What about the good things done by atheists? Are these really “good works?” After all, when a millionaire gives thousands of dollars to feed the poor, is this not a really good thing? Well, let’s try and sort this out. First of all, it is good when people in need are fed and clothed. The Bible is very clear about this. Jesus said, “to the extent you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). And so, from the perspective of the recipients, giving food and water and clothing to those in need is a very good thing.
But the situation is different when viewed from the perspective of those who give. You see, the deeds we perform in helping others must come from a heart which is committed to a love for God. Jesus also said, “let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). In other words, when we do something, like give food to the poor, we should draw attention to God by those actions. We should not draw attention to ourselves. Real love for God acts in this way.
The love chapter in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, tells us the same thing. Listen: “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). So it is possible to give to the poor and even sacrifice your own life for another without having real love. This is the whole point. Love is an essential ingredient in good deeds. Without it, those good deeds profit me nothing. And this kind of love only comes from God. To help you understand this better, click here and listen to “Charity without God.”