There are both good and evil works. Good works are those commanded by God; evil works are those which God has forbidden. When, for example, we do the work that an honorable vocation requires us to do, this is right because God has commanded us to work. But if we steal, commit murder, or commit adultery, we do wrong because God has forbidden us to do these things. There are also matters that we are free to choose; they have neither been commanded nor forbidden.
If someone does what God has forbidden, he always does wrong. Good intentions do not make a wrong act right. We, for instance, do not, out of pity, have the right to kill a deformed child. God has told us to protect life, saying: "Thou shalt not kill." God has bound us to His Word. From this Word we can determine what real love is. Jesus says: "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word" (John 14:23). We can easily nullify God's command with our own pretexts, with our so?called good motives and loving spirit. That is why it is so important to study the Bible so that we can learn what God's will is, and our love can then be a Bible?based love, which really fulfills the Law, and we will not be counted among those who make the Law of no effect. Jesus warns: "He who does not love Me does not keep My words" (John 14:24).
A work, however, does not become a good work in the sight of God merely because it has been commanded by Him. As a work commanded by God, it is a good work, but as a work done by us, it is stained with sin. That is why rebirth is necessary. "A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree produce good fruit" (Matt. 7:18). All the works of unbelievers are sin in the sight of God, even though an unbeliever can do good and honorable works in the civil and earthly sense. Through faith in Christ we are new creatures, good trees, that produce good fruit. First we are given salvation as a free gift without our works. Only then does God do good works through us, and then they are works not only commanded by God, but works that stem from love for Him and our neighbor.
Nevertheless, even our good works are tainted with the selfishness of our old Adam, our desire for praise and honor, and other sins. Our good works need to be purified by the blood of Christ. When we examine our works in the sight of God, it is clear that our salvation depends completely on grace and Christ's atonement. And in spite of this - behold God's ways! - He rewards us. It is truly a reward of grace. We have not earned anything, and yet there is a payday for us!