Are the good deeds of the non-Christian person, the religious person, and the Christian person pleasing to God? Is it enough to Him that you want to be a good person? I don’t know who wants to be the bearer of bad tidings, but at least these bad tidings can be overcome.
For the non-Christian, the person who does not acknowledge God as God, he disobeys the first of the Ten Commandments: Old Testament, Exodus 20:3, You shall have no other gods before Me. If you do not acknowledge God as the supreme and only God, then you have sinned. So what is God’s reaction to a person who has sinned? In the New Testament, in John 8:24, I (Jesus) said therefore to you, that you shall die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins. John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He have His only begotten son, what whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.
But thanks to Jesus who said in John 3:17, For God did not send the son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. So there are great tidings for everyone who has done one sinful thing! We can be saved! John 7:38 says, He who believes in Me, from his innermost being shall flower rivers of living water. John 6:51 I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh. John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.
Nevertheless, while one sin committed by a person negates their goodness before God and condemns them from eternal life with God – and while all people have sinned and need help…God offers sinners help and eternal life with Him! Woohoo!
Is the effort of a religious person pleasing to God? Jesus spent a lot of time in the New Testament conveying His displeasure of the religious leaders, whom He called white washed tombs due to having the appearance of goodness while having evil hearts that did not sincerely serve Him (Matthew 23:27).
Apparently, God is not an easy going fellow when it comes to goodness and evil. Even if people today, like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, give religion a go of it, even devoting their life to religion, this does not mean their sacrifice is an acceptable service before the Lord. In Genesis 4:3-4, Cain offered a gift to God from his harvest, but scripture does not say that Cain offered his best as did his brother Abel. Cain’s gift was rejected by God as Cain did not worship and serve God above all else. He valued the best of his harvest, his little god, before honoring God – which is breaking the first of the Ten Commandments. This was the rich young ruler’s downfall as well. He asked Jesus what good thing he should do in order to have eternal life in Matthew 19, but while the ruler said that he already kept all the commandments, he valued his riches above God. The efforts of religious people are not acceptable to God because the appearance of goodness does not equate a sincere Christ follower. In Matthew 16:25, Jesus said For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.
In Matthew 7: 15 Jesus said people can wear sheep’s clothing – having an appearance of being a follower of Christ, but not sincerely following Him. Isaiah 29:13 Then the Lord said, because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote. These people had “good” intentions, but their outward service did not match their inward hearts. Some people will even call out to God, but will not be accepted into the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 7:21-23 Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles? And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness. Does this seem unfair? It is not, because the hearts of the people never truly followed God, they followed God in appearance alone.
The religious person may have more difficulty going to God and following Him because they deceive themselves that they know God because they try to do a lot of good deeds in the name of God, rather than repent and follow God from their heart. The non-Christian is at least upfront about his choice to not follow God. I was a religious person for about 20 years, and then God opened my deceived eyes to see that my goodness, even my religious goodness, would not earn my way into heaven.
Of the Christian, God says in John 5:24 that the believer is no longer condemned for his sin – but is the believer’s attempts at goodness always pleasing to God? As mentioned in Part I of this post, in 1 Corinthians 13:3 God says through Paul, And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. And in 1 Corinthians 3: 13 Each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. Old Testament, Hosea 6:6a says For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice.
What goodness is acceptable to God? John 15:4, 5b Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. Apart from Me you can do nothing. Unless we are forgiven of our sin and made right with God, we cannot abide in Jesus. But once we are made right with Him, we can abide in Him and be filled with the fruit of goodness – the fruit of righteousness as mentioned in Philippians 1:11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.
So if a believer abides in Jesus, then he can bear good fruit; he can bear the fruit of righteousness. And while the believer is abiding in Him, he will love God by obeying Him which produces good fruit. John 14:23b says, If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. Galatians 5:25 says If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit, and verse 22 and 23 lists the fruit of the Spirit which includes goodness.
If the believer abides in God and loves God by obeying His word – then the Christian will be striving to obey Matthew 22:37, 39 because all other commandments rest on these two commandments. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Vs 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and Prophets. If the believer is abiding in God, loving God and living in obedience to these two commandments, then the Christian profits before God because the motive of their good actions stem from their unabashed love of God and love of others. Acts of love towards others profit the Christian, as shown in 1 Corinthians 13:3. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. So all acts done with the primary motive of obedience to God, out of unabashed love for God, and out of love of others are profitable for the Christian because these acts of goodness are genuinely good and pleasing to God.
So while the non-Christian and the religious person’s goodness cannot be acceptable to God because he is not made right with God, the Christian’s goodness can be pleasing to God when the believer’s primary motive is to obey and love God, as well as to love others as himself.