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And likewise many persons of old had many virtues and practiced good works, and many Christians have them nowadays and accomplish great acts, which will profit them nothing for eternal life, because they have not sought in them the glory and honor which belong to God alone.

John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, BOOK 3 CHAPTER 27 (Pages 292-293)

Hello Readers, hope all’s well. Time for another post.

Today’s topic is something I’m sure I’ve written on before (can’t remember which post though). But that’s OK, because it’s an important topic worth talking about. Which means it’s worth repeating.

And this would be the topic of doing good deeds for the wrong reasons. Doing good works with bad intentions. And usually this would be doing good works for the sake of our own pride, and getting the praise of others. In other words, violating what I refer to as the “Matthew 6 Protocol.”

I say this topic is so much more important today, in the social media era. Do you know people who post on social media about the charity and volunteering they do?? They get lots of likes for it, and praise from others. But sometimes you suspect it’s actually an image thing for them. They post all this volunteering (etc.) so they can look good and get the likes.

Do you know anyone like this?? Or, if we’re being honest, is it you?? It has been me in the past, I’ll admit it. It can happen to the best of us if we’re not careful.

It all comes down to having the wrong motivation for doing good deeds. Our one and only motivation should be to Glorify and Serve God, and that’s it. Once prideful motives of vanity and praise arise, then we’re doing it for ourselves. That’s where we go wrong.

Let’s not be too down on ourselves though, because we’re far from the only ones to have this problem. This is an ancient problem. Remember Jesus talked about it in Matthew 6?? That means it’s a problem at least as old as the first century.

I’m reading through an old book from the medieval times now. It’s Ascent of Mount Carmel by John of the Cross. And in Ascent he writes about … this exact same problem. So you see, it was an issue in medieval times too.

Today we’re going to look at Ascent of Mount Carmel, and see some of the Spiritual consequences of taking pride in our good deeds. Because this is a Spiritual problem at the end of the day. And Spiritual problems have Spiritual consequences for us. But if we have the right Spiritual perspective and take no pride in the good things we do, but do them only for God’s Glory, we can avoid this.

So read on, and let’s hear what the medieval writer John of the Cross has to say about this timeless topic.

And likewise many persons of old had many virtues and practiced good works, and many Christians have them nowadays and accomplish great acts, which will profit them nothing for eternal life, because they have not sought in them the glory and honor which belong to God alone.

John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, BOOK 3 CHAPTER 27 (Pages 292-293)

Spiritual Problem, Spiritual Consequences

John of the Cross starts by saying what the real damage is when we don’t do good deeds for God’s Glory. The damage is Spiritual, which means it’s much more harmful because it affects our relationship with God. We must avoid Spiritual damage to this relationship, as the consequences are severe. If we have a weak relationship with God, it leads to more sins and backsliding in many areas.

The principal evils into which a man may fall through vain rejoicing in his good works and habits I find to be […] very hurtful because they are spiritual.

John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, BOOK 3 CHAPTER 28 (Page 293)

Anyway, let’s look at some of the consequences of this topic. What happens when we rejoice in our good deeds for our own sake rather than doing it for God’s Glory??

Vanity/Pride

The first problem is vanity and pride. “Vainglory” is another word for vanity, an old and outdated word. John says a man can’t rejoice in his works without esteeming them highly. This leads to arrogance and boasting, which are obnoxious and irritating to everybody on top of being sinful toward God. The Pharisees were very prideful and boastful about their good deeds and how well they followed the Law.

The first evil is vanity, pride, vainglory and presumption; for a man cannot rejoice in his works without esteeming them. And hence arise boasting and like things, as is said of the Pharisee in the Gospel, […]

John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, BOOK 3 CHAPTER 28 (Page 294)

Judging/Comparisons

If we feel pride for our good deeds, it leads to judgment and comparison of others. We might look at someone who doesn’t volunteer to help out their community, and we might say: “Look at them, they don’t do any good deeds for the people. Not like me though. I volunteer a lot and I help out a lot. That person who doesn’t volunteer is nothing like me.”

Does that kind of prideful, judgmental boasting sound familiar?? It sounds exactly like the parable of the Pharisee comparing himself to the publican. The Pharisee bragged to God about all the good things he did, while putting down the publican. The publican kept his prayer short and sweet, a humble prayer showing Virtuous Humility. The publican went home justified, says Jesus.

This is an important parable for the people of today. Because many people do good deeds so they can feel like that Pharisee—so they can feel better than others. But good deeds must be about doing good for God’s Glory; they must never be about being better than anyone.

(11) The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector [publican]. (12) I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’ (13) But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ (14) I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”

Luke 18:11-14 (CEB)

Anyway, here’s what John of the Cross says.

The second evil is usually linked with this: it is our judging others, by means of comparisons, as wicked and imperfect, when it seems to us that their acts and good works are inferior to our own; […] going so far as to be angry and envious when they see that others are praised, or do more, or are of greater use, than themselves.

