One of the questions I’ve often pondered is, “Why should Christians be good?” And, related to that: “Why keep trying when I keep on failing—when I can never be perfect?”
On top of that: if God forgave all our sins when we were still sinners (Colossians 2:13), if we are saved by God’s undeserved grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8), if we cannot earn God’s favour by doing good (Ephesians 2:9), if all our good actions are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), if our religious credentials are like garbage compared to knowing Jesus (Philippians 3:4-8), if we are in the process of being saved by God in this life (2 Corinthians 2:15) but will not be perfected until we are completely saved at Jesus’ return (1 Peter 1:5)—then what is the point and purpose of trying to do good deeds now?
In short: if we only live imperfectly, and if God forgives us as a gift, then why be good?
Among the answers I’ve found to this question, one of the most beautiful is tied up with Easter. In the last verse of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tells a group of especially imperfect believers, “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not vain.” Once again, Christians are told to do good, to do good work. The reason for this instruction is that the time and effort we expend behaving excellently will not be wasted.
The reason this effort is not wasted lies in Paul’s word ‘therefore.’ The preceding 57 verses are all about the resurrection. God raised the Messiah (that is, Christ) from the dead as the first fruit of a harvest. At the end of time, God will raise everyone else with Christ. Death will be defeated. Our physical bodies will be raised and transformed by the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus’ body was. And just as our physical bodies will be in continuity with our Holy Spirit-ed bodies after the resurrection from the dead, so too the good work we’ve done “in the Lord” will last after the resurrection from the dead. That’s what the ‘therefore’ is there for—don’t give up doing the good things Jesus showed and taught, because it will all matter after the resurrection.
What’s your good work this week? Is it making dinner for your family? Is it writing a report for your boss? Is it planting seeds? Doing your homework? Speaking honestly? Listening to a lonely neighbour? Praying for an enemy? Caring for a beloved who’s sick? Reusing and recycling? Keeping the Sabbath? Correcting your child’s behaviour? Keeping your marriage vows? Building a sidewalk?
The options are endless; and our work is never perfect. But don’t let that discourage you. Doing good work matters not because of us how good or successful our work is, but because Jesus is risen. Because of the resurrection, your efforts ‘in the Lord’ are not wasted.
Doing good today matters! It matters in eternity. So, let’s keep on doing good work—with joy!
For more inspiration on this theme, I highly recommend N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperCollins, 2008), and his 2015 article “Jesus is coming—plant a tree!”