Being Good or Doing Good
What’s the difference?!?
…a blog post by the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook
Priest-in-Charge, St. Mary's Episcopal Church
[Jesus] gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
from Paul’s Letter to Titus
For a Christian, what is the difference between being good and doing good?
In Christian theology this is not a distinction without a difference. The two are closely connected. Let me explain.
Being is what something is. The essence of something—from the Latin word esse, to be—is its character, its existence as something. Being is intransitive, inactive. Doing is transitive, moving, active, expressive. Doing has impact, effect, consequences.
For the Christian, doing is the expression of being. If you want to know who (or what) a person is, watch what they do. One pastoral bit of wisdom has it that if you want to know what a person believes—that is, who they are—just look at their date-book and their check-book (or, these days, their credit card statement.) What a person does with their time and their money is indicative of their essence, their being.
Much of St. Paul’s writings deal with this distinction, mostly on the side of being. The quote from his Letter to Titus above summarizes Paul’s theology: We are good, because of Christ Jesus. We do good because of Christ Jesus. The latter is the response to the former.
For Paul, all things were made good in the first place (cf., Genesis 1), became corrupted and broken (cf., Genesis 2ff.), and were once again made whole (healthy, well, holy) in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus (cf., any of the Gospels). He uses the word redeem to describe what had to happen in order for us to be restored into wholeness and a firm relationship with God. So, for him, all Christians have been redeemed, and they just need to act like it (cf., Galatians).
In other words, there is nothing YOU can do to be good. God has already taken care of that. You are perfect in God’s eyes. You cannot make God love you, nor can you stop God from loving you. Period. No qualifications or exceptions.
The reason we actively care about the poor, the needy, the hungry, the oppressed, etc., is because God loves us/you. We are to be “zealous for good deeds” not to prove anything or convince anyone of anything, but because we are responding to God’s love for us, unearned and undeserved.
We are good, therefore we do good. Amen.
The authors of this blog welcome comments.