the weblog of Alan Knox

Righteous deeds: dirty rags or sacrifice of praise?

Posted by on Feb 17, 2010 in missional, scripture, service | 11 comments

When Paul was writing to the Philippians, he said that he counts everything as “rubbish” or “dirty rags” (for the full contexts see Philippians 3:1-11):

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ … (Philippians 3:7-8 ESV)

The author of Hebrews presents another view of our righteous acts:

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:15-16 ESV)

So, are our righteous deeds dirty rags or sacrifices of praise that are pleasing to God?


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  1. 2-17-2010

    Love this question Alan

    Depends on who you are.

    1. For the nonbeliever our self-righteous acts of attempting to please God in our own power is worthless and even offensive. That is why the Son came. Paul says “if righteousness could be attained by works of the Law Christ died needlessly”.

    2. However, for the Christian it is as Peter says “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”. We are God’s beloved, His special possession, His adopted Children! Those He sent His Son to redeem. What God says of the Son, He says of the Son’s bride! Our obedience and works is a sweet aroma to the Father, holy and pleasing. Not in our own rightouesness but because the blood of Christ has made a sweet fragance unto the Lord.

    That raises the next thing our hearts are not “decietfully wicked” and to be honest the bible doesn’t even call us Sinners anymore. We are called beloved, special and children and a pure bride. We should see ourselves as God sees us, again not because of us but because of the one who first loved us.

  2. 2-17-2010

    Great question, and I like Lionel’s response. I would add that I think a Christian can also still offer dead, self-righteous works to God. That is, works done out of a fleshly motivation or fleshly self-effort, sort of like the Galatians were doing. I think Paul, when he began his walk with Jesus, realized that all his law-keeping and good works, as excellent as they were, were dung to God. He had to die to fleshly efforts to please God, and instead live in a response to God’s love and grace, through the power of the indwelling Spirit, not the power of the flesh.

  3. 2-17-2010

    I agree with Joel! Thanks for clarifying that, I too believe that we can offer dead works, if done in our own strength for our glory.

  4. 2-17-2010


    Your word “righteous”, in your question, indicates the spirit in which the works are done.

    “Righteous” acts will always be pleasing to God, and will only be done by “righteous” people.

  5. 2-17-2010


    I like your answer also, along with Joel’s caveat.


    So how do we know when we’re offering dead works to God and when we’re offering pleasing sacrifices to God?

    Aussie John,

    From God’s perspective, you’re exactly right. “Righteous” deeds are always righteous and pleasing to God.

    From our perspective, we can call many things “righteous”. But of course, calling something “righteous” does not make it so.


  6. 2-17-2010

    1 Corinthians 13 seems to support the idea that motivation is what matters. Paul clearly says that without love, even the deepest acts of sacrifice are worthless.

    So, in order to know if we’re doing good for the right reason, we simply have to ask if our motivation is love. If it is, fine. If not, we need to rethink the reasons for doing what we are doing.

  7. 2-18-2010


    I think that’s something that each individual works out. I agree with Steve that love is the root of all ‘true’ good works. So on the one hand, generally speaking, a person can be doing things that have an appearance of being loving and good, while their motivation is to look good in front of others, or to try to look good in front of God. To me, even though good may come out of it all, the core motivation was fleshly and not true righteousness. And on the other hand, a person can truly be doing things from the motivation of love, by the life of Christ in them, and that is the type of thing that I believe is being talked about in Heb. 13.

    As Paul says in the Phil 3 passage, it’s about being “found in Him, not having my own righteousness… but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.” If we’re still trying to operate outside of that gift, then it’s fleshly self-effort.


  8. 2-18-2010

    While reading through this conversation, this verse also came to mind:

    And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

    And that seems to sum up the divide that everyone here has been describing , does it not? The only difference between our acts being dirty rags, and them being offerings which please God, is the difference of faith. The first is scenario is seeking to achieve some level of godliness of our own, but the second is when we are seeking God Himself…

  9. 6-19-2010

    We should meditate on the good reports in the body of Christ. If a brother or sister in the Lord is doing something good for someone else, rejoice! We need to encourage one another. This is love too. We shouldn’t try to judge someone’s heart or motives. God knows their heart and their motive. When we love someone, we believe the best. We shouldn’t question the motives of the beloved church; we should be glad that they’re doing something to further the kingdom of heaven!

  10. 4-24-2012

    Therefore the friends of the cross say that the cross is good and works are evil, for through the cross works are dethroned and the old Adam, who is especially edified by works, is crucified. It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his »good works« unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God’s. – Martin Luther

  11. 4-25-2012


    While I think I understand what Luther is saying, I think he makes a false distinction. Paul was definitely a friend of the cross, but he did not think that works were evil. In fact, he not only exhausted himself doing good works, he instructed others to devote themselves to good works. The problem is not with the good works themselves, but the motivation and purpose behind them.