Before service, I was texting a group of the young people about Christmas Program Practice, but I accidentally typed “Christian Program Practice.” I don’t ever want to get to a place where I’ve practiced being a Christian for so long that my life is no more than play acting.
Being a Christian is not a performance. God is not only concerned with what we do in public but also why we do what we do and who we are when we take off the mask. In a word, the Christian life is a life of love—daily, sincere, concrete, self-giving love. Galatians 6 teaches us to walk in the Spirit, which is the only possible way to live in love. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).
Galatians 6:6-10 gives us some practical instruction.
6 Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things 7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. 8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting 9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. 10 As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.
What does love look like? Goodness!
Verse 6 says that those who learn the word—that’s you!—are to share all good things with those who teach—that’s me!
“And let us not be weary in well doing” (v.9)—which could be translated, let us not be weary in doing good!
“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men” (v.10, emphasis added), “Neighbors or strangers, good or evil, friends or enemies” (Wesley, Notes on the Bible).
In Wesley’s sermon On Worldly Folly, he urged, “Do good. Do all the good you can. Let your plenty supply your neighbor’s wants, and you will never lack for something to do. Can you find no one that needs the necessities of life, that are cold or hungry; none that have no clothing to put on, or a place to lay their head; none that are wasted with pining sickness; none that are languishing in prison? If you duly considered our Lord’s words, ‘The poor have you always with you,’ you would no more ask, ‘What shall I do?’” (contemporized, emphasis added).
John Wesley is also attributed with a quote that sounds very similar to verses 9 and 10: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
What Good Works Are NOT
If we sat in a room with a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, an atheist, a Republican, a Democrat, an environmentalist, and an LGBT activist, they would probably agree with the quote attributed to Wesley. In fact, if you google the quote, you’ll find that it is sometimes attributed to Hillary Clinton because she alluded to it during her New Hampshire primary concession speech. She said, “my family and my faith taught me a simple thing, do all the good in all the ways you can for all the people you can.” A new biography about Clinton aimed at teenagers is titled Hillary Rodham Clinton: Do All the Good You Can.
Christians have a very different idea about “doing good” than the world does. There are some parallels, but we need to be very clear about what we do and do not mean.
First and foremost in the context of Galatians, we know that good works do NOT gain us any merit with God. Paul spends over four chapters proving that keeping the law and doing good works are not the basis of God’s approval on our lives.
“Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, emphasis added).
Christians are declared good (imputed righteousness) and actually made good (imparted righteousness) by God through the Holy Spirit on the basis of Christ’s atoning work. Christians may grow in grace by being more intentional about doing good works, but good works do not make bad people good. And the Bible says that no one is good, no not one—apart from the transforming power of God. No one is a truly “good boy” or “good girl” or “good person,” no matter how many good works they do.
Moreover, good works do NOT give us better karma. Verse 7 says, “whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap.” The entry for karma in the Yogic Encyclopedia incorrectly says,
“The Bible refers to karma in the book of Galatians when it says, ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.’” For the entry goes on to say, “Human beings, according to laws of nature, must pay for all their wrong actions, but when they tune themselves to God through techniques of meditation and remember the perfect image within them, then, realizing their divinity, they need not suffer for their past human errors” (emphasis added).
It is not true that every human being must pay for his wrong actions. Jesus paid for all of our wrong actions on the cross. If we trust in Him, God will not remember our sins against us. Jesus took all the “bad karma,” so to speak.
Peace in our lives does not come from doing good to outweigh our bad, but from taking all of our bad to the cross and allowing Jesus to wash it away with His blood.
Good deeds do NOT help us to escape the consequences of our past sins. There are usually consequences for the lives we have lived. God does not continue to punish us, but sin has its own price tag. We can’t run from our past by doing good. We can’t evade “bad karma”—sin’s price tag—by “good karma.” We need to accept that sin causes brokenness, and ask God to help us put the pieces back together. We must accept our actions, make restitutions, and allow God to bring hope and healing.
Good deeds do NOT exempt us from suffering. If anyone should have had “good karma,” it was Job. Job was blameless in his generation, yet he is the Bible’s primary example of suffering. Suffering is not (usually) evidence that we’ve done something wrong; it is the consequence of living in a fallen world. Christians do not “remember the perfect image within them” to escape suffering. Christians remember that they are “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:2) and embrace suffering as flames in the refiner’s fire.
Good works are NOT sufficient to make the world a better place. We life in a desperately wicked, fallen world, and every human heart has the potential for unimaginable evil. Christians should alleviate suffering wherever they can, but the only permanent hope is Jesus, who will come a second time to punish the wicked and establish a new heaven and a new earth where the righteous will live forever. We will never be able to establish a utopia on earth, although many have tried.
Good deeds are NOT about making ourselves feel better, although it sometimes feels good to do good. So often, good deeds are part of rehabilitation or counseling because they ease people’s conscience about the wrong they have done. Peace in our lives does not come from doing good to outweigh our bad, but from taking all of our bad to the cross and allowing Jesus to wash it away with His blood.
But that’s enough about what good works are not. Let’s talk about what good works are.
