Religion, Good Works, and Salvation

By Don Strand

Many religions teach the positive virtues of goodness and peacefulness, and the leaders and teachers of those religions encourage their followers to strive to do good deeds and be at peace with others. The fact that humanity has always understood the difference between "good" and "evil" is actually evidence for the existence of God. Evolution cannot account for the moral conscience that exists in all mankind. Evolution is based on the premise of "survival of the fittest." Those organisms that are the most self-centered, the strongest, and most ruthless will survive in the system of evolution. Goodness and peacefulness as part of the human psyche cannot be explained by evolution. And yet the idea of morality (good) and immorality (evil) are cultural universals. These ideas have existed in all human societies throughout history.

The very idea of "good" requires that there be some definition of "bad" or "evil." Therefore, philosophers and theologians have always recognized that man's moral foundation, his ability to know good from evil, points to the existence of a being who has defined these terms. For the Christian, this being is God who, according to the Bible, has created mankind in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). The Bible tells us that God is transcendent; He is apart from the physical creation. Genesis 1:1 tells us that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth — in other words, the physical universe. God is eternal, infinite, holy and just, to name a few of His attributes, and He created the physical world for His good pleasure, and mankind in His image to share with Him His joy of the creation and to know Him and enjoy Him forever.

Other religions and philosophies have wrestled with the big questions of where everything came from, what is mankind's purpose, and what happens after death. The answers man has come up with to these questions vary and are the reason there are different religions. For example Hinduism and Buddhism teach that good and evil are eternal forces that are in constant struggle. Mankind's goal is to advance "good" and shun "evil" by freeing oneself from the desires of the world and finding peace with the universe (a very simplistic explanation). Other man-invented religions offer various theories on good and evil, but for the most part, all religions encourage people to be good and peaceable.

And while this is a good thing, the more important thing is what is the truth regarding man and his relation to God and the world. For all manmade religions, which include every religion other than Christianity, the idea is that man must be good to earn his way to some sort of "salvation." For the Eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, etc., salvation is found by putting off yourself and your desires and becoming "one" with the universe through finding harmony with it. In these religions, there is no god-being or person, instead all creation is a part of god. In Islam, there is a god (Allah) who is apart from the created order, and man's role is to have more good deeds than bad so that Allah will reward him or her with their understanding of "heaven." All man-invented religions can be summarized by saying man must do good to be rewarded by god as he is understood to be in that religious system.

On the other hand, the Bible, as the basis for the teachings of Christianity, tells us that no one can earn salvation and peace with God through good works. God is perfect in holiness, and His standard for those who desire to be in His presence is perfect holiness as well (Leviticus 11:45; Numbers 15:40; 1 Peter 1:16). Even single sin is a violation of the law and an act of rebellion against the God who created everything, so we are all guilty and subject to the righteous wrath of the infinite God. The Bible tells us that we cannot do any good work, because everything that we do as good has an underlying motive of feeding our self-centeredness and self-righteousness (Psalm 14:1-3; Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:12).

In our hopeless condition, God sent forth His Son to earn the required righteousness through the complete obedience to God's law. This requirement was achieved by the sinless life of Jesus on earth. Only God could do this, and Jesus, born of woman in His humanity yet being the Son of God in His divine nature, accomplished this and then gave His life as a sacrifice for all those who place their faith in His finished work. To those who trust in Jesus, God the Father credits to them the perfect righteousness of His Son Jesus. This is the good news of the gospel. What we could not do, God has done for us, and He grants us credit for Jesus' perfect righteousness by grace through faith (1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:4; 2:4-9). By God's grace and through the work of Jesus, those who put their faith in Christ are forgiven of their sins and credited with the perfect righteousness of God the Son. This restores fallen man's relationship with God and, through Christ, we are adopted as sons and daughters of God.

There is no other religion that teaches this truth that God has done all that is necessary for the redemption of those who believe in Jesus (Romans 10:13). This is why it is said that all manmade religion is "do, do, do" and Christianity is "done, done, done." Jesus paid it all; He has washed the sin of those who believe as "white as snow." When the Holy Spirit brings this truth into our hearts and minds, we want to live in a way that honors God, and the power of the Spirit enables us to do so. In other religions, people do good deeds and live good lives in an effort to earn salvation. The Christian, on the other hand, does good deeds and lives a good life out of gratitude for what God has done.

So people do good deeds and live peacefully because all people bear the residual of the image of God even in our fallen nature. It is part of the nature of mankind to do good works. But those works can never earn salvation and restore a right relationship with the Creator God. Only through Christ can that be done. The good works are then done from gratitude and appreciation for God's Spirit to lead us to the truth and to glorify our Lord through our changed lives.

Image Credit: 1213 1982; "DO GOOD"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Salvation  | Biblical-Truth  | Other-Religions

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Published 11-12-14