In this present day and age, we tend to consider the world in which we live to be a totally depraved society, and rightfully so. We always see in the newspapers the stories of brutal slayings and the rebellious attitudes of many people today. We hear many reports of wars and at present we are hearing about the spreading conflict in Afghanistan. We are always hearing the cry of many citizens for their rights, and there are many oppressed people who are now rising up in rebellion. It is very clear in all these happenings that man is very self-centered and depraved. The present-day man, who is the product of every other generation of the human race, is indeed no better than the first generations of the human race. Even though man has developed and passed through many different ages, he still in the twentieth century maintains his original guilt and sin. Even though there have been many good teachers and leaders who were good examples to follow, present-day man is still self-centered. Even though there have been all types of social movements which were directed at the goal of changing man and making him better. There has been the Reformation, many different cultural Renaissances, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and many others. Man felt that these movements could free man from his crudeness and primitiveness. However, man is yet totally depraved and in fact he is worse today than he was after the fall.
However, even though there yet remains the wickedness and baseness of man, there are some people who attempt to do good deeds for the betterment of the human race. There are those persons today even as there has been those in the past who give up many nice things and live a life of poverty and misery in order that they might make this world a better place to live. A few examples come to my mind. On December 10, 1979 in Oslo, Norway, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 1868 Nobel Peace prize to the small old nun of Calcutta, India. This small frail nun was the sixty-nine year old lady known as Mother Teresa. She has indeed attempted to do many good things for the poor and the oppressed of India. She is known as the “angel of Calcutta” and the “saint of the gutter” because of her work of tending the poor and the sick in the sprawling slums of Calcutta. She is so concerned about the poor in India that when she was given more than $190,000 as a prize, she decided to give it all to the cause of building homes and hospitals for the poor and needy Indians. Instead of indulging in a huge feast and riotous living in Oslo, she has ordered $5,800 to be sent to India. This was the amount of money that was going to be spent for a banquet given in honor of her. Mother Teresa is a Roman Catholic nun and so she spent much time in prayer during her stay Oslo. So, indeed, she is that type of person who has given herself for the sake of the poor and needy in the world.
Another example I have come across during my recent reading is a certain school teacher named Anne Hobbs. She is a school teacher who spent her entire career in the cold North Country of Alaska. She was nineteen when she went up to Alaska and she remained there throughout her life. She gave up a nice life in order that she might rescue the Eskimos there from the corruptions which the white man had introduced into that area. Even though this area is separated from the big centers of the world, it nevertheless has the pollution of the world of sin in it. Here there is self-centeredness and hatred. Here full-blooded Indians hate those who have both Indian and American blood in their veins. Anne did indeed attempt to change these evil Indians, and she went to help the poor and oppressed the Indians. She tried to help out the half breeds of the village whom the other inhabitants hate. She befriends a half breed named Fred Purdy and she adopts two half breed children. On account of these good deeds she is hated by the others. However, she persists in her desire to show kindness to these people and does not give in to the pressures of others. So it is very evident that this young lady attempted to do good works unto all those with whom she came in contact. All of this information I acquired from a book titled, Tisha.
Another example of this type of human being is that well-liked leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II. From his recent visit to the U.S. of A., it is evident that he is a man who attempts to do good things for every tribe and tongue on the earth. He prayed with, he performed masses to, and he admonished many different types of Americans. He went to both the poor and the rich, the leaders and the citizens, the employers and the employees. Many Catholics who were in the presence of the great father, exclaimed that this was the closest that they had been to heaven and to God. One Catholic said that “He (John Paul) makes me think that the world and the people in it are not as bad as they seem.” It was evident also that he does put into practice some Christian principles. He is indeed very different from the long line of popes which have preceded him. However, he does in no wise compare to the godly life of Peter, whom the Roman Catholics consider to be the original father or pope.
