Should Christians Look Different (So Others Will Believe)?

So I’ve been thinking about whether non-Christians should be so impressed with Christians’ behavior that they ask us why we’re different. 1 Peter 2:12 speaks about keeping “your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation,” which is not absolutely clear. Peter could be speaking about the fact that they become Christians (“glorifying God”), or it could be simply in the same sense that “every knee will bow.”

In the interest of clarity, let’s be clear: I am not arguing that one should not do good works–we should. I am also not arguing that no one will ever ask you about why you do good things–they very well may.

Here’s what I am suggesting (“suggestion” meaning this is just an exploratory question, and not an absolute statement): that we should not do good works in order to show our Christianity. In fact, it seems that Jesus preaches against just this show of religion (Matthew 23:5)! [Admittedly, we do not have phylacteries or fringes, but what about our Christian t-shirts and our See-You-At-The-Poles? Just a question.] I know the conventional wisdom is filled with St. Francis’ aphorism about always preaching, and using words when necessary; and “they will know we are Christians by our love.” But unless we make clear that “we love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19), we are only showing off our goodness, and not God’s. And, for that matter, what does it “preach” if we do not use words? Again, we preach only ourselves.

Since I wholeheartedly agree with Philip Melanchthon when he writes in the Apology, “Nothing can be said so carefully that it can escape misrepresentation,” let me say it capitalized and in boldface: YOU SHOULD DO GOOD WORKS. The only question I am raising is whether people will come to know Jesus Christ solely because of what you do.



11 thoughts on “Should Christians Look Different (So Others Will Believe)?

  1. How can you say Christians don’t need to do good works? That’s ridiculous. I can’t believe you guys on this site!

    It says very clearly in Paul’s letter to Antioch that “unless faith is made active through love, you will save neither yourself, nor the birds you preach to with your vain words.” (Ant. 5:77b,c)

  2. I’ve been thinking about this same thing, and in fact I wrote something yesterday along these lines! It’s slightly different ’cause I’m out here on the mission field, where the “need” to show how different you are is exacerbated. I caught myself praying the other day that my love for God would be evident; after thinking about it, I prayed that His love for me and everyone else could be manifest through me. And indeed I think that’s the case for anyone abiding in Christ. Good to hear a more reputable bloggerciser is feelin’ me.

  3. I agree with you that we should not do good works to show our “Christianity”. However, we should do good works to bring glory to God (Matthew 5:16). In doing so, it is inevitable that others will at some point see what is being done and hopefully praise our Father in Heaven.

    With that being said, I do not feel it is wrong to wear a Christian t-shirt or pray at “See You at the Pole” as long as your heart is in the right place when doing so. If you are showing up to “See You at the Pole” in hopes of impressing all of your closest friends with the fact that you are a Christian, you shouldn’t be there.

    You already know the answer to your last question (The only question I am raising is whether people will come to know Jesus Christ solely because of what you do.). People come to know Jesus through the Holy Spirit, not through what humans do.

  4. Does Matt. 5:16 mean that we should do good works in order to bring glory to God?

    The greek implies more of an aspect of men praising God for the good works you do for them than the text implies that God receives glory (which you bring him) through your works.

    In its context, our Lord appears to be talking about doing good works for the sake of others far more than for God’s sake (ie. city on a hill [so the nations may see!] lamp to light the house [so the nations may see!] law and prophets remain, [so that neighbors be loved!].. etc…then our Lord dives straight into an exposition on the second table of the ten commandments…”you shall not murder/hate, you shall not commit adultery/lust,” and so on…which is all about [not God] but your neighbor.)

    Does my point make sense? I think that if you are doing works in order to “glorify God,” you are more likely committing gross sin than anything else, (even if your neighbor happens to get helped in the process, which, ha! would be because God is so glorious; His name be praised!)

  5. When confronted with the question as to why we do good works, our fellow brothers and sisters will often answer negatively–we do NOT do good works in order to be saved. By God’s enlightenment in His Word, we are ready to say that. Everybody in this thread has written that.

    Now, as we have seen, the question is how we answer the question positively. The answers are usually one of the following three: to serve our neighbors, to give thanks for God’s grace, and to glorify God. In recent years, after instruction and study, I have given the answer, “to serve our neighbors.” However, I also can understand how one can offer the other answers without thinking that he/she is committing gross sin, especially with verses that say things like, “so, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31, ESV).

