Does being a “good” Christian matter? (aka The day I was accused of heresy)

I remember the first time I was accused of being a false teacher.

I had just finished a Bible lesson with a group of grade-schoolers when a leader from our church marched into my office, deeply disturbed. “Pastor, what you taught those children wasn’t right! You taught them that they had to work their way to heaven!”

“No, I didn’t,” I responded.

“Yes, you did!” he fired back.

In his defense, I was a pretty inexperienced pastor who had yet to learn the importance of clear communication. I didn’t teach in a way that avoided false impressions or jumping to wrong conclusions.

And, in his defense, he did the right thing by immediately talking to me. Looking back on that day, I respect him so much for saying something. He didn’t let my theological education or the fancy books on my shelf override his understanding of Scripture and his love for those children’s souls.

In my defense, however, I was just quoting Jesus. I was simply repeating . . .

Doing good matters.

I told the children that doing good matters to God, not just here in this life but in the life to come. I told them that when they did the right thing for the right reason, there would be a reward. The reward wouldn’t be a spot in heaven, because heaven is a gift of grace and not something we earned. But once we arrived in heaven, those who did good would receive a gracious reward.

Do you believe that? Do you believe that when you do the right thing (keep God’s commands) for the right reason (for God’s glory and others’ good) that your Father in heaven will reward you? Do you believe that there will be eternal prizes for being humble, kind, selfless, gracious, forgiving, hardworking, honest, and patient?

If not, let me share some Scripture with you:

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”—Jesus (Matthew 6:3,4)

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”—Jesus (Matthew 6:6)

“But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”—Jesus (Matthew 6:17,18)

“Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.”—Jesus (Mark 9:41)

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great.”—Jesus (Luke 6:35)

Need more proof? Check out 1 Corinthians 3, Ephesians 6, Colossians 3, Hebrews 11, and Revelation 22. All these passages connect eternal rewards to the good works you do here in this life. Some call this teaching the “rewards of grace.”

And I love that teaching.

Now, just to be repetitively clear (and not repeat my mistake from years ago . . .), Jesus is not teaching that giving and praying and loving are ways to work our way into heaven. That’s all grace. Pure mercy. A free gift.

But Jesus is saying that your choices today matter. When you pray quietly for your granddaughter, it matters. When you resist the urge to check Facebook during work hours, it matters. When you could keep a “chore score” at home but instead do your work and help with hers, it matters. When you give generously to the poor and don’t tell the world about it, it matters. When you don’t cheat on a test, don’t flirt with a married coworker, and treat people as they deserve, it matters. When you choose to keep his secret, protect his reputation, and endure criticism for your faith, it matters.

It matters so much that our Father will remember it and reward you. 

God will bring it up when you see him face-to-face. Because of his crazy love for you, he’ll welcome you into heaven. And because of that same love, he’ll reward you with something extra when you get there.

So, brothers and sisters, rescued by grace, do good today. Serve humbly. Give generously. Because, no matter who sees or notices or praises you now, there will be a glorious reward then.

Pastor Mike Novotny has served God’s people in full-time ministry since 2007 in Madison and, most recently, at The CORE in Appleton, Wisconsin. He will also serve as the new lead speaker for Time of Grace after 2019, where he will share the good news about Jesus through television, print, and online platforms. Mike loves seeing people grasp the depth of God’s amazing grace and unstoppable mercy. His wife continues to love him (despite plenty of reasons not to), and his two daughters open his eyes to the love of God for every Christian. When not talking about Jesus or dating his wife/girls, Mike loves playing soccer, running, and reading.

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