To be a Christian means to put your faith in Jesus, who died and rose again, for the forgiveness of your sins. There is nothing in this definition that says doing good is part of being a Christian. Yet it feels strange that you could be a Christian without doing good. So what is the right answer? Can or can’t you be a Christian without doing good works?
Doing good work does not make you a Christian
It’s a very fundamental truth of the Christian faith that we cannot save ourselves. We do not earn eternal life by being the best person we can be. The Bible tells us: that’s just not good enough. However hard we try, we can’t fulfill God’s standards. There is only one hope for us: that God gives us eternal life because He loves us. And that is exactly what He does. Salvation “is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). So doing good does not make you a Christian. It is God’s grace that makes us believe in Jesus as Saviour. In this way we receive eternal life, and the Holy Spirit lives in us.
Being a Christian without doing good?
Now imagine a person with the Holy Spirit in his heart, who is a child of God, who has received eternal life and is looking forward to the day that God will establish His Kingdom on earth. Is it possible that that person will consistently worship other gods? That he will not care about his parents? That he will hate others and never feel love? That he will show in his sexual relationships he doesn’t care at all about what God says? That he will defraud others without ever feeling sorry? You immediately realise: no, that is not possible. Being a Christian means that you are a changed person. It does not mean that you are perfect. But it does mean that you cannot consistently find joy in sin. You cannot become a Christian by doing good. But you cannot be a Christian without doing good.
The Bible on doing good
Just by thinking about it, you can already realise it is impossible to be a Christian without doing good. The Bible confirms this in many places. Let me give you a few examples. Salvation is not a result of works, but a gift of God, we read in Ephesians 2:8-9. The verse that immediately follows, verse 10, says “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” So why are we saved? To do good works. You can’t be a Christian without doing good.
Exactly the same thing we find in Titus 2:14, where we read about Jesus Christ that He “gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.” Again, step one is that Jesus saves us. Step two is that we do good works. That is what we are saved for! And because that is Jesus’ purpose for us, we are even ‘zealous’ to do good works.
A final Bible verse that I want to quote here which clearly shows it is impossible to be a Christian without doing good, is James 2:26: “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” Body and spirit need to be together to form a human being. In the same way, faith and works belong together as well. If there are no good works, you are talking about a dead faith – a fake Christian.
Christians do good works
So remember: you cannot become a Christian by doing good works. But you cannot be a Christian without doing good works. If you have no desire to do good, check your heart to see whether you really love the Lord. For if you love Him, you will obey Him. Jesus said: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
But if you are sure you love the Lord, continue to do good works. Be zealous in them! It will bring you joy and the assurance that when Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead, you will be among those that will hear “well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23).