bonar crump

bonar crump
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Friday, May 6, 2011

When “Doing Good” Isn’t Really “Doing Good.”

by Donald Miller

Chesterton said the idea of a sin nature is the only bit of Christian theology we can actually prove. And while there may be other bits of theology we can prove, I do agree the matter of sin nature is undeniable. That said, though, we commonly think of sin nature in remedial terms. Lying, stealing, cheating, these are all sins, while giving to charity or loving another person is not. But to classify sin so simply is to lessen the actual depravity we claim exists in man.

I’d take the idea a step further. I’d say total depravity fuels most of our good works, too. It’s rare to find a successful church or ministry that isn’t fueled by leadership that “needs” control or power or fame or even, sadly, the desire to be Godly, which can also be wrapped up in total depravity.

The difference rests in our motives, of course. Like any addiction, self addiction is a matter of motives and manipulation. Motives can be twisted and we can easily become deceived about why we do what we do. Do we love because we love, or do we love in order to be loved? The first is pure, the second isn’t any more selfless than not loving at all. When we love in order to get security, the person we are loving is just being used, and when we act righteously to gain a sense of security in our spiritual lives, our righteousness isn’t truly righteous. Maybe this is why Paul talks about his righteousness being like filthy rags. It’s all a con game, and the con isn’t so much on others as it is on ourselves.

Freedom from this isn’t easy, and unfortunately like that old Chinese finger trap, the more we try, the worse the situation gets.

The Bible talks about doing good works without our right hand knowing what our left hand is doing. I take this to mean, among other things, we should do the good things we do from a sense of outward flowing love, a love that first requires an inward flowing love. We rarely think of controlling the sin or the self-deceptive motives in our lives as something we stop by ignoring, but this is precisely what I’m recommending.

When we meditate on how much God loves us instead of on how loving we are, we tend to love others selflessly out of a feeling of completion, while if we meditate on how much we love others in order to get them to love us back, we love others out of a sense of compulsion or need. The same is true for our righteousness. When we think about how good we are, we may no longer be good. Instead, we can think about how good God is, and how much we are loved by Him, and then just live in the overflow of those truths. It’s tricky, but one is a prison and the other is freedom.

The good news is that our motives don’t really matter in the eternal scheme of things, at least not to us personally. As people who are one with Christ, God sees in us his son, and the righteousness of his son is the reason he interacts with us. So in loving others, we can be agents of God, loving others for God, through ourselves, rather than loving others for ourselves and through ourselves. It all sounds like mind gymnastics, but it doesn’t have to be that hard. The best thing I can do to love my friends is to think about and live within the truth that God loves me. This is the only way I can live and love without expecting a return on my investment. The real love will happen naturally once I understand my need is met. I don’t have to think about my motives at all.