From reading the New Testament, we get the impression that we cannot be saved by doing good things. Which is true, of course. No one wants to just follow a bunch of rules anyway. And yet, a little guidance never hurt.
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
I’ll bet you never memorized that verse in Sunday School. But there’s got to be something to it, otherwise why would Jesus have said it? Does it have some kind of non-literal meaning? Maybe. Was it a little rude of me to just rip it out of context? Probably. I’ll help you out a little with the context thing, here’s the verse that comes before it:
Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
I think that probably helped a little bit.
I’ve heard it preached before, probably more than once, that true love for Christ will result in obedience. Therefore, we must obey. But what does that mean? Do we need to have more good deeds and less bad deeds tallied up than the Pharisees?
I think it’s important to address that the Pharisees were bound by different laws than modern Christians, because much of our doctrine is based on the teachings of Jesus, the same one who got mad at Pharisees frequently.
The important question lingers… are we required to do good? I can’t really answer yes. You know what happens when I say yes- I sound like some kind of pre-destination whacko type who harasses teens for dancing. And you know what happens when I say no- I sound like the anything-goes-as-long-as-your-heart-is-in-the-right-place-spiritually type. And if I say yes and no, then I have portrayed Christianity as an impossible paradox.
So I will omit an answer. I don’t need to answer this question, God already has. Paul has written pages and pages on this topic. I think that implies that it’s hard to answer the question in a couple sentences. But here is what I will say.
You can be saved through the love, mercy, and sacrifice of Christ. It’s not because you saved a toddler from a burning building (although if you really did that, I must admit that’s pretty awesome).
But if God didn’t care what we did with our lives, why did he give us guidelines through his son Jesus? To name a few:
Resisting greed (1Timothy 6:8)
Loving enemies (Matthew 5:43-44)
Turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:39-40)
Helping the poor and needy (Matthew 9:35)
Fleeing from sexual immorality (Hebrews 13:4)
Not complaining (Philippians 2:14)
Not getting drunk (Ephesians 5:18)
Not swearing (Colossians 3:8)
Not getting angry at people (Matthew 5:22)
Is this hard? Uh… yeah. That’s why we have to ask for God’s help. Christ fulfilled the law, making it a bit more comprehensive, but also giving us the forgiveness, love, and aid that we need that we need to do His will. Now all nations will know about God. No more burnt offering and wars- but now our task is to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20).
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.