Part Two: Untangling Good Deeds from Legalism
Why Do Good Deeds Need to Be Done?
This is a two-part blog discussing legalism and the call to good works by Katie Roberts.
Giving money to the poor. Listening to a friend in need. Doing the dishes for your family or roommates. Ending an argument without insisting on your rights. All of these are examples of potentially good deeds. As we saw in Part One of Untangling Good Deeds from Legalism, each one, if done in self-righteousness, is an evil deed (like the Pharisees. . . or me, with the bunny). And each one, if done in faith, is a good deed (like Mary anointing Jesus with costly perfume).
Remember, a good deed is something you do by faith that’s in line with what God has revealed to be right.
Remember, a good deed is something you do by faith that’s in line with what God has revealed to be right. Faith lives in contrast to self-righteousness. Faith admits that you’re a sinner and trusts in Christ, both for the forgiveness he purchased on the cross and for his righteousness that covers you.
The Importance of Fruit
Having established what constitutes truly good deeds, let’s look today at why good deeds need to be done. Paul gives the answer in Titus 3:14, “Our people must learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful.” The key word here is “unfruitful.” It’s so important that Christians not be unfruitful that Paul lists this as the reason to engage in good deeds. Not because there are pressing needs (though there are), but rather so that Christians will not be unfruitful.
This is leads to the question, “What’s so important about being fruitful?” Fruit reveals that something really is on the inside. Jesus says, “For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. . . The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from what fills his heart” (Lk. 6:43,45). In the end, it doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. If you self-righteously insist that you have no sin and don’t need a Savior, then bad fruit will be produced. And if you’re humbly trusting in Christ by faith, then good fruit will be produced in response.
An Example of Bad Fruit
I can think of no better example of this principle than Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Remember the Egg Room in Willa Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the correct version, of course – 1971, Gene Wilder)? The Egg Room exemplifies a bad inside producing bad fruit. Willy Wonka and the remaining guests stand with mouths gaping at the geese laying gold eggs for Easter. Every egg looks exactly the same, but apparently, some are good and some are bad. As each one drops onto a scale - an Eggdicator – it either passes the test or gets dumped into the garbage. Wonka explains, “The Eggdicator can tell the difference between a good egg and a bad egg. If it's a good egg, it's shined up and shipped out all over the world. But if it's a bad egg . . . down the chute.”
You know what happens next. Pretty little Veruca Salt begins to whine, “Hey, Daddy, I want a golden goose.” She then breaks into selfish song - “Give it to me now!” – and ends her lyrical tirade on top of the Eggdicator, which promptly deems her “bad” and drops her down the shoot. As everyone looks on in horrified astonishment, Wonka, in typical fashion, drolly states, “She was a bad egg.” Pretty on the outside, but the ugly inside eventually showed itself.
An Example of Good Fruit
The contrast to Veruca Salt is Charlie Bucket. And you’d expect that to mean that Charlie was perfect. But he wasn’t. He was tempted to betray Wonka by giving the secret of the Everlasting Gobstopper to the evil Slugworth. Worse, he and his grandpa disobeyed Wonka and stole Fizzy Lifting Drink. He looks just as selfish as Veruca.
But there is something different about Charlie. When Wonka confronts him with his transgression, he is quiet. He doesn’t insist on his own selfish way and he doesn’t claim any self-righteousness. He recognizes his failure and admits it. This is like the fruit of repentance. And then…he hands the treasured Everlasting Gobstopper over to Wonka. When I was a kid, I think I would have given up both my bunny and the brownie merit badges for a piece of candy that would last forever. But Charlie was willing to give it up. Both of these responses – his repentance and self-sacrifice – represent truly good deeds.
The Good Seed in You that Produces Good Fruit
You were given a New Covenant heart and the gift of the indwelling Spirit of God.
You, my dear sisters in Christ, are like Charlie. When you repented of your sins and placed your faith in Christ, an imperishable seed of goodness was planted in you. Jesus made you a good egg. You were given a New Covenant heart and the gift of the indwelling Spirit of God. Now you can and will produce good fruit. The attitudes and motivations of your heart change. When you sin, you are convicted and repent. Your heart produces love for the Lord and for others, as well as other fruits of the Spirit – joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.
You are the one serving others because you love your Savior.
And these heart motivations lead to outward actions. You do good deeds to meet pressing needs, just like Paul told Titus. You are the one giving self-sacrificially to others. You are the one telling others about what Jesus has done for you. You are the one serving others because you love your Savior. You give up trying to earn brownie merit badges and instead share your prized bunny and give away your Everlasting Gobstopper.
So, with the assurance and confidence you have because of Christ, go forth and do good deeds! The gospel untangles them from legalism and gives you the freedom to do them well. As you depend on the Spirit, you will find that you are able – for genuine faith always produces the fruit of truly good deeds.