Christianity is a religion of doing good to others. We believe in loving our enemy, helping the poor and the widows, treating others the way that we would like to be treated. However, these “good works” by themselves do not define our religion. Yes, they are vital, but there is a core doctrine that gives all these things meaning and perspective. Here is the heart of what true Christians believe:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (I Corinthians 15:3)
The Apostle Paul states in this text that the doctrine of first importance to Christians is the belief that Christ died for our sins just as the Old Testament Scriptures indicated that it was necessary. All the good things we do is not to earn our salvation, it is done out of appreciation for what He done for us. It is done so we can receive crowns of glory that we can cast back humbly at God’s feet some day (Revelation 4:10-11).
Anyone can see that doing good works is a vital part of true religion. But without the death and sacrifice of Christ–the ultimate good work which Christ has done for us–these good works are meaningless. If we do good works just to impress others, or to earn our way into heaven, than they become little better than bribes we use to buy popularity with. Yes, arrogant, self-righteous, people do a lot of good works when people are watching, and a lot of bad works too when they think they are not being watched!
Christ’s death on the cross is the example of what a true good looks like. It was painful and humiliating. By taking his place on the cross he had to accept not only physical cruelty but public shaming and character assassination. And he had to forego revenge, suffering for his enemies even while they still hated him and hurt him. By God’s grace, some of us who once hated him and crucified him have become his friends. We have admitted that we are horribly evil people, have repented of our sins and now trust in him only to save us. We now learn from his ultimate example on the cross as we struggle to show pure, Christ-like, sacrificial love to others.