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Can Unbelievers Do Good Works?
Can unbelievers please God in any good that they do? Do random acts of kindness by unbelievers earn merit or favor with God? Can true goodness exist in people who are not motivated by or connected to the saving work of Jesus Christ?
This week on the Straight Truth Podcast, Dr. Josh Philpot shares that Paul says in the book of Romans that there is none righteous, no not one; there is none that does good. Dr. Philpot also says that Paul says in the book of Titus that unbelievers are not fit for any good work. But this sort of flies in the face of our experience and understanding. We can look around and see numerous unbelieving people who do some seemingly good deeds. Dr. Philpot asks Dr. Richard Caldwell to help us understand this. How can we distinguish the works (good deeds) of unbelievers versus those that are the fruit of the Spirit done by true believers of Christ?
Dr. Caldwell says that good works in believers are those wrought by God and explained by God. Good works are impossible apart from God and apart from salvation. We are all born into this world spiritually dead, sinners estranged from God. Therefore, the only abilities and capacities we humans have are those explained by our human nature since the fall. Dr. Caldwell says for something to be good, it has to be aimed at the glory of God, the honor of God; it needs to be something that pleases God. But as the book of Hebrews tells us, without faith, it is impossible to please God. Human beings who are estranged from God without Christ are incapable of that good. All our good works without salvation fall short of the glory of God. So when Paul speaks of no one doing good in Romans 3:12, he is not speaking in terms of our human concept of the word good, but of God's standard.
We can look around us and see many people who do things we would applaud as virtuous, sacrificial, and even heroic. Yet Romans 8:8 tells us that those who are in the flesh cannot please God. So then, for something to be good in the sense of pleasing God, it will only be those works that are explained by union with Jesus Christ, by the new birth, by being made a new creation. In this sense, lost humanity is not capable of any good. What they do, is not done in fellowship of God, for the glory of God, or out of their union with Jesus Christ; they do not possess new life. Here is the distinction.
So then, the good works or deeds we witness or hear of in the world being done by unbelievers are not good according to God’s definition of good. Many of these, for sure, seem to go beyond, and might even be considered extreme, acts of common civility/good. But they are, still, only the best temporal acts that fallen man can do in this world. The only good that is real and untainted comes from God. He offers us a gift of permanent good through the saving work accomplished by Christ himself. Even after being saved as regenerate people, the good works that we do fall short and are not perfect. They are still tainted, in some respect, by our remaining sinfulness.
They do not measure up to the absolute holy standard of God. They are, however, assessed by our union with Jesus Christ and are rewardable. But the good works or deeds done by unbelievers are not done in reference to God; they are not done for Him and do not merit salvation. Christ is the one who did the work necessary to save us. Practical righteousness is what flows out of our lives as believers, and it comes from the saving work of Christ in our life. Any work that is absent of God, no matter how good it is, falls short of the standard of true goodness.
Having shared all this, Dr. Caldwell says we don’t need to change our vocabulary and discontinue our use of the word good. Instead, we need to recognize and remember that good words, good behaviors, good actions, good works, and good deeds do not save anyone. Every lost person, including children, needs the new birth. They all need the gospel. It is ok and even good to praise right behaviors, actions, etc., done by people, but we must never confuse those things with their need for Christ. No one is born into this world a Christian. Every single one of us needs the Savior.
About The Straight Truth Podcast
The Straight Truth Podcast: Christian Opinions in an Increasingly Secular World. Join Dr. Richard Caldwell, Dr. Josh Philpot, and their guests as they discuss news events, current affairs, and cultural issues from a Biblical point of view. Find the truth at www.straighttruth.net
The Straight Truth Podcast is a weekly opinion show hosted by Dr. Richard Caldwell and Dr. Josh Philpot. Straight Truth is available as an audio podcast on iTunes or as a video podcast through YouTube or Vimeo. The duration of the podcast is approximately 10 minutes. We release new episodes every Thursday.
The topics discussed in the Straight Truth Podcast are current events, matters that challenge traditional Christian values, and questions submitted by audience members. Dr. Caldwell, Dr. Philpot, and their guests seek to answer these questions with Biblical truths and from a Christian conservative point of view. The Holy Bible is the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God; it alone is and will be the basis and authority of
answering any and all questions.
The Straight Truth Podcast is the perfect podcast for those seeking to strengthen their faith, to be informed on how to broach difficult topics with a Christian point of view, to share their faith with unbelieving friends, to challenge the status quo of their own beliefs by viewing them under the lens of the Scriptures, to interpret current news events from a Biblical point of view, and more.
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