There can be a lot of confusion around the topic of good works among Christians. Jesus’ salvation is a gift of grace that He doesn’t expect us to earn through our performance. We don’t have to earn forgiveness by adding more weight to the good-deeds side of the scale.
That said, what we do still matters. There are several places where the Bible makes it clear that God’s people will be people known for their service and good works. It isn’t how we earn salvation, but it should definitely be a byproduct of God’s kingdom.
To get a better sense of the role good works play in the life of faith, let’s take a look at a dozen passages on the topic.
1. Do not withhold good (Proverbs 3:27-28)
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to act.
Do not say to your neighbor,
“Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”-
when you already have it with you.
This proverb takes on added significance in light of Jesus’ ministry. The author tells us not to withhold good from those to whom it is due. But who is that? As we learn in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, our neighbor is anyone who is in need. In fact, Jesus sums up the Old Testament writings by telling us to do for others what we wish them to do for us (Matthew 7:12).
These two verses help us navigate the trap of good intentions. If we have the means to help someone right now, we should do so. It’s too easy to convince ourselves that we will when we’re in a better position or when we’re not as busy. Whatever excuse we give ourselves, it tends to turn “someday” into “never.”
2. Our good deeds have an evangelistic effect (Matthew 5:14-16)
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Jesus’ message about being salt and light is critical. For instance, in this metaphor, light is offering a service. It is doing its job. The idea that you’d light a lamp and then hide it is absurd. The only reason that you light a lamp is to help you see. And the great thing about the light is that it offers its service indiscriminately. It shines its light on everyone in the house: the family members and the visitors, the righteous and the unrighteous.
Sometimes, Jesus intentionally leaves His metaphors a little vague, but He’s crystal clear in this case. First, He lets His listeners know that the light He is talking about is good deeds. But then He makes a significant statement. When the world associates our good deeds with our faith, the response is that they glorify God themselves. These acts become a tool the Holy Spirit uses to convince them of our sincerity and God’s presence.
3. Whatever you did for the least of these (Matthew 25:40)
The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats is very challenging. In it, Jesus tells a story about the final judgment. The sheep are ushered into God’s kingdom because of the good deeds they did for others who couldn’t care for themselves. On the other hand, the goats are denied access to the kingdom because of the good things they didn’t bother doing. As the King in the story tells the goats, their refusal to help others was a refusal to serve Him.
What’s challenging about this parable is that everyone who heard it that day would have walked home with the idea that their works were the only thing that mattered. Of course, in light of the full testimony of Scripture, we know that’s not the case. But this parable should remind us that kingdom life looks like service.
4. Appearing for the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10)
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
One of the last things Jesus says in Scripture is, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done” (Revelation 22:12). We all will stand before Christ’s throne and have our works examined.
Paul soberly explained this process in an earlier letter to the Corinthians:
If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved-even though only as one escaping through the flames (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
5. Let’s not become weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9-10)
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, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Paul’s missionary journeys took him all over the known world, and the cost was huge. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he shares how hard it had been. He was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, and in constant danger. He suffered from regular hunger, thirst, and exposure (2 Corinthians 11:25-27). He knew what it meant to sacrifice himself for the greater good.
So when Paul tells the Galatians not to grow weary of doing good, he’s talking from experience. He understands the temptation to throw in the towel. But he explains to them that their harvest depends upon the work they do.
6. Created for good works (Ephesians 2:10)
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Paul explains the work/faith dilemma well here. We don’t have to do a certain number of good things before Jesus accepts us. That’s not how it works. But once we are His, we’re being transformed into God’s handiwork, and our good works are a consequence of God’s work in us.
Redemption isn’t just about us; it’s also about our relationship with our Creator. And He has redeemed us in Christ Jesus to do the work that He has prepared for us.
