Doing good to all people

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people… (Gal 6:9–10a)

Just a few words from Paul's letter to the church in Galatia but words which, if not obeyed, could affect our eternal destiny.

Faith and works

In his letter to the church at Rome Paul wrote:

God 'will give to each person according to what he has done'. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. (Rom 2:6–7)

That God should reward those who persist in doing good with eternal life seems strange to us who have been brought up on post-Reformation preaching. Doesn't the Bible say that we are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, and not by what we do? Yes it does (Eph 2:8–9).

Paul is not teaching salvation by works here. Rather, in stating this biblical truth he is showing that man is not saved by faith in Christ alone (Jam 2:24), but by faith in Christ plus the works (deeds, activity) he performs as a result of his faith. Those works make his faith complete (Jam 2:21–22); without them it is incomplete.

James says that faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by deeds, cannot save a person (Jam 2:14). He describes it as useless (Jam 2:20) and likens it to a corpse that has no life in it (Jam 2:26). If you examined a dead body you would soon realize there is no life there. That is a picture of faith without works. Faith must be accompanied by action, otherwise it's dead (Jam 2:17).

It's the things we do that prove the reality of our faith, both to others and to God. James said he would demonstrate his faith to people by what he did (Jam 2:18), just as Abraham demonstrated his faith to God by what he did (Heb 11:17). Our faith in God must be a living faith, and we prove our faith is alive by what we do.

In our opening text Paul said that we will reap a harvest at the proper time if we do not grow weary (Greek: lose heart) in doing good. What harvest was he talking about? The verse before shows he was talking about eternal life, which we reap by pleasing the Spirit, ie by doing God's will, rather than by pleasing our sinful nature (Gal 6:8).

Paul taught that even though we are not saved by works (which would make Christ's death unnecessary) we are saved by God to do good works which he has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:8–10). Those works make our faith complete.

And that doesn't mean we save ourselves. We can only do the works God has prepared for us by allowing him to live his life in us, which means that salvation is of God from beginning to end. Salvation has an element of works in it, and those works include us doing good to people.

Salvation through the Law

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luk 10:25–37) an expert in the Law asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life—surely the most important question any human being can ask. Jesus asked him if he could summarize the Law, and he replied by quoting Deu 6:5 and Lev 19:18:

'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'

'You have answered correctly,' said Jesus. 'Do this and you will live.' In other words: 'Obey God's law and you will inherit eternal life.'

But how could he say that when the Word declares that no one will be justified (declared righteous before God) by observing the Law, but only through faith in Christ (Gal 2:15–16)? He said that because eternal life does come through obedience to the Law, the problem being that no one can obey it to the level required for salvation, which is perfection.

Only one person has done that—Jesus Christ—which is why we need to put our faith in his perfect life, lived on our behalf, so that his righteousness will become our righteousness and we will be saved (Jer 23:5–6).

The final words of our Lord on the cross were: 'It is finished (Joh 19:30)'. At that moment, not only had his blood atoned for our sins, but he'd also completed a life of perfect obedience to God and had made eternal life available to mankind as a result.

What the first Adam lost for the human race (eternal life) through his disobedience to God, the last Adam (Jesus Christ, 1Co 15:45) has made available to the human race through his obedience to God (Rom 5:19).

Love is the fulfilment of the Law

So, because Jesus has obeyed the Law for us, does that mean we don't have to obey it? We are not to obey the ceremonial aspects, which God added to teach spiritual truth, but we must certainly obey the moral aspects.

When asked which is the greatest commandment in the Law (Mat 22:35–40) Jesus, like the expert in the Law earlier, quoted Deu 6:5 and Lev 19:18, and added that on those two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. In other words love is the principle on which the Law is based—love for God and love for our fellow man.

If we love God with all of our heart, our soul, our strength and our mind, we are not going to allow idols to come between us and him: he is going to be everything to us—which he demands to be. And if we love our neighbour as ourself, we are not going to murder him, lie to him, sleep with his wife or steal his goods.

Paul said that love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the Law (Rom 13:10)—love for God and love for our fellow man.

Christ's law

So Christians are required to obey God's moral law, and more than that. Paul said he was not free from God's law, but was under Christ's law (1Co 9:21). He was referring to the teachings given by Jesus in the Gospels.

In Mat 5:17–48, Jesus quoted commandments from God's moral law and then added to them, making them even more difficult to obey. He said that if a man looks at a woman lustfully he's already committed adultery with her in his heart, even though he hasn't touched her physically.

He also said that we should not only love our neighbours but our enemies as well, and should pray for those who persecute us so that we may be sons and daughters of our Father in heaven. Those are examples from Christ's law, which every disciple of Christ is required to obey (Mat 28:19–20).

But how can we obey that law? If only one human being has been able to obey it, how can we obey it? The answer is that no one can by human effort. We can only obey it as we allow Jesus Christ to live his life in us. As it is written: 'Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col 1:27)'.