John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, BOOK 3 CHAPTER 28 (Page 294)

John also notes there’s an element of envy in this, when others are praised for their good deeds over us. Envy is only possible when we’re comparing ourselves with others. If there’s good being done, we should be happy about it no matter who’s doing it.

Ulterior Motives

This third problem is so rampant in our world today. When we rejoice in our own good work, we start taking pleasure in getting praised for that work. We like it when people complement and praise us for the volunteering or charity we do. Once that starts, that praise can even become a kind of addiction. At that point we only do charity (etc.) when others can see it, so that we’ll get the reward of praise.

Social media has taken this Spiritual problem and made it 1000x worse. Too many people do good deeds now so they can post it on Facebook, and get the addictive dopamine rush from lots of Facebook likes. Facebook likes have a very intense, strange power over people. It’s sad but true that many people do charity/volunteering so they can post about it to social media. So they can show off, make themselves look and feel good, and get the praise of others.

But why can’t people just do good deeds for God’s Glory?? Why do they have to do it for praise?? I don’t know, but I know that Facebook and social media have made this problem so much worse.

The third evil is that, as they look for pleasure in their good works, they usually perform them only when they see that some pleasure and praise will result from them. And thus, as Christ says, [“Everything they do is done for people to see”], and they work not for the love of God alone.

John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, BOOK 3 CHAPTER 28 (Page 294)

No Reward in Heaven

But, as John of the Cross reminds us, anyone who does good deeds for the praise of others has already received their reward. They did it for the praise, so they’ve got their reward and God will not give them anything in Heaven for what they did. Our intentions are so important, and God knows why we do what we do. If we don’t do our good deeds for Him, He knows. The beginning of Matthew 6 is where we’ll find God’s warning about this exact thing.

The fourth evil follows from this. It is that they will have no reward from God, since they have desired in this life to have joy or consolation or honor or some other kind of interest as a result of their good works: of such the Savior says that herein they have received their reward.

John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, BOOK 3 CHAPTER 28 (Page 294)

We’ll skip over the fifth evil, Readers, because it deals with the philosophy of Ascent of Mount Carmel. And I don’t want to get into it right here. All I’ll say is that it has to do with this general theme of being closer to God or closer to the world; choose one. If we don’t rejoice in our good works for God’s sake and do them for His Glory, we choose the world.

Picky and Choosy

The sixth problem John brings up is quite interesting. If we rejoice in our good works for our own pride, we become picky about what good works to do. Has anyone seen or experienced this?? I haven’t. But it seems to make sense. John says we’ll be biased toward the good works that give pleasure and contemptuous of those that give none. But it’s those tough jobs that God values the most, actually, because of the self-denial they involve. That’s mortification of the flesh, a good and necessary Spiritual practice.

The sixth of these evils is that such persons commonly deceive themselves, thinking that the things and good works which give them pleasure must be better than those that give them none. They praise and esteem the one kind and depreciate the other; yet as a rule those works whereby a man is most greatly mortified are most acceptable and precious in the sight of God, by reason of the self-denial which a man must observe in performing them.

John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, BOOK 3 CHAPTER 28 (Page 296)

Let’s Sum that Up

OK, that’s a whole lot right there. To sum it up, John said the problems that come from rejoicing in our own good works for our own sake are:

  • Pride/vanity
  • Judging others/comparing
  • Doing our good works for others to see/for ourselves
  • Losing our reward from God (Matthew 6)
  • Valuing the wrong kind of works

Like I said, this problem is so rampant in our world today. Social media has made it so much worse. So many people are doing amazing good deeds and charity. But their true motivation is posting it on social media to get Likes, that is, to get praise from others. If only they would stop that and start doing these good deeds for God’s sake, not their own!! What a waste of good deeds, I say.

Well, how do we avoid these evil consequences from doing good deeds for the wrong reasons?? How do we avoid falling into this Spiritual trap?? The answer is found in Matthew 6.

John of the Cross tells us to avoid these Spiritual problems, we must hide our good works from others and from ourselves. If we don’t hide them from ourselves we’re in danger of rejoicing in them. Let’s never be satisfied because we did something good. Let’s only take satisfaction that we can Glorify God, and leave it at that. Tell no one about what we do.

These persons, then, in order to flee from this evil, must hide their good works so that God alone may see them, and must not desire anyone to take notice of them. And they must hide them, not only from others, but even from themselves. That is to say that they must find no satisfaction in them, nor esteem them as if they were of some worth, nor derive pleasure from them at all. It is this that is spiritually indicated in those words of Our Lord: Let not they left hand know what thy right hand doeth. Which is as much as to say: Esteem not with thy carnal and temporal eye the work that thou doest spiritually. And in this way the strength of the will is concentrated upon God, and a good deed bears fruit in His sight; […]

John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, BOOK 3 CHAPTER 28 (Page 295)

Well, since I keep mentioning Matthew 6, let’s end with Matthew 6. I can’t think of any better way to speak on this than the words of our Savior:

(2) “Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. (3) But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (4) so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6:2-4 (CEB)

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