Is it true that only saved Christians can do good works?
Suggested Daily Reading: Matthew 7:15-20 and I Corinthians 13:1-3
To answer this question properly, we must distinguish between civil good works and scriptural good works.
Civil good works are good actions performed by all kinds of people. These are good works as viewed and defined by people. Under God’s common grace, most people do good things for others. One person prepares a meal for a family whose mom is in the hospital, another stops to help a stranger having car trouble, and a third contributes food to feed the homeless. All of these are good works, which are important and meaningful and “good.” They are examples of civil good works, but might not be scriptural good works.
Scriptural good works are good actions performed by saved Christian people. These are good works as viewed and defined by God. Scriptural good works arise from God’s saving grace in the hearts of His children by His Holy Spirit. Scriptural good works contain the following three elements:
It’s source (or root) is saving faith (Heb. 11:6)
It’s standard (or rule) is God’s law (I John 5:3)
It’s motive (and goal) is God’s glory (I Cor. 10:31)
Therefore the answer to the question “Is it true that only saved Christians can do good works?” is both yes and no. No, in the sense of civil good works, as all types of people do many good works every day. But “yes” in the sense of scriptural good works. Only saved Christians can perform scriptural good works as unregenerate persons do not possess saving faith, miss the spirit of God’s law in their hearts, and do not aim to promote God’s glory.
We need to be careful that we do not under-value God’s gifts of common grace. Many people perform acts of meaningful kindness to others in daily life that are very helpful. On the other hand, we may not over-value common grace, and view civil good works of God’s common grace as if they are scriptural good works arising from God’s saving grace.
How is God’s instructing Samuel in I Samuel 16:7 fitting for this meditation on distinguishing civil from scriptural good works? Are you actively looking for opportunities and performing daily good works? By God’s saving grace, are you performing scriptural good works?