Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.
Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?
—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! – 2 Corinthians 13:5
What exactly does the Bible mean by “good deeds”?
Scripture tells us that everyone, both believers and unbelievers will be judged according to their deeds on the Last Day:
But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 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. – Romans 2:5-8
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. – 2 Corinthians 5:10
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. – Revelation 20:11-15
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak. – Hebrews 6:2
And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. – Hebrews 9:27-28
So, what exactly are these good deeds by which we are going to be judged? Is the Bible talking about caring for the poor? Or helping an elderly lady across the street? Are good deeds something that we need to keep a record of? Is there a standard for good deeds that we are compelled to meet, such as: “Be sure to do your good deed for the day”? Do we get to pick and choose which good deeds we want to do and which deeds we don’t want to do?
Paul told the Corinthian believers that they needed to “examine” themselves in order to see whether or not they were still in the faith, he told them to “test” themselves (2 Corinthians 13:5). This kind of language makes it an imperative that we understand exactly what deeds we are to examine. We are all going to stand at the Judgment and thus, we cannot afford to take the chance to be found wanting.
Thankfully, Scripture does not leave any ambiguity about what deeds will be considered “good” and what deeds will be considered “bad.” Biblical good deeds, the things that will count for eternity fall under three main categories:
Keeping the signs
The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Table are outward signs of faith. These signs show us what true faith looks like. Baptism is the way in which the visible church formally recognizes your faith and it is the sign that one has been cleansed from sin as a result of the death and resurrection of Christ (1 Peter 3:21). Participation in the Lord’s Table is the recognition of one’s maintenance of a good standing with Christ, obedience to the Word and devotion to His church (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).
The signs do not save, but one who refuses to submit to the signs will not be saved because salvation is for all those “who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9). Therefore, as you examine to see whether or not you are in the faith, consider whether or not you have been baptized in a biblical church and whether or not you continue to observe the Table as a member-in-good-standing of a biblical church. If the answer to either of these is “no,” then you are lacking “good deeds” that are crucial to “obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your [soul]” (1 Peter 1:9).
Service to Christ
Christ calls us to serve Him in this life. The question is, how do we serve Him since He is not physically present on earth? Jesus anticipates and answers this question in Matthew 25:31-40 where he paints a scene of what will take place at the Judgment. There are goats (those destined for hell) who stand to the King’s left and on His right are sheep (those destined for paradise). Jesus then reveals one of the critical differences between the two groups, when the King says to the sheep:
Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ – Matthew 25:34-36
And to the goats, the King says:
Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ – Matthew 25:41-43
As this account of the judgment continues, the sheep, or the righteous individuals seem to look around at one another almost confused because they have a question. They ask the King:
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ – Matthew 25:37-39
The King, the Lord gives a simple answer:
‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,you did it to me.’– Matthew 25:40
Therefore, another one of the deeds that is essential to “being considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead” (Luke 20:35) is service to our “brothers.” Our brothers are our fellow members of the Body of Christ which is the church.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherdsand teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12) . . . For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. – Ephesians 5:23
And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:18). . . Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. – (Colossians 1:24)
On the Day of Judgment, we will be judged by whether or not we served the church and how do we serve the church? There are many ways given to us in Scripture:
- By not forsaking the assembly (Hebrews 10:25)
- By ministering with our finances (Matthew 6:3-4; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; Acts 4:32-35)
- By bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
- By forgiving one another (Matthew 6:14-15)
- By making the church our first priority (Matthew 6:33)
- By submitting to the authority of the church (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 6:1-8; Hebrews 13:7)
- By showing hospitality (Hebrews 13:2)
- By being a mature servant (1 Timothy 3:13)
- By accepting your role (Romans 12:3-8)
Certainly more could be added to this list, but do you practice deeds of service to Christ? Do you serve His Body, the church? Because this is one of the ways in which we lay up treasure in heaven (Matthew 25:10-21) and store up a good foundation which is necessary for taking hold of eternal life (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
As a side note, tragically, there are individuals who do not first check to see if the “body” that they serve is indeed a true church. Their lack of discernment, which is really a lack of obedience, will bring them to the judgment having lived a busy, hardworking life only to find that while they did all kinds of religious deeds, their efforts were in service to something other than the church (perhaps the family?) or even in service to a false church. There will be many who cry “Lord, Lord!” but end up in the line leading to destruction (Matthew 7:21-23). Take great care to be sure that you are not in that line.
Sound doctrine and full obedience
The “what” that you believe really does matter. In 1 Timothy 4, Paul values the fact that Timothy is trained in the “words of faith” and “good doctrine.” He also tells Timothy to stay away from “silly myths” and to train himself for “godliness.” Throughout the rest of the chapter, Paul continues to expound on the importance of upholding sound doctrine indicating that what we believe is not simply an intellectual issue but rather a moral issue (1 Timothy 4:16). Wrong doctrine is sin!
Paul again takes up this idea in 2 Timothy 2:14-19, telling Timothy to not tolerate any false doctrine as it is sin and will lead to the “ruin of the hearers.” John, in his later epistles, adds even more weight to the importance of being devoted to sound doctrine when he tells his readers that one who embraces false doctrine should not be hosted in the home of a believer or greeted as a believer. If a believer tolerates this one who embraces false doctrine, it is the same as committing “wicked works” (2 John 1:8-11).
The issue that should motivate us to pursue this matter with even more urgency is that it can be difficult to figure out who these false teaches are. Jude tells us that they infiltrate the “love feasts” of the church (Jude 1:12). Paul writes that he was working to undermine the claim of those whose “boasted mission” was the same as Paul’s, yet these men are actually servants of Satan:
So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. – 2 Corinthians 11:15
It is important to note that the primary sin of a false teacher is their false doctrine itself.
Why is sound doctrine so important? Because the only sure way to flush out a false teacher is to make sure that our doctrine is in agreement with Scripture. Wrong doctrine could mean that we are note even worshipping the true God of the Bible (2 John 1:9) as He has revealed Himself.
Theological accuracy is also important because sound doctrine reveals the path of obedience for the one who hopes for eternal life. Romans 2:8 says that those who do not “obey the truth” will be condemned at the judgment. But in order to obey the truth, we must first understand the truth. We must understand exactly what constitutes righteous behavior to find what is pleasing to God (Ephesians 5:10). No one lays out the scenario better than John:
Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. – 1 John 3:7-10
The one who hopes for a good outcome on the day of judgment must “practice righteousness” in every area of life. Sound doctrine reveals who God is and reveals the will of God for us. Once we know the will of God, we must act. Remember it is the foolish man “who hears these words of mine and does not do them” (Matthew 7:26). The one who does not have sound doctrine and who is not committed to full obedience will be “found naked” on the Day of Judgment (2 Corinthians 5:3-4).
All believers must look at themselves in light of these three categories. If our “works are not complete” (Revelation 3:2), Christ tells us to “buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” (Revelation 3:18) because the person who lacks these deeds of faithful obedience will not obtain eternal life.
Again, as has been said often, these deeds are not a means to earn salvation. They are also not merely the evidence of “true faith.” Instead, they are the essence of true faith; they are the obligation of one who wishes to be faithful to his marriage covenant with Christ. It is by these acts of faith that the “people of old received their commendation,” (Hebrews 11:2). These deeds of faith can never pay for, earn or merit salvation, but they are essential to a favorable outcome at the judgment.
By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment . . . – 1 John 4:17