Why do we do good works? Across the centuries, many answers have been offered to this question. The role of good works in the life of the Christian lies at the crux of what separates the Christian religion from all the rest. It also has divided churches in the past and remains a contested issue today.
In a way, it is a difficult question. God makes very clear that we are not justified by our works. The good things we do contribute nothing to our salvation, therefore we have no reason to boast and give all glory to God. The Apostle Paul explains this quite clearly in his letter to the Romans.
However, it is understandable that people get confused over why good works are necessary. If our goal is salvation, and only faith in Christ gets us there, then good works do seem unnecessary. Or at least they are a side issue in the Christian life. Faith is obviously more important and we should be focused on getting our doctrine of salvation right. After all, if we have a lifetime of good works, but no faith, we will not be saved. This line of thinking often leads to a diminishment of the place of good works.
So it is easy to get lost in the maze of answers and remain unsure about the relationship between salvation, faith, and good works. Thankfully, we have the beautiful and inspired words of the Apostle John to clear the air and give us a simple starting point. If you can’t seem to sort out all the different theological reasonings and historical debates, at least remember the one thing John tells us: We do good works because we love God (1 John 4:19).
God has instructed us to love as he loves. To love others is to do good to them. Give them a cup of water. Provide warmth and shelter. Visit them in prison. Love for God must be at the root of our motivation to do good. Not to earn something. Not to prove our worth. Not to gain points with God. Not to look Christian. Not to win people for Christ. Not to live out of our new identity in Christ. Not to show how thankful we are. Not for the redeeming of Creation. Not for love our neighbour. Many of these reasons are very good, but underneath it all must be the love for God. There is no love for God without love for others, as John reminds us.
Don’t get trapped by the twin lies that good works are the reason you are saved or that good works are not essential to salvation. Rather, begin with the profound motivation of the love of God.