But What About All My Good Works?


There is a subtle but dangerous trap even faithful Christians sometimes fall into when it comes to thinking about our relationship with God and our performance of our good works.

It is not at all unusual for Christians to sometimes place a little too much emphasis on the merits of their individual works. This can happen for several reasons. It may be that a person comes to a deeper appreciation of the Lord’s sacrifice only later in his life, and then he might look back and begin to regret all the years he fears he might have wasted. As human beings, we tend to do what we can with what we have; our acts of charity, tithing, and works of mercy can tend to give us the sense that we are making up for lost time.

In another case, it may be that a person acts out of a sense of reparation. In other words, if people come to see the dark reality of their sin, “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), then they might falsely come to believe that it is their responsibility to try and balance the scales of justice with God and repair the damage their sins may have caused. Of course, the truth is that no human person could ever sufficiently make amends for the sins in his or her life. That can only be done with a perfect sacrifice, the one Jesus made on the Cross.

Finally, there may be those instances where a faith-filled Christian, who genuinely loves the Lord and wants to show how much he loves Him, could decide to demonstrate it by taking on several tasks and works so that God will be able to see this love for Him in a very practical way. There is nothing wrong with this desire, but the motivation here may be misguided.

In and of themselves, there is nothing wrong with the works these instances depict, but there may be an issue with the why.  If life’s journey is fundamentally about a Christian’s opportunity to purify and make his love perfect: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), then we must allow God to purify and perfect our love, even, and perhaps especially, when the impurity in our love is extremely subtle and deceptive.

The problem with all the instances above, and others we might also identify, is that they are based on the person himself as the principle actor.

In the first instance, the individual is working to make up for lost time, but only Jesus Christ can recover that lost time. “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Christ is the Agent of our salvation and the Redeemer of all things, including time. He will give us the way to help us recover the lost years.

In the second instance, the individual is trying to offer himself as sacrifice where only the pure sacrifice of the spotless lamb will be able to wash away the stains of sin; indeed, salvation can only come through the “but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19). Again, works of reparation are good in and of themselves, including fasting, night-time prayer, works of mercy etc. However, the misunderstanding comes when an individual begins to focus on the act itself, rather than what should be at the center of the work, which is nothing other than the love of God, as God calls us to express that love.

God is always pleased that we become aware of our failure to live the perfect law of Love, and that we want His grace and mercy to help heal us and make us whole and perfect in His sight. But He wants us to understand that all this is a work of Grace, and it is His. “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6).

In the third instance, again, there is certainly nothing wrong with an individual demonstrating his love for God, but the person must make sure that all his acts of Charity stem from what the Lord has called him to do to express his love. Very often we can make the mistake of determining that for ourselves.

I am sure we are all aware of instances where someone gets involved in a ministry or charitable endeavor and then begins to neglect other responsibilities pertaining to his station in life. Or worse yet, we may have encountered those instances where faithful Christians allow themselves to become completely worn out and exhausted by their participation in ministry. Here, as in each of the previous three cases, it may be true that the motivation for the work stems from something other than what God has intended the individual to do in His service. The remedy for this situation, as is true for all difficulties, is found in the pages of Scripture.

In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:6).

The clearest way we can acknowledge God is in our prayer, our conversation with Him. Prayer is simply our time spent listening to the One we love.  There is truly no greater work and no greater gift we can share with the One we love than to simply be present and let Him speak.


Copyright © 2019 by Mark Danis


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About the Author

Mark Danis

Mark Danis, OCDS, is co-host of the weekly radio program, Carmelite Conversations, which aired internationally for six years on the Radio Maria network. The program focuses on the method and blessings of contemplative prayer practiced in the in our busy day to day lives. Episodes can be streamed at http://www.carmeliteconversations.com.

Mark's primary ministry is providing teaching and spiritual direction in contemplative prayer and removing the obstacles to prayer. He is grounded primarily in the teachings of the Carmelites, most especially St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.

Mark is a popular speaker and often gives large-group presentations and retreats on Prayer and Carmelite spirituality. He also writes a weekly reflection on prayer for a large nation-wide prayer community, and he leads a weekly prayer group focused on the Teresian Method of Prayer. Mark's most recent appearance was at the 2018 OCDS Congress where he delivered a powerful message to more than 400 Secular Carmelites.

Mark attended St. Michael’s college in Winooski, Vermont, where he received his undergraduate degree in English Literature. He later received a masters degree in theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.

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