You Can’t Be Good by What You Don’t Do

Untitled designAs a student at New Orleans Seminary (a graduate school for ministerial students), I had a required course in Christian Ethics. Courses in Christian Ethics can take two different forms. One has to do with ethical conduct in ministry itself. A course of this nature would involve subjects such as how ministers relate to one another, the question of plagiarism, and relationship to others churches.

My course was completely different. My course had to do with the larger body of ethics–how we treat other people, particularly the poor and needy.

My course was taught by an professor eccentric in look and action. He often banged on the chalkboard (remember those?) with a piece of chalk. He asked open ended questions that made me think.

I’m sure I missed a lot in that class, but one thing I didn’t miss was when my professor banged the board and said, “You can’t be good by what you don’t do!”

He was speaking against the kind of faith that hasn’t moved beyond the “Thou Shalt Nots.” We all have to go through the “Thou shalt nots” because no one’s behavior fits exactly what God wants. The Apostle reminded us that none of us is righteous. We have all broken the law and need radical transformation of life.

At the same time, we must move from what we don’t do to what we do in terms of kindness, compassion, and good works.

My professor made the point that we must let sanctification take us to what we positively do with our faith.

Think with me about your neighbors. They probably know you are a person of faith. After all, you attend church and probably other things they think of as “religious.” What they don’t know is what your faith has done deep within you. They can’t totally see your love, joy, and peace. They don’t know how much you trust God or how God works in your life.

While they can’t know your faith, they can see your works. When you help your neighbors or get involved in community needs, they see how your faith plays out.

The Apostle James made the same point: “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).

Our works show the power of God in our lives. The Apostle John emphasized how we can know we belong to God. When we see God changing us, we know we belong to Him.

Let me encourage you to know God deeply and having received Him to show your faith by your works.

“You can’t be good by what you don’t do.”

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