There are a couple of things related to Sunday’s message that I’d like to cover on the blog. The first was suggested to me by a dear brother after the service. “What about false positives?” I knew immediately what he meant. We’ve spent several Sundays now looking at the biblical truth that good works will be required on the day of judgment as evidence of God’s salvific work in our lives. But what about people who do good works but who are not regenerate? If good works provide the visible evidence of internal change, what are we to believe about those who do good things but are unbelievers?
We all most likely know at least one individual whom we would describe as a “good person” who is not a believer. I’ve heard Mormons referred to many times as “good, moral people,” but they are not regenerate believers. Will their good works look like ours on the day of judgment? This question is based on the wrong assumption that unbelievers are capable of doing true good works.
Remember what Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34? “How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” A person’s words and works are drawn from the well of his heart (Mark 7:21-22). He can only speak and act out of that which fills him. The unbeliever is dead in trespasses and sins, following after the devil, the world, and the flesh, enslaved by various passions, utterly incapable of obeying or pleasing God (Eph 2:1-3; Rom 8:6-8). In other words, the well from which the unbeliever’s words and works are drawn is filled with sinfulness. Whatever they do or say that seems to be virtuous, “good fruit” is not. And there are several reasons for this.
First, their actions are not produced by the Holy Spirit. We noted on Sunday that our good works are actually the work of the Holy Spirit in us. That’s the whole reason why works will be used as evidence of salvation on judgment day. Obedience is described in the Bible as fruit of the Spirit, being led by the Spirit, walking in the Spirit, sowing to the Spirit, living by the Spirit, etc. (Gal 5:16, 18, 22, 25, 6:8; Rom8:13-14). It is the Spirit who empowers us for obedience. Unbelievers do not have the Spirit. They are incapable, therefore, of producing the fruit of the Spirit.
Second, their actions are not born of faith. In Romans 14:23, Paul teaches that whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. The entire chapter of Hebrews 11 demonstrates that obedience flows from faith. Over and over we are told of Old Testament figures who “by faith” obeyed God. Genuine good works are born of faith, which is why the writer of Hebrews asserts, “without faith it is impossible to please him…” (Heb 11:6). If a person does not have faith, he cannot have good works. Unbelievers, by definition, do not have faith.
Third, their actions are not a result of union with Christ. In John 15, Jesus teaches that it is only through union with him that a person is able to produce good fruit: “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” (John 15:4-5). Unbelievers do not enjoy union with Christ, therefore, they cannot bear true fruit.
Fourth, their actions are not done for the glory of God. Unbelievers have traded the glory of God for idolatry and self-worship (Rom 1:23). Everything they do, including supposed acts of virtue, is for the glory of self. They are “haters of God” (Rom 1:30). I once heard Dr. Bruce Ware say, “An unsaved person can sin by mugging an old lady or by helping her across the street. Whatever is done for any reason other than the glory of God is sin. Anything that is not from faith is sin.”
“Good” unbelieving people will have absolutely no good works to show on the last day. What may appear to be good works in the lives of unbelievers now will not appear as good works before the judgment seat of Christ. Nor will those acts be simply neutral. Rather, those acts will be sins for which the unbeliever will be justly condemned. So, there will be no such thing as a false positive on the day of judgment.
Does this lead to pride in the believer? It shouldn’t. Our salvation is all of grace. That we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, that we have faith, that we are unified with Christ, that live for the glory of God, and therefore that we produce visible fruit is all a result of God’s sovereign grace.
3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)
Next time, we’ll take a look at what James meant by his statement, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
Posted by Greg Birdwell