7. It is the Lord you are serving (Colossians 3:23-24)
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
It’s interesting to note that Jesus often motivated His listeners with both warnings of loss and also promises of reward. He wasn’t afraid to tell people that certain behaviors led to heavenly compensation. Here we see Paul doing the same thing.
Like Jesus, Paul encourages the Colossian church to have the faith necessary to believe that their kingdom work will lead them to receive a reward. This isn’t easy. It’s much easier to put our hope in working for temporal pleasures and rewards because we get reimbursed for them right away. But the New Testament challenges us to have the necessary faith to believe in God’s delayed remuneration.
8. Be rich in good deeds (1 Timothy 6:17-18)
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.
Everyone has an opportunity to do good works but it’s not an equal playing field. Like the characters in the Parable of the Talents, God distributes varying gifts and responsibilities to His servants. Someone born in a village in Tanzania has people to love and care for, but they don’t have the same reach, influence, and opportunities as a millionaire in Canada.
Paul reminds a young pastor named Timothy that he needs to be very intentional about how he shepherds the rich people in his congregation. It’s easy for those people to put their hope in their riches, which means that they tend to hold onto it instead of sharing it. So instead of being rich in worldly possessions, Timothy needs to encourage them to be rich in good deeds.
9. Devote yourself to doing what is good (Titus 3:8)
This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
After communicating to Titus that we’re indeed saved by grace and not by works, Paul encourages Titus to help the folks in his church devote themselves to doing good deeds. The important thing to note here is that everyone benefits when God’s people devote themselves to good works. No one has to worry about outgiving everyone else or being left out because burdens are equally shared.
10. Spur one another on to good deeds (Hebrews 10:24)
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
The book of Hebrews is jam-packed with thought-provoking truths and essential encouragements. One important prompting is the call for believers to take it upon themselves to provoke one another to do good works and love others. It is our responsibility to be cheerleaders for one another and to empower each other to grow in other-oriented service.
This is a critical element of mentoring others. We aren’t just filling them with information or providing accountability; we’re in their corner, helping them identify opportunities to serve and give. We’re equipping them with eyes that see need and hearts that long to help.
11. Do not forget to do good (Hebrews 13:16)
And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
The Bible is full of warnings to do good. The thing that’s noteworthy about this verse is that the author of Hebrews isn’t just asking you to do good. He’s reminding you not to forget. This is important because it removes our last excuse. We can’t simply say, “I forgot to do good and share with others.”
It’s our responsibility to read this directive and ask ourselves, “OK. What do I need to do to remember to do good works? Do I need to start a journal? A calendar? Is there a group I need to start or join? How can I be sure that I don’t stand before Jesus and say, ‘Oops. I forgot to do good.'”
This is a critical command because it reveals the need to be proactive about doing good. Of course we should help people whenever needs arise, but that’s not what the author of Hebrews is addressing. If you have a starving person in front of you, you’re not going to forget to do good. You’re either going to choose to help or not. In this context, Hebrews reminds us that we can’t forget to find opportunities to do good.
12. What good is faith with no deeds? (James 2:14-17)
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
This passage from James is part of a larger section on the topic of faith and works. In it, James addresses this integral issue. From James’ point of view, this isn’t a huge knot that’s impossible to untie. If you have faith, you will have deeds-the two go hand in hand.
When we pit the two against each other, we end up in a situation that downplays one or the other. But James demonstrates that there isn’t any real disconnect here. If one follows Jesus, they’ll feel a compulsion to serve like Jesus. The metaphor James offers is wishing someone well, but doing nothing to help them. That’s as empty as saying you have faith but focusing only on your own needs.
Taking good works seriously
As we’ve seen, it’s easy to tell ourselves works matter but then pass up opportunities or simply forget to make it a priority. If you’re looking for ways to get proactive about good works, talk to your church about service opportunities. Check out classifieds or community groups for local needs. And support ministries doing good works around the world.
For more information on how you can get involved with Jesus Film Project’s ministry, check out our How-to-Help page.