Why Do What Is Right?
‘WHAT is in it for me?’ How often have you heard someone ask that question before undertaking a task? Likely you have noticed that people seldom expend effort without the assurance of some reward. Children frequently manifest this attitude to a high degree. Often they refuse to behave properly unless “bribed” with some reward.
The Bible points to the root cause of this problem, saying: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) Due to inheriting sin, humans have a natural inclination toward wrongdoing. It requires considerable effort to do what is right.
Can this attitude affect worship of God? Yes. The Creator desires his servants to do what is right. The standard for right conduct is set forth in the Holy Bible. From that source we also learn that God “becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” (Heb. 11:6) If they are not careful, however, people can easily fall into the error of viewing acts of worship and devotion to God as a means of earning his favor.
This actually happened to the ancient Jews. They came to view obedience to the Mosaic law as a means of gaining “merit” with God that would assure future blessings. The Mishnah quotes one rabbi as saying: “The Holy One, blessed is he, was minded to grant merit to Israel; therefore hath he multiplied for them the Law and commandments.” According to this viewpoint, the fact that the commandments of God’s law were numerous gave Israel all the more opportunities to earn merit by obeying them. This helps us better to understand a question put to Jesus by a certain wealthy young man: “Good Teacher, by doing what shall I inherit everlasting life?” (Luke 18:18) The man believed that everlasting life could be earned by doing good deeds.
Unlike the ancient Jews, Christians are not subject to the Mosaic law. Nevertheless, the Bible encourages Christians to busy themselves with “holy acts of conduct and deeds of godly devotion.” (2 Pet. 3:11) These include a person’s taking time out to share Bible truths with his neighbors, conforming his way of life to Scriptural guidelines, and regularly getting together with fellow Christians for Bible discussion.—Matt. 24:14; 28:19, 20; Col. 3:5-10; Heb. 10:23-25.
But what should motivate such godly conduct? It should especially be firm faith—faith that motivates the Christian to ‘reach out toward the goal’ of everlasting life. (Phil. 3:13, 14; 2 Tim. 4:7, 8) Such faith is reflected in wholehearted service to our God, not in a mere token service or in observing rules and regulations, as in the case of the Jews. Paul wrote: “Knowing as we do that a man is declared righteous, not due to works of law, but only through faith toward Christ Jesus, even we have put our faith in Christ Jesus, that we may be declared righteous due to faith toward Christ, and not due to works of law, because due to works of law no flesh will be declared righteous.” (Gal. 2:16) Hence, no one can earn God’s favor and blessing by formal acts of worship or charitable deeds, regardless of their nature and the extent to which they are performed. A righteous standing with God comes “only through faith toward Christ Jesus.”
The Son of God himself gave fine admonition regarding Christian conduct. For example, he said: “Give to the one asking you, and do not turn away from one that wants to borrow from you without interest. You heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ However, I say to you: Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you.”—Matt. 5:42-44.
But what did Jesus give as the correct motive for people to exert themselves in that way? Jesus added: “That you may prove yourselves sons of your Father who is in the heavens, since he makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:45) Though we may ‘look intently toward the reward,’ the greater force behind Christian service and conduct should be the desire to imitate God as the Benefactor of all mankind.—Heb. 11:26; 1 Cor. 11:1, 3.
A fine incentive for this comes from meditating upon what God has already done in behalf of the human family. Among the best-known verses in the entire Bible are the following: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” “He that exercises faith in the Son has everlasting life; he that disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.” (John 3:16, 36) God sent forth his Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the costly ransom price for redeeming man from sin and death. (Matt. 20:28) Jesus accomplished this by dying sacrificially on an execution stake. The apostle Peter writes: “He himself bore our sins in his own body upon the stake, in order that we might be done with sins and live to righteousness.” (1 Pet. 2:24) This opened up opportunities for people to gain “everlasting life”—but not as a reward earned by fine conduct. The Bible describes eternal life as “the gift God gives.”—Rom. 6:23.
Nevertheless, if a person has real faith in that wonderful gift, his faith will manifest itself both in his making public declaration to others concerning his hope and in his fine Christian conduct. (Rom. 10:8-10) It cannot be otherwise. This is made clear by Bible writer James, who states: “Of what benefit is it, my brothers, if a certain one says he has faith but he does not have works? . . . faith, if it does not have works, is dead in itself. Indeed, as the body without spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”—Jas. 2:14-17, 26.
What does James mean by “works”? They are not deeds done to obtain something in the future. Instead, they are deeds performed as an evidence of faith and out of appreciation for something already in possession, namely, a fine standing with God as a result of faith in Jesus Christ.
In view of this, why should persons who love God serve him, doing what is right? The motive should not selfishly be that there is ‘something in it for them.’ Christians serve God because they recognize the interest that God has shown toward mankind and his generous offer of eternal life as a free gift. This expression of love by God prompts his worshipers to imitate him. It is as stated by the apostle John: “By this the love of God was made manifest in our case, because God sent forth his only-begotten Son into the world that we might gain life through him. The love is in this respect, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent forth his Son as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins. Beloved ones, if this is how God loved us, then we are ourselves under obligation to love one another.”—1 John 4:9-11.