A Comforting Thought

As a pastor, one of the issues that I encounter frequently is people who are afraid that they’re doing the right things for the wrong reasons. For example, a person may want to read their Bible faithfully and have a healthy prayer life. Unfortunately, the person will frequently be immobilized by the fear that they’re seeking a healthier spiritual life for selfish reasons. The result is that many people want to do something good but don’t out of fear. Consequently, they end up languishing on church pews instead of getting involved in advancing the Kingdom of God. I’ve come to believe that this problem can usually be answered by explaining one important doctrine and pointing to one important verse.

First, to answer this problem, we need to understand the doctrine of total depravity. We’re all familiar with Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[1] What we don’t often appreciate is how the Bible talks about our sinfulness. It’s not just that we’ve disappointed God by our sin; instead, the problem is much deeper. The Bible teaches that we are slaves to sin. Ephesians 2:1 says that we are spiritually dead in our sins. Similarly, in Romans 7:18, Paul writes that nothing good dwells within us because we’re so sinful. Apart from God’s grace, we are completely unable to do anything that would ever be pleasing to God. Instead, we are entirely in bondage to sin.

Second, we need to understand an undervalued verse. Philippians 2:13 says, “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”[2] In other words, God creates the desire for good works in believers. Further, good works are only good when done through God’s empowerment.

When we couple Philippians 2:13 with a full understanding of our sinfulness, we can pursue good works without fear. Since we’re sinful by nature, we know that we can’t do anything good on our own. Left to ourselves, we don’t desire to be pleasing to God or to be close to him. By nature, we are his enemies. Thus, when we desire to do a good work or to draw near to God, we can pursue that desire without fear. We can be confident that God is leading us to glorify him by good works.

When we do good works, we always have imperfect motivations. Fortunately, if we’re honest about our shortcomings, we can trust God to be patient and merciful. When we desire to do something good, we should do the good work while asking God to forgive our insufficiencies.

Notes & Sources

[1] Romans 3:23, all scripture quotations are taken from the NIV.

[2] Philippians 2:13.

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