What Good Works Are
First, good works are God’s will for those whom God has made good by His grace. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Second, good works glorify God. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:1, KJV). Our behavior reflects God’s character. When we do good in the name of Christ—even when it feels bad—people see that our Lord is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6), and they are more likely to turn to Him.
Third, good works are evidence of our faith. Ephesians 4:28 says, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” When a thief starts sacrificially giving to others, it is a testimony to the miraculous, 180-transformation possible through God’s grace.
Fourth, good works are the basis on which we will be judged.
According to Romans 2:6-8,
“He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.”
As we cooperate with the Spirit, He produces fruit that God will point to at the judgment as evidence that we are His children.
John Piper explains,
“According to works” means God will take the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and the “good deeds” by which we let the light of our faith shine (Matthew 5:16), and he will accept them as corroborating evidence of our faith. His sentence of acquittal will not be because we are not guilty. It will be because Christ bore our guilt. The place of our works at the judgment is to serve as corroborating evidence that we did indeed put our trust in Christ. Therefore when we are acquitted and welcomed into the kingdom it will not be earned by works but it will be according to works. There will be an “accord” or an agreement between our salvation and our works.
This is how we make sense of verse 8 in Galatians 6: “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” If we use grace as an opportunity for the flesh—”sow to the flesh”—we will not be sowing to the Spirit and therefore we will not bear any fruit. There will be no corroborating evidence for our faith. But if we simply live by faith in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit will produce the fruit of love and goodness in us, and God will point to that at the judgment as evidence that we are His children.
The idea of sowing and reaping is an illustration from agriculture. The one who plants bad seed by indulging his sensual desires will harvest a crop that is corrupt. You cannot lead a bad life and go to a good heaven at last. (Adam Clarke)
That’s why Paul warns, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (v.7). God cannot allow us to live like the world and enter an other-worldly heaven—that would make a mockery of God’s holiness. Sin impugns God’s character, which is why He wants to deal thoroughly with sin in His people. He wants us to be a loving, do-good people, who love not in word but in deed and in truth.
To All, But Especially Christians
By walking in the Spirit, and therefore walking in love and good works, Christians sow to the Spirit. They “do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (v.10).
Jesus said that men will know we are his disciples, not by our love for all men—although that is important—but by our love one to another (John 13:35). Our first responsibility is to the people of God. In Acts, after the church was founded, Christians immediately sold all they had to provide for each other’s needs. Last time, we talked about the need for Christians to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). In chapter 5, we talked about the importance of treating each other with loving attitudes, for “if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:15).
Verse 6 is a specific example of love within the body of Christ: “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.”
To”communicate” means to “share,” and some think it means that laypeople should meet the financial needs of those in ministry. While it is true that teachers should be paid (1 Timothy 5:17-18), it is more likely that Paul refers to sharing the Word. When we set out to do good, and consider all the good things we have to give, we must always remember that God’s Word is the best thing. Christians should share with other Christians—including teachers—what they are learning in the Word. Christians grow through their conversations with each other.
Doctrine is refined in the context of community.
In order for this to work effectively, both parties must be humble. Teachers must be humble enough to listen and learn from others in the body of Christ. Those who are taught must be humble enough to receive correction and avoid undermining the authority of those whom God has appointed to the ministry of the Word. “Communicating unto him that teacheth” does not mean controlling the floor during Sunday School or testimony time.
A few weeks ago, one of our college students texted me about something she was learning at Bible school. We spent over an hour sharing ideas. I learned from her, and she learned from me. She asked questions that forced me to think in new ways, and I challenged her to approach her studies from a different angle. Good doctrine is refined in the context of community. The body of Christ flourishes when we “do good” by sharing our discoveries in God’s good Word with each other.
Verse 10 says that we are to do good works “as we have opportunity.” Paul does not mean, “as opportunities present themselves.” He means, “as long as we are still alive in this world, where we can do good.” In other words, “Let us do good as long as we are alive and therefore have the opportunity.” That means we need to be intentional about doing good.
I’ll end with twelve practical ideas for doing good, and I’d like each one of you to write down one or two of these twelve ideas and carry them out this week.
- Buy a few bags of groceries for someone you know is struggling financially, or give them gas money.
- Send a letter to someone who has impacted you and share all the ways he or she has blessed your life.
- Practice hospitality by inviting someone in the church over for a meal at your house this month.
- Call the nursing home and ask if the activities director can give you the names of a few people who rarely receive visitors.
- Take food to a neighbor—such as a pie or cookies—and get to know them better.
- Share something you learned from reading the Bible this week either by giving a testimony on Wednesday or talking about it with one of your friends in the church.
- Send a donation and a thank you letter to a missionary or a Christian organization—such as Heartbeat.
- Every day this week, pray for someone who you have never prayed for before. Let him know you are praying for him.
- Buy a Bible for someone who does not have one.
- Invite someone in the church to grab coffee, breakfast, or lunch with you, and pay for their meal.
- Write three thank you cards, expressing appreciation to people for little things that you normally overlook.
- Send a gift card or a little cash to one of our college students. Let us know if you need their addresses.
“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (v.9).
Keep sowing. Keep sharing the gospel. Keep doing good.