· author: Thomas · reading time: ca. 10 min.

Christian faith is not mainly about being a good person, but about the relationship with God. When we do something good, it is an expression of that relationship. In order to do the right thing, we as human beings need guidance from God.

Christian faith is not mainly about being a good person. This is perhaps a surprising hypothesis. After all, we all want good people around us who are courteous and considerate. And we also like to believe about ourselves that we are at least trying to be a good person.

God’s perspective

I will come back to the point of doing good. First of all, I would like to explain how I come to think that this should not be our first goal. As a Christian, the first question I ask myself is how the issue looks from God’s point of view. I believe that God is the standard for good action. In His Son Jesus, He has given us a perfect example of what a flawless earthly life looks like.

Jesus was still praying for the Roman soldiers who crucified Him even during His execution (Luke 23:33-34). Jesus forgave Peter, one of his closest friends, even though he denied Jesus three times after his capture – later Peter was allowed to become a leader of the first Christian church (Matthew 26:69-75; Galatians 2:9). Jesus also, for example, did not condemn the well-known woman at Jacob’s Well, but gave her the opportunity to change her behavior (John 8:1-11).

However, if we look at us humans, it quickly becomes apparent that we do not behave so perfectly. Each of us remembers some situation where we didn’t behave in the right way. I think everyone here can recall such an incident, big or small, after which his or her conscience plagued them and, if they are honest, they knew they should have acted differently.

Now, what does God think about the fact that we have already made mistakes in our lives? Are we not good enough for Him? From a human perspective, one could easily get the idea that we should make up for our mistakes to God. For every bad deed, do a good deed – or perhaps better, do twice as good a deed – until our good deeds make up for the bad ones.

The problem with this view is that we don’t know how many good deeds are enough to make up for the bad ones. And what if someone did not live long enough to make up for all the bad deeds? Even if we managed to behave perfectly from a certain point onward, the bad deeds from the past would still be part of our life history. Thus, we cannot keep up with the perfect actions of God.

(Further reading: Romans 2:14-15; Romans 3:23)

Human ethics

Before we continue to consider what role God plays in this issue, let’s first take a look at the human perspective as well. Even from a merely human perspective, it is not so easy to do good. Often we fail because we lack the motivation to do good. The thought of caring for others does not even occur to us because we are busy with our own lives. And if we do, we fear that we might lose time and money through our selfless actions, which we would then lack for ourselves.

Even if we try very hard to do good, there may still be a selfish motivation behind it: once we have understood that we do not meet the moral standards of God, we may try to become a better and better person and earn God’s approval again. It may not even be God – but we hope to win the admiration of others through good deeds. Both narrows our view – we again think only of how we can look best ourselves, and are not really free to do what would be best for everyone involved.

And what is best for everyone involved anyway? If we intend to care for others, we must first make a decision about whom we want to help and how exactly. Suppose a nurse is nearby when a little boy is hit by a car. She saves his life by giving first aid. Later, when the child has become a grown man, he learns that his wife is having an affair with the neighbor. Out of jealousy, the man murders his neighbor. Had the nurse made the right decision to help the little boy at that time?

We also encounter such questions in everyday situations. A former work colleague of mine had sold his car to become more environmentally friendly and ride a bicycle instead. In itself a good decision, with which he wanted to preserve our planet as a place worth living. A little later, however, he realized that he should also buy groceries without plastic packaging in order to prevent pollution of the oceans. However, the nearest supermarket without disposable packaging was so far away that he could not reach it in a reasonable time without a car. Now, was it right to sell the car?

These examples show that moral action is only possible for us humans to a limited extent. In addition, no matter what we do, nothing lasts for eternity. Even if we succeed in making another person’s life more pleasant, he or she will die one day. Even if medicine could eventually stop aging, natural science assumes that the sun will one day burn out and the universe will have to come to an end. As Christians, we also expect that Jesus will return one day and the world as we know it now will no longer exist.

Seeking God

So we have seen that human ethics has various limits. And so I come to the point that one should seek God first before trying to do something good to another person. I think this is also shown in the so-called “Great Commandment” that Jesus talks about with a scholar before telling the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan:

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.

(Luke 10:25-28)

In this quote, although love of neighbor is put on the same level as love of God, which is why it is sometimes called the “double commandment of love,” it describes in much greater detail how much we are called to love God, and love of God is mentioned first, even before love of neighbor. I believe that this is not a coincidence.

As I explained at the beginning, I believe that God Himself is the standard for good action. No human being can ever be as good as this standard. But the Bible also describes that God offers us forgiveness for our mistakes: If we turn to God with all our heart, admit our wrongdoing to Him, and let Him guide us through our lives from then on, we can experience how the heavy burden of past wrong decisions is lifted from our shoulders. Jesus is, so to speak, the great “reset button” for our lives.

