Doing good to all people

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people… (Gal 6:7–10a)

Just a few words from Paul's letter to the churches in Galatia, but words which, if ignored, could affect our eternal destiny.

Faith and works

To the believers in Rome, he wrote:

God 'will repay each person according to what they have done [Greek works, deeds].' To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. (Rom 2:6–7)

That God will give eternal life to those who persist in doing good appears to contradict what he wrote in Eph 2:8–9—that we are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, and not by works (the things that we do).

Paul is not teaching salvation by works in these verses; he is confirming what James tells us: that we are not considered righteous by God by faith in Christ alone (Greek only, alone – Jam 2:24), but by faith in Christ plus the actions (Greek works, deeds) we perform as a result of our faith. Those actions make our faith complete (Jam 2:21–2); without them it is incomplete.

James tells us that faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by deeds (works), cannot save a person (Jam 2:14). He describes it as useless (Jam 2:20) and likens it to a dead body (Jam 2:26). If you examined a dead body you would see that there is no life in it. That is a picture of faith without works. Faith must be accompanied by action (works), otherwise it is dead (Jam 2:17).

James said that he would show his faith by what he did (Jam 2:18) as Abraham showed his faith by what he did (Jam 2:21). Our faith in God must be a living faith, and we prove our faith is alive by what we do.

In our opening text Paul tells us that we will reap a harvest at the proper time if we do not stop doing good (v9). What harvest will we reap? Eternal life (Rom 2:7).

Paul taught that even though we are not saved by works (Eph 2:8–9), which would make Christ's death unnecessary, we are saved by God to do good works which he prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10). He prepared those works for us when he chose to save us (Eph 1:4) because they make our faith complete.

The Greek verb translated 'complete' in Jam 2:22, referring to our faith, means to perfect, complete, finish; it's used in Joh 4:34 to refer to the work the Father gave Jesus. Jesus, the Son of Man, had to complete (finish) the work the Father gave him to provide salvation for us, and we have to complete (finish) the works the Father has given us to receive that salvation.

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus said to the church in Sardis:

'Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds [Greek works] unfinished [Greek not complete] in the sight of my God.' (Rev 3:2)

What needed to be strengthened because it was about to die? It was their faith. Faith that does not complete the works prepared for it dies.

Doing the works that make our faith complete doesn't mean that we save ourselves. We can only do those works by allowing God to live his life in us, which means that salvation is from God from beginning to end. However, salvation has an element of works in it, and those works include us doing good to people.

The way of salvation

Peter said, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (Joh 6:68).' Jesus came, not only to provide salvation for us, but also to show us the way of salvation, so we should pay careful attention to everything he said about it.

In Luk 10:25–8, an expert in the Law asked him what he must do to inherit eternal life—surely the most important question any human being can ask. Jesus asked him what is written in the Law, and he answered by quoting Deu 6:5 and Lev 19:18:

'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, 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'

'You have answered correctly,' said Jesus. 'Do this and you will live [inherit eternal life].' But why didn't he tell him to believe in him, as he told Nicodemus in Joh 3:16?

Jesus taught a salvation of faith and works: faith in him in John's Gospel (Joh 3:14–6,36; 6:40) and works we must do to make our faith complete in the other Gospels. Those works involve our money.

In Luk 18:18–27, a man asked him what he must do to inherit eternal life, and after telling him to obey the commandments, he said that he still lacked one thing: he was to sell everything he had and give to the poor, and then follow him. When he heard that, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.

Jesus looked at him and said, 'How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.'

Why did he say that if all we have to do to be saved is to put our faith in him? He said that because being saved requires more than faith. We have to make him Lord of our lives, which includes our possessions (Luk 14:33). We then become stewards of what belongs to him. Rich people can find that impossible to do, but with God all things are possible (v27).

That doesn't mean that everyone must give everything they have to the poor to be saved, but we must do what he tells us (Luk 6:46): no one can serve both God and Money (Luk 16:13).

Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered for ever.

They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor, their righteousness endures for ever… (Psa 112:6,9)

Psalm 112 describes the righteousness that comes from what we do (1Jo 3:7). Giving to the poor is one of the good works (deeds, actions) by which we are considered righteous (2Co 9:7–9), and through which the righteousness that comes from our faith is made complete (Jam 2:14–7,20–4).

The good Samaritan

Jesus told the expert in the Law that to inherit eternal life he must love the Lord his God with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength and with all his mind (to love God is to keep his commands – 1Jo 5:3), and love his neighbour as himself.

Confident he was already doing that, he asked Jesus who his neighbour was, thinking he would say it was his fellow Jew; but he didn't. Instead, he told him a parable (Luk 10:30–7).

He said that a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho (not a Jew, but any man), when he was attacked by robbers, who stripped him, beat him and left him half-dead.

A Jewish priest (someone who should have been living a godly life) came down the road, but when he saw him, passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite (a man in full-time service to God), when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Samaritan, when he saw him, stopped and took pity on him. He bandaged his wounds, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he gave the innkeeper two denarii (a denarius was a day's wage for a labourer) and told him to look after him. 'If it costs more,' he said, 'I will give it to you when I return.' He helped the man financially as well as practically.

At this point we should ask why Jesus made the good works of a Samaritan the subject of his parable. The Samaritans were descended from Jews who had disobeyed God in previous generations by marrying Gentiles, consequently they were despised by the Jews, who were descended directly from Abraham.

However, by using a Samaritan to demonstrate what loving your neighbour as yourself means, Jesus was teaching that the spiritual leaders of his day were not obeying God, and that as far as eternal life is concerned, it doesn't matter who our ancestors were, or what they did, or didn't do: it's what we do that's the important thing (Eze 18:19–20).

Jesus asked the expert in the Law who of the three had been a neighbour to the man who was attacked by robbers, and he had to admit it was the Samaritan, the one who had mercy on him. Jesus said to him, 'Go and do likewise (v36–7).'

A Christian in this country might say, 'Well, if I found someone in that state I would help them, but we have police and ambulances, and medical care is free in the UK. You don't see people lying on the side of the road like that.'

But what about other countries? Almost daily we see pictures on our television screens of people suffering from disasters, disease, famine or war; and the aid agencies, like the innkeeper, are there, ready to act on our behalf. All they need is our money.

So, thanks to our modern connected world, we can obey our Lord's instruction to love our neighbour as ourself anytime we choose. When we see someone in the world who is in need, we can either pass by on the other side, or do something to help them. Have you been a 'good Samaritan' recently?

Mercy triumphs over judgement

What the Samaritan did for the man is summarized in two verses:

Mercy is an important subject in the Bible. We have been chosen by God to receive salvation because of his mercy (Rom 9:10–6). However, he will not show us mercy when he judges us if we have not been merciful to others.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (Jam 2:12–3)

Those words were written to Jewish Christians (Jam 1:1; 2:1) but apply to all Christians. Every Christian is going to be judged by Jesus Christ (2Co 5:10) according to his law which gives freedom (1Co 9:21; Gal 6:2); so we should live our lives appropriately.

The law of Christ is the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament writers which frees us from the ceremonial requirements of the Law (Mar 7:14–9; Gal 5:1–3)—a controversial subject in the early church (Act 15:5–21)—while retaining the moral requirements (Mat 5:27–8,31–2).

Be merciful

Jesus said:

'Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.' (Mat 5:7)

Our opening text tells us not to be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. What we sow in this life, we will reap in eternity. If we want Jesus Christ to show us mercy when he judges us, we must be merciful to others. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them. (Jam 4:17)

Michael Graham
December 2006
Revised October 2023

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition). Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved.

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