Last week, while teaching a class, I was talking about how we are saved by grace through faith and not by works. I mentioned we have this sense that when we wrong someone we need to do something good. An individual in the class asked where these feelings of doing good, whenever we do bad, come from. As I thought about it this week I sensed I needed to elaborate on my answer for those in the class and others.
I believe these feelings come from God; part of how He designed us and therefore is a good thing. It seems natural for us to want to do good for any person we have wronged. My desire to please my wife after I have offended her is how I should feel.
However, I think we take a good thing and make it problematic when we apply this principle to salvation. It is one thing to offend another person and try to make it up by doing good; it is another to offend a holy God and think we can make it up by doing good deeds. The major difference is God is our judge and when we sin we break His laws. In our human justice system no matter how good you are, if you break the law and are caught, you pay a penalty and doing good works won’t help you. For example if you stopped at 2,000 stop signs in a row and then ran through just one, the police officer who saw you needs to write you a ticket. Would you try to tell him about the 2,000 consecutive stop signs you stopped at? No because obedience to the law is expected and doesn’t pay the penalty. The same goes for God. If you break His laws you need to be judged by Him and pay a penalty. Obedience to the law and good works are expected and breaking any of God’s laws comes with a penalty. That penalty is separation from God for all eternity.
Many people think doing good can earn heaven; as long as your good works outweigh the bad. This is what Islam teaches. As I said previously, in our justice system being a good person doesn’t pay the penalty for breaking the law. This same principle goes for God’s system. In God’s system you have to be perfect. James writes James 2:10 “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” We are held accountable and have to pay a penalty even for breaking only one of God’s laws. The problem is we don’t just break one but many each and every day. Only Jesus Christ, God’s perfect Son, can pay the penalty you and I deserve. It is only through trusting Christ can we enter the kingdom of heaven.
Where do the feelings of doing good, whenever we do bad, come from? God created them in us but doesn’t want us to think our good deeds can pay the penalty we deserve. Paul writes, Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” God’s grace cannot be acquired by good works; God gives us grace only by faith.