Q. We have been delivered from our misery by God’s grace alone through Christ and not because we have earned it: why then must we still do good?

A. To be sure, Christ has redeemed us by his blood.  But we do good because Christ by his Spirit is also renewing us to be like himself, so that in all our living we may show that we are thankful to God for all he has done for us, and so that he may be praised through us.  And we do good so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits, and so that by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ. (Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 86)

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One of the common objections to the Christian view of salvation, especially in its Reformed expression, is that salvation by grace alone through faith alone leads to moral license.  If we can’t earn one tiny iota of deliverance from sin by our good works, then why do good at all?

The Heidelberg Catechism gives five reasons why those in Christ must still do good.

First, we do good because the Holy Spirit is working in us to make us more like Jesus (2 Cor. 3:18).  The same Spirit who caused us to be born again and enabled us to believe will also work to make us holy (Rom. 6:9-11).

Second, we do good out of gratitude (Rom. 12:1-2).  This is not to suggest that God saves us and then we work the rest of our lives to pay him back for the favor (Rom. 11:33-36).  Rather, we do good because the wonder of our salvation produces such thankfulness in our hearts that it is our pleasure to serve God.

Third, we do good so that God might be praised by the works we display in his name.  “By this my Father is gloried,” Jesus said, “that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8).

Fourth, we do good so that we can be assured of our right standing before God.  Faith alone justifies, but the faith that justifies is never alone.  By bearing good fruit, we show that we are a good tree (Matt. 7:15-20) and make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10).

Fifth, we do good in order that we might adorn the gospel (Titus 2:10) and make it attractive to outsiders (1 Peter 2:12).

Clearly, the Bible is not indifferent to good works.  Christians who live in habitual, unrepentant sin show themselves not to be true Christians.  Of course, we all stumble (James 3:2; 1 John 1:8).  But there’s a difference between falling into sin and jumping in with both feet.  It doesn’t matter the sin—pride, slander, robbery, covetousness, or sexual immorality—if we give ourselves to it and live in it with joyful abandon, we will not inherit the kingdom of God.  Simply put, people walking day after day in the same sin without a fight or repentance go to hell (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; 1 John 3:14). And on the flip side, people walking day after day in the light of the gospel and in view of their union with Christ, will–imperfectly, but truly–learn to do good, be good, and get better.

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12 thoughts on “Why Then Must We Still Do Good?”

  1. Sean McCausland says:

    Thanks for this, Kevin.

    Would you also consider this as a reason: because growth in good works, and holiness in general, are necessary for preparing us to meet the LORD, and live with Him, in the life to come (Rom 13:11-14; 2 Peter 3:10-14; Heb 12:14; Titus 2:11-14)?

    Thanks for your writings and blog-posts. I’ve benefited from them greatly, and will continue to.

    Sean McCausland
    Calgary

  2. Mike Gantt says:

    It is more important to do good than it is to go to church.

  3. Jeremy Campbell says:

    Kevin, would you consider “storing up treasures in Heaven” as a biblical reason for doing good works? Not just as a byproduct of good works, but an actual incentive for doing them. Obviously that phrase comes from Mt. 5, but the idea seems to be scattered throughout the NT like other places in the Gospels (Rich Young Ruler; Lk 12:33), Paul in several places (1 Cor. 3:10-15; 2 Cor 4:17) as well as John (1 John 2:28 & 4:17; Revelation 2-3) specifically the rewards in the letters to the 7 churches.

    The 5 reasons you listed seem to always get the most publicity in sermons, but doesn’t the NT teach that there will be real rewards for those believers who give themselves to good works? Of course, those gifts aren’t earning salvation in any way, but rewards that some believers will “earn” and others will not?

  4. carl peterson says:

    “Fourth, we do good so that we can be assured of our right standing before God.”

    I undderstand the Biblical reasons behind this one but I often find myself a little more perplexed about how these Biblical comments should be applied to our everyday lives. What I mean is that this statement could lead to many becoming more anxious (in a negative way) about their faith and their standing with Christ. It could lead to a works based assurance of salvation. I could worry so much that I am not really doing enough good works so i am not really a christian. So we start balancing our good works and trying to find the good enough point so that we know that we are accepated by God. I do not seethat is helpful or what God has intended for us. i do understand that a change in one’s life and heart is a way to see that you are saved. Basically if tehre is no change then one needs to pray and seek the Lord’s face about this matter.

    But coming from a back ground with anxiety and depression and counseling others, as a chaplain, with the same background I see how this one can go the wrong way. And i fear sometimes the church does not appreaciate how this one can get off balanced. Just my thoughts. Great article.

  5. BlaCorc says:

    So isn’t it logical to conclude that it is by fighting sin and repenting that we are saved?

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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