The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good

Day 2 of 7 • This day’s reading


The spiritual danger of doing instead of being

In Matthew 7, we encounter one of the most shocking statements recorded in Scripture. On judgment day Jesus will look at many service-oriented, religious people and say, “I never knew you.” Even work done in Jesus’ name can be done for our own name. Unless we rediscover the foundation of service, our good works can be all about us: promoting our image, heightening our own vanity and pride. Service becomes a means to achieve our dreams, our purposes, our goals. 

Service is radically different when we return to the why behind it. 

In almost every religious system, service is a means to an end. If we’re Buddhists, we find bliss through self-restraint. Muslims get to heaven by obeying the Five Pillars of Islam. And many practicing Christians take the same approach: If we do good, we’ll earn favor with God. We need to remember that Jesus clearly said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus didn’t say little. He said nothing.

Jesus Christ defied religion. Upending the cosmic scale that weighs our good and evil, Christ did the unthinkable: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

The message of grace is religious anarchy. We are forgiven, accepted, and loved not because of what we do but because of what Jesus Christ has already done on the cross. Independent of our performance, we are loved. We can’t earn the forgiveness we desperately need; God freely offers it through Christ.

As followers of Jesus, we serve out of overflowing gratitude that we are loved by a God who knows we don’t have it all together. 

In theory, the concept of grace is attractive. But recognizing that we can never meet the expectations for God—that being good enough is out of reach—is uncomfortable. It feels easier to keep score and gauge if we’re meeting the core requirements of faith. If we don’t have a religious to-do list—then how are we supposed to know if we’ve met the minimum requirements? 

I’ll do whatever you want, God. Just give me a checklist. But God isn’t asking us to follow a checklist: The Almighty wants us to understand and respond to His love. We are already forgiven and adopted into His family through the gift of undeserved love beautifully exemplified on an ugly cross.

Unless we are responding to the God who loved us first, our good works become about us—the antithesis of the Gospel.

Reflection: Have you ever fallen into a performance mentality in your spiritual life? How do you go about checking the condition of your heart? 

Based on The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, by Peter Greer with Anna Haggard, published by Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group (, 2014. Used by permission.