It is sometimes charged against Christians that they only do good things so that they can be rewarded with Heaven. In contrast, the atheists argue, they do not have such an expectation, and therefore, when they do good things, they are being truly genuine. While Christians are only doing it for selfish reasons, that is, to have a nice place to live in the future. Similarly, Christians may do good things out of fear of going to Hell. But is that the case? Do Christians only do good for a reward? Do they only abstain from evil out of a fear of Hell?
Now of course I cannot adequately represent the motivation of every single Christian. It may be, and most likely is, the case that many people do good things only for selfish reasons. But selfishness seems to me to be a very common motive for doing good things. Indeed, it is th very driving force behind evolutionary philosophy. When we cooperate with each other, it furthers our ability to flourish as a human race. That is why we hear the proverb, “Do good to others. They will remember it.” So the humanistic motivation for doing righteous deeds is that they will owe you one and do something nice for you in return. It is not, as the atheists will suggest, a matter of selflessness.
Although there may be some who really do behave selflessly. But I suppose that would raise the question of why they would even bother. One might argue that modern advertising is a manifestation of human nature. The advertisers are trying to appeal to the desires of men. So what do they portray? Lust, wealth, adventure. They portray people going for the gusto. That is what people want. That is the core of mans’ motivations. But what about Christians? Do Christians only do good for a reward?
Heaven is not a reward for good deeds. Let’s suppose for a moment that a kidnapper were arrested. When he was brought to trial, he said to the judge, “look at all of the righteous things that I have done. Surely that ought to circumvent my sentence.” He would tell him that he was insane, that good deeds cannot wash away ones’ evil deeds. In the same way, the Bible tells us that the good deeds of man is like a filthy rag (Isaiah 64:6). Indeed it tells us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
So the atheist who charges a Christian with working just to get to Heaven has, on a very elementary level, misunderstood Christian theology. Nobody can work to get into Heaven. It is a free gift of God. The moment we put our trust in the sacrifice of Christ and repent of our sin, he grants us the free gift of eternal life. But it is a free gift (Romans 6:23). If you give me a gift, and I pay you for it, it is not a free gift. I had to pay for it. But the free gift of God is eternal life, and it cannot be merited by our good deeds.
Are Christians just afraid of Hell? Some may be. For those who may be less mature, less moral, more tempted to do that which their flesh tempts them to do, the wrath of God could be a real motivation. When we feel tempted to do evil, we know that there is a holy and righteous God will sees what we are doing and will judge us for it. In the same way that a man may be tempted to commit a crime, but neglects to because of wrath of the law. Obviously this would not be a pure motivation. But I am just being honest. Everybody is tempted, and sometimes it is fear of God that keeps us from doing that which is evil.
We are sort of like disobedient children who are spanked by their parents. We may want to do something that seems fun, that our parents explictly tell us not to, but we know that our parents are going to spank us if we do that thing. In fact, if a parent were to just let their chldren rum rampent, they would be derelict parents. God is not a derelict Father (Hebrews 12). We are immature children who are continuing to grow and mature. As we do so, we eventually learn to do what is right by ourselves, because of the fear of our Father.
So why do Christians do good? A true Christian will testify of themselves, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5). We have no merit, nothing for which God would look upon us with favor. Every thought, word, and deed that we have in and of ourselves is vile and in direct opposition with the rule of God. Who can save me from this life of death and Hell? Praise be to God, only Christ.
So when we do good things, it is not a testimony to our righteousness, but to God’s (Matthew 5:16). We have been made a new creature by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives through me (Galatians 2:20). When we do good things, far be it from us to be proud of them. God created us from a clump of dirt (Genesis 2:17). He can use a donkey if so wishes (Numbers 22:28). But he uses us. That is why Christians do good things.
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