Thus, it is very evident that man today attempts to do good works. It would seem that because of his total depravity man would have nothing to do with that which is good and virtuous. However, man does attempt to find what is good and he tries to do it. Why then would a wicked man try to do this? Well, in the first place he wants other men to do unto him as he does unto them. if a man gives another man help when that person is in need, he wants that person to return that good deed to him when he is in need also. It is just the case for man today s it was for the Pharisees whom Jesus rebukes in Luke 14:12-14. In that text Jesus says that it is wrong to invite guests who will more than likely invite you back to their house. That is what the Pharisees have been known to do and so Jesus rebuked them. He tells them that they should rather invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind. This is why we many times do good things to those around us. We will be friends only to those who return favors. Once a person is not friendly to us we will cut him out of our lives and say all manner of evil against that person. Our good deeds are quite different from Jesus’ good deeds which He did to many of the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind. Man as he is naturally, is indeed very self-centered, and he attempts to perform good works for selfish reasons.
In the second place, man attempts to do good works because he wants to prove himself, to his neighbor, and to God that he is indeed not so bad after all. He wants to show to all of society that he is a virtuous man and that he does indeed conform to a code of moral laws. He is not very honest with himself and his neighbor. This is indeed the way every human being is. It is much nicer and easier to say and think that there is something which is worthy of praise in himself. We as human beings cannot stand admitting to ourselves, and to our neighbors, and especially to God that we are sinners. Man, however, knows that things are very different. He knows that he has broken God’s law, and that he has not served God’s law demands and he knows that he cannot keep it, and he knows that he does not want to keep it. So it is very evident that all the so-called good works of man are really not good, but they are only to be counted as filthy rags. it is very true today even as it was during the time of Noah that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually.
Therefore, if these praise-worthy works of men are not to be considered good works, then what are good works? In order to get a good answer for this question let us turn to the Bible. In order for us to get a good summary of what the Bible says concerning good works, it is proper and beneficial to turn to two of the Creeds of the Church which are based on the Scriptures. Let us first of all look at the Westminster Confession of Faith, and we will then find the definition of good works in the sixteenth chapter. This chapter gives the definition as follows:
“Good works are only such as God hath commanded in His holy Word, and not such as, without the arrant thereof, are devised by men, out of blind zeal, or upon any pretence of good intention. These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.”
In the second place, we must look at the Heidelberg Catechism. In Lord’s Day XXXIII, Question and Answer ninety-one, the definition is given that good works are “only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to his glory; and not such as are founded on our imagination, or the institutions of men.” These two definitions are indeed good and they are very scriptural. This is so because if one reads these two creeds, he will find that almost every clause which is written down is backed by a proof from the Bible.
Now the, if all the so-called good works of Mother Teresa, Anne Hobbs, Pope John Paul II, and many others are compared to the elements of good works according to these two definitions, what is the conclusion? It is indeed true that after they have been weighed in the balances they are found wanting and they in no wise can be considered good works. And also in the second place, if we compare many of our works which we consider to be good, we will see that they are indeed short of the mark which the Scriptures set for works to be good. These works are not done in obedience to God’s law, but they are only done in accord with man’s laws. They are not evidences of a true and living faith, but they only show that we have a feeling of love and concern for others for selfish reasons. They indeed are not aimed at showing thankfulness to God, and they are not directed at God’s glorification. Rather, all these great attempts are only done so that we men may acquire the praise and adoration of men. We only attempt to do good works because we want to be liked by others. We could care less about God’s glory or showing thankfulness to God. We also have the idea ground deeply into our hearts and minds that if we do these good works then God will be well pleased and He will give unto us salvation because of our works.
What therefore must our conclusion be to all these attempts to do good works? Should we avoid doing the things which Mother Teresa, Anne Hobbs, Pope John Paul II and others have done? Should we just be satisfied with the conclusion that all these deeds are only vain and no praise at all? Should we then settle comfortably into our own little church and put in the required time which that church demands? God forbid! But rather we must see as James says in his general epistle that “faith without works is dead also.” We must indeed be just as zealous for good works as the early New Testamental Church was. We must want to thank and praise God in all our good works. When we teach and learn the word of God, we must desire to thank and glorify God. When we give help to those in time of need, we must do it because we have faith and because we want God’s name glorified. Then and only then can we classify our works as being truly good ones.