Jesus said he hadn't come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfil them (Mat 5:17). The Greek word translated 'fulfil' (pleroo) means to complete something in the sense of filling it to the top. Jesus obeyed every aspect of God's law (his revealed will), completely and perfectly, from conception to the grave.

However, Paul uses the same word in his letter to the Romans. He says that he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled (pleroo) the Law (Rom 13:8). That means it's possible for Christians to fulfil God's law too. He also said that if we carry each other's burdens we will fulfil the law of Christ (Gal 6:2).

The Greek word translated 'burdens' means weights or difficulties. The Lord wants us to help those who are struggling with their faith and with problems in life. Why? Because we are the Body of Christ and the parts of the body should have equal concern for each other (1Co 12:27,25).

Obedience

If we allow Jesus Christ to live his life in us we will find ourselves living, in increasing measure, a life of obedience to God because that was the life Jesus lived and, by his grace, we are becoming like him (2Co 3:18; 1Jo 4:16b–17).

Jesus told his disciples that unless their righteousness surpassed that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, they would certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (Mat 5:20). Righteousness is essential for salvation.

How do we become righteous? In two ways:

Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (Jam 2:23). That was the righteousness that comes from faith. He then obeyed God in offering his son Isaac on the altar and was considered righteous (Greek: to be justified, declared righteous, Jam 2:21). That was the righteousness that comes from obedience.

Paul wrote that obedience leads to righteousness, righteousness to holiness, and holiness to eternal life (Rom 6:16,19,22). Obedience is essential for salvation.

Peter wrote that we have been chosen by God for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood (1Pe 1:2). And Paul was given the task to call people from among the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith (Rom 1:5).

So to summarize: Salvation depends upon faith in Christ, plus the obedience that comes from faith. That obedience results in the works (deeds, actions) that make our faith complete (Jam 2:21–23), which leads us to righteousness and, ultimately, to eternal life.

You will note that Abraham was called God's friend after he'd offered his son, Isaac, on the altar. He wasn't called God's friend when he believed, but when he'd made his faith complete by what he did.

Likewise, Jesus said that we are his friends if we do what he commands (Joh 15:14). We are not his friends when we believe in him, but when we obey him. Why is that? Because faith without works is dead. Obedience proves our faith to God.

The good Samaritan

Why have I included Jesus' teaching on the Good Samaritan in a study on money, wealth, and possessions? I've done that because loving our neighbour as ourself can mean helping them financially.

The expert in the Law, confident he was already doing what the Law required for salvation, asked Jesus who his neighbour was, thinking he would say it was his fellow Jew.

But Jesus didn't say that. He said that 'a' man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Not a Jew, but any man. He fell among robbers who robbed him, stripped him, beat him and left him half-dead.

A Jewish priest (someone who should have been living a godly life) came down the road but passed by on the other side. Likewise, a Levite (a man in full-time service for God) also ignored him.

But when a Samaritan came by he stopped and took pity on him. He bandaged his wounds, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he gave the innkeeper some money and told him to look after him. 'If it costs more,' he said, 'I will give it to you when I return.'

That man not only did good to the one who was in need, as he had the opportunity, but he also paid for his care until he got better. He gave of his finances to help him.

At this point we should ask why Jesus made a Samaritan the subject of his parable? The Samaritans were descended from Jews who had disobeyed God in previous generations by marrying Gentiles. Consequently they were despised by all Jews who could trace a pure line of descent back to Abraham.

However, by using this illustration Jesus was showing that as far as eternal life is concerned, lineage counts for nothing. It doesn't matter who our ancestors were, or what they did or didn't do; it's how we live our own lives before God that's the important thing (Eze 18:19–20).

Jesus asked who had been a neighbour to the man who was attacked by robbers, and the expert in the Law had to admit it was the Samaritan: the one who had mercy on him. 'Go and do likewise,' said Jesus (Luk 10:36–37).

A Christian might say: 'Well, if I found someone in that state I would certainly help them, but we have police and ambulances, and medical care is free in the UK. You don't see people lying on the streets like that.'

But what about other countries? Almost daily we see pictures on our television screens of people suffering from disasters, disease, famine or aggression, and the aid agencies are there, ready to help them. All they need is our money.

So, thanks to our modern connected world, we can obey our Lord's instruction to love our neighbour as ourself any time we choose. When we see someone in the world who is in need, we can either pass by on the other side or do something to help them.

Have you been a 'good Samaritan' recently?

Mercy triumphs over judgement

What the Samaritan did for the man is summed up in two verses:

Showing mercy is very important in the Bible.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! (Jam 2:12–13)

We should remind ourselves that those words are taken from the New Testament and were written to Christians. We are each going to be judged by Christ's law and should live our lives accordingly.

What we sow we reap (Gal 6:7). If we want God to show us mercy on that Day, we must be merciful to others; and if we want our sins to be forgiven, we must forgive the sins of others (Luk 11:4a; Mat 6:14–15).

Michael Graham
December 2006
Revised September 2011

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

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