    I understand what you are saying, Othniel, but we have to take into consideration the Scripture passages that seem to indicate doing things to the glory of God. Not everybody knows Greek, and not all pastors, unfortunately, are instructing people in the two kinds of righteousness.

    In summary, God does not need any work from us, our neighbors do. But we have to be ready to talk about some of those “glory” passages, as Othniel started to do with that Matthew passage.

  6. Just a note regarding your mention of “See You at the Pole”: a couple of young men I spoke to recently were delighted at the turnout of bold Christian high schoolers at one of our local SYATP events and I believe that it was a great encouragement to them and to all the kids gathered around that flag pole. I don’t think that the kids were there to make a show of their faith. I’m not necessarily speaking to your point–just letting you know that I believe that “See You at the Pole” is a fine event. Anytime we can encourage public high schoolers in their faith and witness, that’s a positive!

  7. Kathie, that could be a salutary purpose to SYATP, especially in public high school. I went in high school, and, among other things, I met my best friend from high school, and worked on my courage in the face of derision.

    Like you said, that wasn’t the direct purpose of my initial post, but it’s not inconceivable that someone who saw us there would wonder and ask–but, they would be seeing us praying rather than any sort of good work. My reference was a slightly tongue-in-cheek remark related to praying on the street corners. I’m not trying to bash anyone who participates.


  8. I see your point about not doing good works for the glory of God, Othniel. You made me think a bit more about the reasons for good works, which I appreciate. I have never believed that good works save, for it is by grace alone. I guess when I reflect upon my motives for doing any type of good work, it is first and foremost to help another person out. It is my hope, though, that if the person I have helped is grateful, that they be grateful to God and that they see Christ in me and not me when I help them.

    Here is a quick question and a comment for you:

    If we do good works for the sake of others, as you said, isn’t also being obedient to God and therefore being done for God? (Keep in mind that I understand that God does not need our good works since His plans and purposes could be accomplished without us).

    Your statement about committing a gross sin by doing works for the glory of God seems a bit harsh. I would agree with Michael that not everyone has the greek background and the theological knowledge that you do. I would bet that the majority of people who you would lump into the category of grossly sinning are not aware of this. Knowing the people at my congregation, I would think that they are simply trying to be obedient to God through their good works. I doubt that many people in my congregation understand theology of glory and all that accompanies those ideas. Just a thought. Thanks for listening.

  9. I think an important part of this discussion is that we remember that we are NEVER pleasing to God because of or in view of our good works. Never.

    The ONLY way we are pleasing to God is because He sees us through Christ’s righteousness, given to us in our baptism. Thus, the order is: (1) we are pleasing to God because of Christ; (2) we do good works.


  10. Mike, my main point about the Greek was less whether or not the bible talks about God receiving glory by working for the good through us sinful creatures, but about whether or not that is the point of Mathew 5:17. I do not think you need the Greek to understand this. The context alone speaks about the purpose of Christ’s words.

    Casey – Yes. I would lump a lot of people into committing gross sin. In fact, I will lump *everyone* into it. We all do it, everyday. Today, I wiped down a toilet seat in a public restroom and thought, “Wow. No one but God will ever know I did that. What a good work that was. I served my neighbor and did it in secret.”

    Now, while that thought was actually true, it was also despicable, malignant, gross sin. It’s called pride.

    I quote Mike quoting Luther from his Heidelberg theses.

    *”Although the works of man always seem attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.”*

    “In the sight of God sins are then truly venial when they are feared by men to be mortal.” “Arrogance cannot be avoided or true hope be present unless the judgment of condemnation is feared in every work.” “The works of the righteous would be mortal sins if they would not be feared as mortal sins by the righteous themselves out of pious fear of God.” “The works of God (we speak of those that he does through man) are thus not merits, as though they were sinless.” “By so much more are the works of man mortal sins when they are done without fear and in unadulterated, evil self-security.”

    “A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.”

    *Your good works are all gross sin, especially when you think they are not. Do them anyway! :)*

    As to your statment about works done for others are done for God. Sure. God is glorified through our good works becasue they are *His* works. There is no doubt about that. But Mike’s statement about doing all “to the glory of God” hardly means that I am “pleasing” God because I am eating, but rather, I am pleasing God becasue I am eating *in faith*!

    It is Christ who sanctifies every good deed, covering the gross sin inherent in it and bringing forth the fruit of righteousness by faith alone.

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