Solomon wrote, “Even a child is known by his deeds, whether what he does is pure and right” (Prov. 20:11). I can recall my dad using a certain phrase to make a point as my sisters and I were growing up: “If it has feathers like a duck, quacks like a duck, and waddles like a duck, then it’s a duck.” My dad was very particular about the clothes that he deemed acceptable, and rightly so. His reasoning and advice for each of his daughters was that if you dressed like a prostitute, then that is what you are telling people you are and that is how people will treat you. If you don’t want to be treated as a prostitute, then don’t advertise yourself as one. If you don’t have enough respect for yourself and dress modestly, then how can you expect for others to have respect for you? The same line of advice was given when we were choosing the friends with whom we associated. If we chose friends who got into trouble and always hung out with them, then how could we remain blameless? So it is true that you are known by your actions.
When we think of our identity based on what we have done, we usually categorize the works we have committed in two ways: good and bad. Both have the potential to be dangerous perspectives. To begin with, my husband has discussed with me many of the conversations that he has had with unbelievers and also, for lack of a better term, confused Christians with whom he has worked over the years. Two common viewpoints are as follows: “I know where I am going” or “God won’t forgive me for all the things I have done. I have done a lot of bad things.” We can see this mindset in that, like the analogy used by my dad, they feel like they have the properties of a sinner (or a bad person). So they must be a sinner (or a bad person) and there is no escape from that. They feel like their situation is hopeless. Since they can’t seem to change the outcome they might as well keep on sinning. On the other hand, there are those who have a long list of good deeds. We have the tendency to put our deeds on a scale and weigh them. Having the good far outweigh the bad can bring such a measure of success, yet that alone brings us no victory. We are still in need of Jesus, the source of our victory (1 Cor. 15:57).
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:9). God’s truth is that our identity comes from what He has done for us rather than from what we have done, whether it is good or bad. We need to be mindful in how we think, how we act, and the perspectives we use to place judgement. In other words, we need to give careful consideration in how we determine what is right and what is wrong in any situation we come across, not that we should place blame on someone. Because God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours, there is no possible way we could know what is right or good without Him. When the rich young ruler referred to Jesus as “Good Teacher,” Jesus replied “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God” (Matt. 19:16-17).
Furthermore, through Moses God gave the Israelites the law in order to establish authority, respect, boundaries, and safety. We establish rules in our own home with our children for the same reasons. Without rules, chaos ensues. Without rules, children can’t learn what is right and wrong. Just because we grow up, we do not outgrow the need for rules.
When you know God, you can trust in His promises. If you don’t read your Bible, how will you know God? You can learn of God in Bible class or from a sermon. You can learn about God when speaking with others. You can hear about His attributes, actions, commandments, love, mercy, forgiveness, etc. But until you search the Scriptures from beginning to end and again, you cannot know God on a personal level.
Since we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, our souls need both forms of interaction to gain knowledge and edification (Heb. 10:25). Peter encouraged the brethren “to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). Paul explained what this knowledge is: that God “has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:9-10).
Our works do not factor into the fact that we have a Savior because God planned it before time began, before any human sinned. No amount or type of sin makes you less deserving or unworthy of forgiveness. Likewise, no amount of good works can earn your salvation based on merit. It is a gift of God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Once we have this knowledge, we are to grow in the grace of it. Can we grow without grace, knowing that we would never be enough to get to heaven? No, but we can grow well knowing we don’t have to be because we were never meant to.
It is important to understand the mind of God so that you can have the right perspective about God and how God sees you. In Ezekiel 18, God explains in detail why the wicked man shall die in iniquity and the righteous man shall live. He explains that if a wicked man shall turn from all his sins and keep God’s statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall live and not die because none of the transgressions will be remembered against him (vs.21-22). “‘For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,’ says the Lord God. ‘Therefore turn and live!’” (v.32).
Throughout the Old Testament it is the same advice that God gives to His people: “If you will admit your sin and turn from it, submit yourself to My commandments, I will forgive you.” The message is the same in the New Testament, and the fulfillment of Christ has come. “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God-and righteousness and sanctification and redemption- that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.’” (1 Cor. 1:30-31). Jesus is wisdom from God. His wisdom is this, that “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing…By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit” (John 15:5, 8). We can do nothing without Jesus. If we sin, He is there waiting to intercede for us. All you have to do is ask for forgiveness. Jesus explained to Peter that if a brother sins against him, he shall forgive him not seven but seventy times seven times. Will Jesus not do the same for us? He does not ask of us to do more than He is willing to do Himself.
Furthermore, when we bear good fruit, let it not be for our glory but for God’s. Our righteousness will not save us. So how can someone really believe that God will not forgive them after all He has said and done for them? Trust that God keeps His promises.
“Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:17-19). We have been made perfect in love, so we should not identify with the things we have done.
Let your good works be done in faith and for the glory of God. Be proud of those good works, but remember that your identity comes from what God has done for you. “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23).
In reference to my dad’s analogy concerning the duck, note that a duck is born with feathers and the ability to quack and waddle. He can’t help but do those things. We are born with the freedom to choose what we do. A duck doesn’t know he is a duck, but we know who we are in Christ. God created us and put our souls in our bodies. We can’t think of our identity without thinking of our Creator and Savior.