Is it truly a good deed if done for selfish reasons?


by Shawn Brasseaux

Someone posted this question on social media not long ago. That person received a variety of mixed responses: overall, though, some basically said yes and others said no. Can it be a good deed even though it has underlying selfish motives? Upon initial glance, it seems like a tough question. Nevertheless, if we let the Bible, not works-religion, be our authority, this question will be a breeze to answer!

Religion has trained many of us so well. It is like inebriation—drunkenness. In fact, Revelation 18:3 speaks of the (future) Antichrist’s religion as having, “the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” Revelation 17:2 says of that false religion: “the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” Rather than being faithful to one, true God, these followers of the Antichrist (including unbelieving Jews) will be “sleeping around” with idols! Religion, while bearing similarities to prostitution, is also likened unto drug abuse because it causes you to lose all sense of reason. You can accept the most ridiculous ideas as true… and yet, you will never discern the difference between right and wrong because your spiritual senses have been numbed!

It is assumed that a deed must be good if it appears good. This is a common idea carried over from works-religion. Still, the Lord Jesus had an interesting comment about this issue in Matthew 7:11: “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” Notice how Jesus talked about “evil” parents giving “good gifts” to their children. The gifts were good, but where the parents good? No! “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children….” No matter what they did on the outside, on the inside they were still “evil!” Jesus singled out their sin nature—they “be evil.” Their deed never changed the underlying character, and it was the character most offensive to God. Men look on the outside; God looks on the inside. God is concerned with the heart attitude.

“Is it truly a good deed if done for selfish reasons?” Actually, the answer is built into the question. Sin, at its very root, is doing what you want instead of what God wants. As a wise preacher once said, “Isaiah 53:6 is the best definition of sin in all the Bible!” “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way….” Paul the Apostle in Romans 1:25 picks up on Isaiah’s comments: “Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.” Sinners by nature are selfish. They want to be their own authority. Quoting the unbelieving Jews and the unbelieving Romans rejecting Father God and His Son Jesus Christ at Calvary, Psalm 2:3 says: “Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.” They oppose God’s rule over them. They have their own agenda, and seek to carry it out. They could not care less about the Creator’s purpose and plan for them!

The three Members of the Godhead are selfless. They live for each other’s benefit rather than their own individual benefit. Father God seeks to glorify His Son, Jesus Christ, rather than Himself. Jesus Christ seeks to glorify His Father rather than Himself. The Holy Spirit seeks to glorify Jesus Christ rather than Himself. The Father seeks to glorify the Holy Spirit instead of Himself. These attributes are so far beyond (sinful) human experience. Just look at these words of Scripture, a sample of the Bible texts on the subject:

  • John 8:54: “Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God:….”
  • John 16:13-14 (Jesus speaking): “[13] Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. [14] He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.”
  • Philippians 2:3-5: “[3] Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. [4] Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. [5] Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:….”

If we have the life of Christ in us, and we do if we have the indwelling Holy Spirit (cf. Galatians 2:20; Romans 8:9), then the only works He can produce in us is good works. Those good works would not involve selfishness, since His good works done on the Earth (His earthly ministry) did not involve selfish motives either. Go back to Philippians 2:3-5 above. As God sees it, a deed is not good unless it is something done to glorify Him. If you are doing something seeking to gain something for yourself, that is self-centeredness. A selfish deed, no matter if it appears good, is actually a bad deed. That is what sin is (Isaiah 53:6). That is what “evil” is (Matthew 7:11). Saying a selfish deed can be good is like arguing that water is dry—it is an oxymoron and makes no sense in light of Bible verses!

Whenever we who have believed on the Lord Jesus as personal Saviour, feel and behave selfish, that is the old sin nature. We are walking in the flesh when we should be walking in the Spirit, the power that God has given us in Christ to overcome sin on a daily basis. Glorifying Father God should be the reason for everything that we do. We have not been left on Earth to serve ourselves. Christian living is not self-living; it is self-giving. Jesus Christ did not conduct His earthly ministry in order to draw attention to Himself. He did it to bring honor to His Heavenly Father. If ever we are living for self, that is not Christian living, and it is not a good deed. If we want to serve ourselves, we should not have become Christians. We should have stayed lost in sin. It makes sense for sinners to be selfish. It does not make sense for saints to be selfish!


The Lord Jesus issued some startling words in Matthew 7:21-23, concerning “good” works: “[21] Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. [22] Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? [23] And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” These works were no doubt good in appearance—preaching in Jesus’ name, casting out devils in Jesus’ name, and doing many “wonderful” works in Jesus’ name. Surely, they “praised” Jesus! Oh, but Jesus said in verse 23 that it was “iniquity.” It did not matter what they did or how nice it appeared! They did not follow Father God’s will; they were doing what they wanted (selfishness). There was no faith in Father’s words. It was just religious busyness. The Lord Jesus thus aptly called it “wickedness.” And, guess what? He said they are not entering the Kingdom of Heaven! He said they are not entering the Kingdom of Heaven! He said they are not entering the Kingdom of Heaven!

Please see our studies linked below about how to address selfishness in the lives of Christians.

Also see:
» Should Christians participate in yoga?
» Can you explain 1 Corinthians chapter 8?
» Why do some Christians persistently behave like lost people?