When “Good Works” Are Sin

Michael Beck

The world is to see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven. (Mt. 5:16) We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works. (Eph. 2:10) Christ redeemed us from all iniquity so we could become zealous of good works. (Titus 2:14) But is it possible for what is deemed a “good work” to be unacceptable and even an abomination in the sight of God? The answer is yes and here’s why:

A supposed “good” work can serve as a substitute for an act of obedience that we should have done. Men like to play a spiritual “shell game” with God. They give Him “something” instead of exactly what He required of them, and then they proclaim: “I have performed the commandment of the Lord!” (1 Sam. 15:13) But whereas men can be conned, God cannot. Men look at the outward appearance and applaud the generous gift of an Ananias and Sapphira, but the Lord looks on the heart and sees guile. “The sacrifice of the wicked is abomination: how much more, when he bringeth it with a wicked mind?” (Proverbs 21:27)

The Pharisees hid their covetousness under a cloak of almsgiving. But Jesus was not fooled. “And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15) God never intended for “good works” to be a stand-in for real obedience. More than anything He wants our ear. He wants us to be willing to do whatever He wants. He does not want our sacrifices, He wants US to be the “living sacrifice,” completely yielded to Him and ready to do His will whatever that may be.

He does not want our sacrifices, He wants US to be the “living sacrifice,” completely yielded to Him and ready to do His will whatever that may be.

King Saul is a prime example of one who hoped the “good” he did would be enough for God. God had given him strict orders but Saul “kinda, sorta” followed them. And when he wanted to pass it off as good in the sight of God, the prophet let him have it. “And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) Saul is forever held up in scripture as an example of God’s judgment upon the merely religious mindset: those who seek to appease their conscience while thinking they can placate God with some seemingly pious offering. God’s verdict: “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:23)

It is truly an amazing thing that God will reject the majority of good works and religious deeds done for Him. He is not interested in what we give to Him as a replacement for what He really wants from us. Our one day a week will not do when He wanted seven. Our five dollars will not suffice when He wanted us to give fifty. No matter how great our gifts looked to man, the Lord sees them from a different angle. “And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.” (Mark 12:43,44)

It is not sin that keeps many from a true relationship with God. It is the illusion that their good deeds and religious observances are “good enough” in His sight. God calls each of us to let go of the control of our own lives. He calls us to finally and fully put Him in charge. He is Lord. He would call the shots. He does not need us to do a little here and there for Him. He wants all of us. He wants to do with us as He pleases. He wants to use us in a great way. Until we let Him, all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags in His sight.

Michael Beck is a pastor in the Dallas, TX area and the main author on Signpost. Receive a daily devotional he publishes every morning via email.