God promises us in the Bible that He will accept us as if we were His children if we align our whole lives with Him. I think the question of good deeds is similar to that: Suppose we had children who behaved well in every way – they engage in honest work and don’t steal, they are sincere toward their spouse, behave peacefully, and donate regularly to a good cause – but they tell us that they don’t need us as parents, even breaking off all contact with us. Would we consider that to be the right thing to do?

(Further reading: Luke 10:25-28; John 1:12; Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 3:26; 1 John 3:1)

God’s guidance

In Christianity, we assume that God can forgive our mistakes because His Son Jesus was as a substitute for our mistakes. At first glance, this may seem like a strange approach. Why was this brutal death necessary? When we accept this forgiveness from God and make God the guide for our lives, the relevance of the crucifixion suddenly becomes tangible: Jesus gave his life so that we would be freed from our guilt. If Jesus is willing to give His life – what are we willing to give?

When we realize that Jesus gave His life for us, we find it easier to give something ourselves for others. Fortunately, in most situations, we don’t have to give our lives for another person right away. How easy it is to overcome our own fear and do something good for others when we compare our current situation with the great sacrifice Jesus gave for us. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, we are free to do what is right because we no longer have to worry about ourselves.

As Christians, we expect to spend eternity with God in heaven if we have chosen to live with Jesus. No one can take this certainty away from us. We know that through Jesus we stand righteous before God, no matter what mistakes we have committed in the past. As a result, we no longer have to seek the approval of other people. No matter what else may happen to us in this life – in eternity all our worries will be forgotten. This frees us to make truly selfless decisions.

When Jesus guides us through our lives, we no longer have to be afraid of making wrong decisions, because we can be sure that Jesus has already stood up for our mistakes. Thus, he goes from being the standard by which we were judged to being our role model. Even if we find ourselves in an environment where none of our fellow human beings sets a good example, with Jesus we always have someone to show us how to behave best.

This is not simply a matter of certain rules according to which we are to live our lives, but of a relationship with God. Similar to children and parents, we do not simply learn certain rules of conduct from God, but also have the opportunity to ask Him for advice in all situations in which we are at a loss. As children of God, we can always pray to God to give us the wisdom to make the right decision.

In the Bible, too, we find important clues about what God’s plan for our lives is. As Christians, we believe that God is also present today and guides us through our lives with his Holy Spirit – more about this in the article “How can I experience God?”. We can’t always understand God’s guidance in our lives directly, but by praying to Him and studying His Word, we can be sure that we are living our lives in accordance with His plan.

(Further reading: John 10:27-30; John 13:15; Romans 5:8; Ephesians 5:1-2; James 1:5; Revelation 21:4)

Heaven on Earth

As we have seen, God can help us make the right decisions in our lives. According to the Christian view, the relationship with God is the basis for all personal decisions. Now, if God has the wisdom to impart good decisions to us, what is our role as human beings in implementing His ideas? Since God is also all-powerful, couldn’t He implement His plans Himself and make the world a better place on His own?

Every human being wants to pursue a meaningful activity in his or her life – we want to follow a purpose or passion. In this sense, God gives every single person the opportunity to participate in His plan for this world. We are, so to speak, “co-workers with God” in His enterprise. For each one, God has a place and a task. The fact that God gives us individually tailored tasks is an expression of His love for us.

Basically, God allows every human being free will and thus also the freedom to make wrong decisions. The freedom of choice to live one’s life with or without God can only exist in a world where wrong choices are also possible. Our world is therefore characterized by all kinds of suffering and will therefore never be perfect. A carefree life can only exist with God in heaven. Then why should we make an effort to improve this world?

If we take on the tasks that God has prepared for us, we can grow in our relationship with Him and live our lives more closely with God. This increases our trust that God is there for us even in difficult times and beyond death. Doing good deeds is then not done out of a sense of duty, but out of gratitude to God – for the prospect of going to heaven and for all the beautiful experiences we have already been allowed to have through Him.

Good deeds then also become an indication of God and His character for other people. When we do something good in a hopeless world because of our faith, we thereby show that God is a source of hope. Especially if it was difficult for us to do good before, we can show other people through our good deeds that God has the power to change people like us for the better.

If we lead other people to God, we can actually help them in the long term: They get the chance to also spend eternity with God in heaven themselves. In the end, we cannot really do anything good for other people. All good comes from God, because God is love. Only Jesus can give a person true peace. All we can do is point other people to God and lead them to His wholesome presence.

(Further reading: Matthew 5:16; John 15:8; Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:8-10; 1 Peter 2:12; 1 John 4:15-19)