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Righteous Deeds or Filthy Rags
Cleaning Up Our Works?   

I want to do something good and maybe earn rewards in heaven someday. But, I know that when I give something to someone in need, I then hope that somebody gives me credit for it. Or when I try to help my neighbor then I hope someone in the church sees me. I know inside that nothing I do is really "good." I suspect that others feel just like me. So how can we earn any rewards when our works are tainted with so much sin?


Great question! I doubt there is anyone who reads your question who doesn't echo the same thoughts as you have. And if they say they don't, then they probably aren't being truthful about it.

Giving Commensurate With What We Have

One thing to remember is that when we give to others our giving should normally be commensurate with what we have (2 Cor. 8:12). We're not really expected to do more than that every time we have an urge to help others. The attitudes of our heart count most of all. The apostle Paul writes, "For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have" (2 Cor. 8:12).

For example, the two mites the widow placed in the coffer didn't amount to much. But, in Jesus' estimation, her generosity overflowed because she gave all she had and gave from the heart (Mark 12:43-44).

Christ Makes Our Deeds Acceptable

If we are honest with ourselves, even when we do the right thing our deeds are still infected with sinful motives and self-centered intent.

Erwin Lutzer writes, "We help a woman across a street, but often it is to make ourselves feel good because we all want to be needed. And perhaps that evening we can tell our family that we did our good deed for the day. We give money to the work of the church and secretly hope that the word will get out that we are among the generous" (1998, 85).


Sacrifices Acceptable To God

Yet, we are told that Christ will be our judge in these matters. The Bible tells us that Christ works in us and through us as we attempt to do good deeds.

Peter explains, "you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 2:5, NASB). Note that our sacrifices are made acceptable through Christ.

In other words, as Lutzer carefully explains, "Christ takes our acts done with our good intentions and cleanses them so that they might be acceptable to God" (1998,86). This is what the apostle Paul meant when he said, "Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship" (Romans 12: 1b).

Days Before Salvation

Clearly, in the days before our salvation our righteous deeds are as filthy rags. Isaiah 64:6 reads:

We are all infected and impure
with sin.
When we display our
righteous deeds,
they are nothing but filthy rags.


The apostle Paul summarizes several Old Testament passages when he quotes,


(Romans 3:10-12, NASB)

Righteous Deeds Through Christ After Salvation

But, in the days after our conversion our righteous deeds count because they are presented to God through Christ. It is then that the Holy Spirit can work through us to produce fruitful deeds as we continually abide in Christ (John 15:4-5):

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (ESV).

Isaiah 1:18 tells us that our sinful motives and desires will be removed and our righteous deeds will come forth if we repent of our sins (v. 19) and accept His offer of salvation (see Ro. 3:21-26).

Come now, let us reason together,
says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.

(Isaiah 1:18, ESV)

We are to "approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God" (Philippians 1:10-11).



Benware, Paul N. 2002. The believer's payday. Chattanooga, TN: AMG.

Dillow, Joseph C. 1990. The reign of the servant kings. Hayesville, NC: Schoettle.

Lutzer, Erwin. 1998. Your eternal reward. Chicago: Moody.

Authors Valorie Emilio teaches and writes articles for the Gospel Rescue Mission in Grants Pass, Oregon, where her husband, Ken, serves as Director. He holds an MA in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University while Valorie earned an MA in History from UCLA specializing in Christian origins.

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