February 4, 2024

Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday of Matthew (St. Luke of Simferopol)

On the Insufficiency of Good Deeds Alone

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on July 4, 1948)

Among the people around us, there are people who do not believe in God, but who are nevertheless kind and do many good deeds. We often hear the question: “Well, isn’t this enough, won’t they be saved by their good deeds?” I have to give an answer. No, they will not be saved. Why won't they be saved? Because this is what our Lord and God Jesus Christ said when “the lawyer, tempting Him, asked, saying: 'Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law?' Jesus said to him, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart. ...This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is similar to it: love your neighbor as yourself'” (Matthew 22:35–39).

If faith in God, if love for God is the first and most important commandment in the law, and the second commandment about love for one’s neighbor follows from this first, receives its strength from love for God, then in order to be saved, one must love God with all one’s heart, for this is the first and greatest commandment of the law.

What does it mean to be saved? This means receiving eternal life, this means entering the Kingdom of God, this means becoming partakers of this Kingdom! What is the Kingdom of God? What is eternal life?

The Lord Jesus Christ told us this in His great high priestly prayer addressed to God the Father. He said this: “Behold, this is the eternal life, that they may know You the one true God, and He whom You have sent, Jesus Christ” (John 17:3). This is eternal life: eternal life in the knowledge of God, in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. This means that without knowledge of God, without knowledge of the Holy Trinity, without faith in the God-Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no eternal life, that is, there is no salvation.

Before His ascension into heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ said to His disciples: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, and whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15–16). You see how clear the words are, you see how absolutely definite the Lord said: “Whoever does not have faith will be condemned.” This means that good deeds alone are not enough; this means that faith is also needed, which means that those who do good deeds must believe in God with all their hearts and love Him.

The Holy Apostle James said in his universal message: “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). And whoever only believes and places all hopes for salvation on faith alone will not be saved: good deeds are needed. But we can say it another way: if faith without good deeds is dead, then it means that good deeds without faith are dead.

Our Lord and God Jesus Christ spoke amazing words to the Jews that everyone should partake of the Heavenly Bread, saying that this Heavenly Bread is His Flesh, which He gives for the life and salvation of the world.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you will not have life in you” (John 6:53). What kind of life? Eternal life: you will not have eternal life, you will not be partakers of the Kingdom of God, you will not receive salvation for your souls. What is clearer? If we do not believe in God with all our hearts, if we are not baptized, if we do not partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, then we have no salvation.

You see: good works alone are not enough for salvation! You know that unbelievers also do good deeds and all righteousness, and the question arises: how to evaluate this goodness done by unbelievers? Of course, all the good deeds of non-believers should be highly valued. Recognizing this, one must still know that there is a difference between the good deeds of non-believers and the deeds of those who believe with all their hearts in God.

What is the difference? Here's the thing: there were many strong-willed people who sacrificed everything, even sacrificing their lives for the good of the people. There have been countless such people now, in our time and in recent years. There were many people who sacrificed their lives for the good of their people, their nation. There are people who give their lives for the good of people of their race, their class. What is the difference between all these good deeds, even the sacrifice of one’s life, great deeds and love for one’s class, one’s people, one’s race? Although very high, this love is love only for one’s class, one’s people, one’s race – it gets along with hatred of people of another class, another nation, another race. True and genuine love is all-encompassing, love pleasing to God embraces everything, hatred towards anyone is never mixed into it, it is all-encompassing.

If people love Christ with all their hearts, then there is no place in their hearts for hatred towards any other people. The holy Apostle Paul said about these people who combine love for their class, for their nation with hatred for people of another class, another nation, another race and another country: “If I have the gift of prophecy and know all mysteries, and have all knowledge and all faith, so that I could move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). Even a faith that moves mountains is nothing if it is not united with universal love.

“And if I give away all my goods and give my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (v. 3). If this is love only for one’s class, for one’s nation, and not universal, all-encompassing love, there is no benefit from it for our soul. There is no benefit in good deeds, there is even no benefit in giving your life for your friends, if there is no universal love, love for all people.

Where does universal love come from? It comes only from God: it is a gift of God’s grace. Such all-encompassing love is not found in those who do not believe in God, who did not love Him with all their hearts and with all their strength, who did not believe with all their hearts in the Lord Jesus and did not love Him.

There are people who are naturally kind-hearted, and that is why they easily and naturally do good deeds. But there are also powerful people who have extraordinary physical strength. There are people who have great physical beauty. Is there any merit in being born with mighty strength, being born beautiful, being born with a kind heart? No, there is no merit in this: it is a gift received from God at birth, but the Kingdom of God must be earned. The Lord said: “The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12).

We need feats, we need effort, we need to force ourselves to do good, turn from evil, from all untruth to truth, we need effort in doing good deeds. And only when, with great and continuous efforts, we purify our hearts and attract the grace of God to it, when, under the influence of this grace, holy love, universal love, love devoid of hatred for anyone, warms up and flares up in our hearts - only then this love, combined with faith, will open the way to the Kingdom of God. So, good deeds are not enough, the teaching of morality is not enough: religion is also needed, for only in religion, in faith in God, in communication with God, do we receive the power to create genuine good that is complete in the eyes of God, but naked morality does not give this, and those who think of replacing religion with only the teaching of morality are mistaken.

Good in the eyes of God is done only by those who are enlightened by Divine grace, whose heart has become the receptacle of genuine, universal love for people, and above all for God.

That is why I said at the beginning of my speech that good deeds alone are not enough. You see that it is impossible to be saved by good works alone, for if faith without works is dead, then good works without faith are also dead.

Remember this, remember that the salvation of your souls lies only in the acquisition of love. Without love, nothing has power. And love only comes from God, for the Lord Jesus Christ revealed to us the greatest secret: that God is love. Just as the sun is the source of all life on earth, and everything living depends on it for its existence, so God is the Sun of Truth, the Sun of Love, the Sun of Good; and only those whose hearts accept these Divine rays of truth, only those can be saved.

Open your hearts before God, for God’s grace and Holy love are sent only to those hearts that are wide open before God.

Why is it necessary to open your hearts? The Lord said in the Revelation of Saint John the Theologian: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20). If anyone hears, I will come in and abide in him. It is necessary for all of you to hear this knock of Christ, it is necessary for you to heed the words of the Revelation of John and open your hearts wide, wide. It is necessary for grace to instill in your hearts, and you will become a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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