some mere words. It is to trust God for their salvation first and foremost, but it is a reception (John 1:12) of God, of Jesus as their Savior, but much more than just that, it is a willful following of the moral character of God.

So, is doing good works the same as being righteous? No. But the root spiritual activity that pleases God is faith. Without faith, nobody can please God. So when a wicked person does something that is “good”, their evil nature taints even that good work so that it is not pleasing to God. If we carry this forward a bit, even when a person is a Christian, a believer, if they do things with an evil heart, then that does not please God. God judges everything and everybody on a basis of outward acts, and He also sees the heart, the motive, the “behind the scenes” things, and all that enters into what and how He judges the person.

Doctrine Causes Conduct

The heart of this matter is a spiritual principle that we must always observe, that doctrine, or spiritual belief, is what causes conduct. God judges the conduct of a person, but also the underlying cause of sinful actions, which is what a person believes, what is in his heart.

So, it is important to ask, what is belief? Belief is when you “act” as though something is true, right, just, what you will follow and practice. Belief and conduct are very profoundly inter-woven together into a single thing.

1 Timothy 4:16 Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.

1 Timothy 6:3 If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;

So there is a very close relationship between belief and conduct. Correct doctrine (what a person believes) will produce a righteous conduct, or godliness. That conduct “corresponds” to healthy doctrine. Wrong beliefs will taint and ruin any supposedly “good work” in the eyes of God, because the heart is not following a godly motive.

When we consider whether doing good works the same as being righteous, we meditate on the entire matter trying to understand the key elements in this issue.

What is the point?

So what is the point? Where exactly is the difference between the good works of a righteousness man, and how is that different from a wicked man’s good works?

The answer is simply motive. The wicked man does good things he thinks pleases God, but he doesn’t change his heart or soul, the essence of his being, in any way. He remains a wicked man. Whatever his motives are, God knows. But a wicked man does good things to somehow abate the wrath of God on him because of his wickedness. He doesn’t repent and abandon his wickedness, and there is “the rub”. He is outside of God’s grace, and therefore nothing he does is “good” in God’s eyes, although the outward activity is maybe approved or commanded by God. But he remains in rebellion to God, so his “goodness” is null and void as far as God is concerned.

Isaiah 64:6 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

But a Christian, or a “believer in God”, is a person who is motivated in his actions by God. What he does right, he does that because his base most desire is to please God and yes, that results in his not going to hell, but his relationship with God, as God’s child, is what is his motivating desire.

Again, the unsaved man may begin to fear the wrath of God, or even physical civil authorities, so he will not steal. But his heart is full in for stealing if he can “get away” with it. At some point, he is avoiding greater pains and suffering (not going to jail), but morally he is just as bad as any other wicked person. He just hasn’t had sufficient time and opportunity to go as far as they have gone.

Is doing good works the same as being righteous? An Analysis

As a pastor, I have met and dealt with many people who confess to be Christians, but it is as if Christianity hasn’t penetrated their hearts. They are as wicked and filthy in their hearts as any unsaved person, and actually, I have met unsaved people who were morally much better than these “Christians”. I have more fear lending money to my “Christian brethren” than certain moral, unsaved people. How is that? What? It is because I have been burnt so many times by “Christians,” supposedly good brethren in my church, that have taken things from me, and when I find out and confront them about it, they have absolutely no moral compulsion to give it back, or pay me for what they have taken from me, and it is as if I was wrong in even questioning them. Yes, they did it, but it is as it is their “right” or privilege somehow. This is not the Christianity I study in the Bible. Integrity is a deep lying trait of Christians. It is totally absent in these people pretending to be Christians.

But a “believer in God” is a person who has had a personal evaluation of his own self, and he has renounced what he is. Morally, he confesses he is wicked and unclean, a rejected being before God, and then he repents of that essence which he is. Receiving Christ means he is now in the process of being remade (fully agreeing to this in his own will and efforts) in the moral image of Jesus Christ, God. Repenting means abandoning that being and the conduct that comes from that being. Without this, he is not saved. But this by itself is just remorse, I stole, they caught me, and I went to jail for a year, and I didn’t like it, so I won’t steal again. (Morally, he is okay with stealing still, but practically, he isn’t going to steal again, until maybe he feels it is impossible to get caught, then yes.)

When a person understands his sin before His Creator, and repents of that sin (admitting to having done it, i.e. confession) then he comes to God as his Savior. He believes in or receives Jesus the Christ, his Savior.

A saved person is different from an unsaved person because HE WANTS TO WORSHIP HIS GOD. This worship of God IS NOT RAISING YOUR HANDS AND ENTERING INTO SOME KIND OF EUPHORIC STATE. True worship is to hear the Word of God and change yourself morally into what is the moral character of God.

All people want to worship their god, but with a little “g”. Most people have money as their god, and so they worship their god on Sunday morning by working, or by resting, or by entertaining themselves. Whatever they are doing on Sunday, that is the undisputable clue as to what is their god, what is most important, of the highest priority, in their thinking, in their heart, and in their conduct, their actions with follow that god.

But a saved person wants to morally be like God in their character, so they study God’s character and make their character like God’s character. They have mercy and forgiveness in their own life (actions and conduct) because they understand that in God’s character and want to copy that in their personal life. This copying the moral character of God into one’s personal life is the essence of worship. From this important point, you can see why we go to church on Sunday, and why we read and study our Bibles during the week. We pray because this activity of changing ourselves to be morally like God is a spiritual activity that is difficult for us, and takes a lot of spiritual energy. We may easily understand what it is, but the actual doing it consistently is very difficult, and we have to have God’s help, but He will not give His help in the matter if we do not sincerely ask for His help. That is prayer.

Therewith unfolds the bulk of the Christian life. Between understanding God and his character to applying it successful and consistently in our own lives, that is the Christian life. There are a lot of smaller details, but if you get this down, accomplished in your own life, you are going to please God and go a long way towards being an example of a mature Christian.

But to summarize this, you must do the right thing (righteousness) for the right reason. That right reason is because you have studied or benefitted from other’s Bible study (i.e. hear a sermon in church), study the Bible yourself, and you understand the moral character of God (doctrine and worship) and see God’s actions in life (praise), publically rejoicing in those actions and character of God among God’s people (the church community).

With this distinction “in mind”, we understand that when two different people do the same thing, they can be worlds apart in the eyes of God.

How God judges People – Is doing good works the same as being righteous?

But while it is very true that our beliefs cause our actions, God actually judges us by our actions. He alone sees our hearts and motives, and He alone can judge the deepest parts of our heart. But God judges people finally on their actions. They do what they do (actions) because of their relation to the truth of God, to God. God says thieves will be judged.

1 Corinthians 6:10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

It is totally up to the individual to change his soul, his heart, his thinking, his motives in order to not enter under the condemnation of God.

More Posts on issues

Is doing good works the same as being righteous?


Mutch History of Premillennialism
is a compilation of papers at a Second Coming Conference in 1885 at a camp meeting in Niagra Indiana. These paper present the thinking and verses supporting an imminent Second Coming in the air, premillennial coming of Christ. Download: Mutch History of Premillennialism

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