Sometimes God Hates Good Deeds
FEBRUARY 22, 2018
How would you feel about receiving flowers from a spouse who had been unfaithful to you?
How much worse if he believed the flowers would appease you, and remove the offense of his behavior? If we are able to discern hypocrisy in each other by observing behavior, how much more can God, who sees our hearts, discern it? Sometimes, God hates “good deeds.”
You can read about God’s hatred for actions done merely to appease Him in the Bible. Isaiah 1:10-20 spells it out pretty clearly. “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. . .Your festivals and your appointed feasts, my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them” (vv. 13a, 14). External “good” deeds do not pay for a guilty conscience (Hebrews 9:9-10). In fact, they make God angry.
Many years ago, two verses in John so revolutionized my mind-set, I spent weeks praying through them and asking the Lord to show me what they meant.
“Abide in me and I will abide in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must abide in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).
The first time I taught through this passage to my own fellowship of women, I cautiously suggested that we might be focusing on the wrong kind of obedience. Could it be that good works do not come from striving for excellence, or putting on a façade of righteousness, but rather through abiding in faith in the good work Christ has done for us? Maybe we were running ourselves ragged just to appease God, and impress each other. Perhaps we were teaching each other to be good little hypocrites by attempting to justify ourselves, and earn what we had already been freely given.
The response I received that night impressed upon me that I was onto something huge. It was mostly positive. For many captives (including myself) it was a milestone on the road to freedom from the hamster wheel of empty Christian performance. A dialogue opened that night that would last for many years. Like the Galatians, we had become so foolish, after beginning by the Spirit, we had been trying to attain our goal by human effort (Galatians 3:3).
Alongside this army of freed, joyful captives, another camp was forming. It was populated by those who loved their cages. They worshipped their rules and their power. They loved having followers, and the respect it afforded them. They resented me for raising this issue and told me so privately. Publicly, however, they acted like we were the best of friends. Some of these people had the kindest dispositions in front of other people. Behind closed doors, however, I witnessed a live viewing of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
When I started writing books and blogging, the group of freed captives grew. I received cards, texts, letters, and emails from people all across the country thanking me for explaining the difference between law and gospel to them. At the same time, the angry hostile group grew as well. They came from my own family, my three hometowns, strangers on social media, and Christian publishers who told me “this message will not sell.”
I expected to be hated by the world. But imagine my surprise when I experienced it from my own brothers and sisters in Christ. Reading through the gospels, though, I see this is nothing new. The world was mostly indifferent to Jesus’s message of grace two thousand years ago. It was the religious people who resented Him—so much that they had him killed. He was a threat to their power and their pocketbooks.
No one (in my Christian circles anyway) would actually come out and say that people will lose their salvation if they don’t strive for excellence. But they insinuate that they will lose God’s favor—whatever that means. “We have to teach the young people to be pleasing to God,” they say to me behind closed doors. Funny thing is when I press, they can never come up with a complete list detailing exactly what God is pleased with. I assume that is because the list is always growing—along with all the laws they add to “help” people keep them.
The author of Hebrews tells us that it is impossible to please God without faith. When pressed in John 6:28 by the crowd demanding to know from Jesus: “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus replied: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
I took some time a few years back to record every imperative in the New Testament so I could observe them as a whole. Many of them command Christians to abstain from slander, divisiveness, hatred, and people who stir up strife among the brethren. I have found that most of those who are caught up in the preaching of obedience and personal holiness have no problem picking and choosing which imperatives to obey, and which imperatives are fine to fudge on a little.
Many of the imperatives in the New Testament are “be” commands (i.e. “Be filled with the Holy Spirit”). These remind me of abiding in Christ. A person is either attached to the vine (and therefore fruitful), or not. If Christians redefine fruit as activity, then everything Jesus said about abiding gets reversed. Legalism is the result. How-tos for Christian living sermons and books are not innocent. They are not helpful tips for pleasing God. They are a false gospel.
Fruit is not an action and it does not depend upon our ability to perform or keep ourselves attached to the vine. Fruit does manifest itself in action. But those actions can be faked. Just like the unfaithful husband who brings flowers to his wife, external deeds done to assuage a guilty conscience, or to justify oneself, are the epitome of hypocrisy.
The late R.C. Sproul Sr. gave an illustration that explains abiding in Christ visually: A father tells his small child to hold on to his hand while they cross the street. Is it up to the child to hold on tightly enough in order to remain protected? Who is holding on to whom? And yet, the father says: “hold on to my hand.”
When Jesus commanded His disciples to love each other (John 15:12, 17), He was not instructing them to go through the motions, even if they didn’t feel like it. He promised them the Holy Spirit who would produce fruit through them—fruit that would last (John 15:16). A person may be filled with the Spirit, producing in them love, joy, peace patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control, or they may be manufacturing fake fruit from their own worthless efforts.
Paul says that the deeds of the flesh are just as evident as the fruit of the Spirit. He lists deeds that are evident of the flesh such as hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy (Galatians 5:19-20). Sadly, these are common deeds among Church-goers. The more I preach law as the ministry of death, and the gospel as the resurrection from that death, the more I witness these deeds of the flesh from religious people. The more we call attention to these deeds of the flesh, the more we will witness religious people try to hide them, blame others, and deny them.
In the past, I have taken a stance of passivity when it comes to divisive people. I figured if I just continue to proclaim the truth of the gospel, then divisive people will reveal themselves. However, false narratives are powerful. What makes wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing so dangerous is that they are disguised as innocent, godly sheep and shepherds. They have to be exposed or they will undermine the gospel, destroy relationships, and even entire churches. “A perverse person stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28).
Therefore, these days when I witness corruption in the body of Christ—I call it as I see it. Scripture says to bring sin into the light where it can be dealt with Biblically. As you can imagine, there is quite a bit of resistance to this practice. John 3:20 explains why. “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” Sometimes God hates good deeds.
Find more from Marci Preheim here.