The other day after our service at the Cross, a couple came up to me and asked, “Pastor, what makes a good work good?” In a word, the answer is God. The eighteenth-century pastor and author Abraham Booth provided one of the best definitions I have ever seen when it comes to good works:
To constitute a work truly good, it must be done from a right principle (the love of God), performed by a right rule (will of God contained in the Scriptures), and intended for a right end (the glory of God).
The world is full of people doing “good things” that help many people. The hungry are fed. The naked are clothed. The homeless are given shelter. Yet even though a work benefits another, it is not truly good unless it is being done for the glory of God. It is a Godward motivation that makes a work good, a work rooted in the love of Christ.
And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with whole-hearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. (1 Chronicles 28:9)
When we are doing good works in an attempt to broker God’s favor and secure His blessing, there is no “good” in that work at all. The work has become all about us rather than God. It is living under the umbrella of legalism: working (serving) to gain favor or avoid consequences. Regardless of how “good” a work might be in the eyes of the watching world, when it is done from a legalistic motive, it is void of anything good, because it becomes all about the one doing the work rather than the One it is to be done for.
Only the truths of the Gospel can free us from self-serving motives and move us to serve our God out of a heart that overflows with thanksgiving for the promised blessings already received through grace. The more deeply we grasp the truths of the Gospel, the more deeply we are able to serve God out of a loving heart that beats to expand God’s kingdom . . . rather than our own.
When we are working to expand the kingdom of God, every work we do is a good work. Every work matters at this level of living, because our hearts have been oriented away from self and toward our Savior. Now when the hungry are fed it is a good work. When the naked are clothed it is a good work. When the homeless are given shelter it is a good work. Everything is a good work when God is in it and the heart behind the work is doing it out of a grateful response to the grace of God that has been poured out in the past and promised in the future.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!