“Can you earn salvation by doing good deeds?”
The answer to this question will change the way a person lives entirely. One answer will lead a person into a life of fear, condemnation, and guilt, while another answer will lead them into grace and love.
Let’s look at how Islam answers this question, and then we will look at what the Bible says about good deeds.
Good deeds in Islam
The Quran explicitly explains that Allah will weigh a person’s good deeds against their bad deeds (no matter how big or small) to determine whether they deserve to enter Paradise. If the good deeds outweigh the bad deeds, and if Allah is pleased with the Muslim, then they may be allowed to enter Paradise.
“We will set up the scales of justice on the Day of Judgment, so no soul will be wronged in the least. And even if a deed is the weight of a mustard seed, We will bring it forth. But those whose scale is light, they have doomed themselves for wrongfully denying Our signs.” Surah 7:8-9
What kind of deeds will increase a person’s chance of getting into Paradise?
Good deeds include practing the 5 Pillars of Islam: fasting during all of the required fasting days including the month of Ramadan, not missing any of the daily 5 prayers and the optional all night prayers, completing the Hajj pilgrimage at least once, and giving the percentage of alms (Zakat) mandated according to the Islamic calculator.
But there are other good deeds that Allah considers, like practicing Da'awa (proselitizing and bringing non-Muslim to convert to Islam), funding non-violent Jihad which includes building a mosque or funding a mission center in a non-Islamic country. Other easier deeds that all Muslims are able to do is to be hospitable, and give Sadaqah (money above and beyond the Zakat) to the poor.
Good works determine the person's status in front of Allah. They are the gateway to pleasing Allah and gaining his favor. Most Muslims regard Allah as a judge who frowns and condemns and who might get pleased when he sees good deeds. That's why Muslims are always under a lot of pressure to be perfect so they do not upset their god.
No guarantee of salvation
Even if a Muslim is perfect, never doing wrong (which is impossible) there is simply no guarantee that Allah will be pleased enough with them and let them enter Paradise. This is the paradox in Islam; from one side, there are many verses in the Quran that promise the Muslim salvation from hell and entry to paradize through good works, Like this one: "For those who do good deeds, there shall be the best reward and yet more blessings." Surah 10: 27
But there's another side where Allah is mysterious and moody, and it is up to him to choose who goes to paradise no matter how many good deeds they have done. Even Muhammad, the 'prophet and messenger sent by Allah,' was never sure he would be saved. It all depends on Allah's mercy! This hadith quoting both Muhammad and his disciples explains it clearly:
"The good deeds of any person will not make him enter Paradise." (i.e., None can enter Paradise through his good deeds.) They (the Prophet's companions) said, 'Not even you, O Allah's Apostle?' He said, "Not even myself, unless Allah bestows His favor and mercy on me." So be moderate in your religious deeds and do the deeds that are within your ability." Hadith Bukhari Volume 7, Book 70, Number 577
Notice that in this quote, Muhammad encourages his followers to be moderate in their good deeds because no matter how much they do, it is up to Allah to decide whether they will be saved!
What does the Bible say about good deeds?
According to the Bible, there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation. Our faith in Christ defines who we are, not how many good or bad things we do.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
However, doing good is a natural expression of our faith in Jesus! Because of how grateful we are for Jesus’ sacrifice and love, we naturally want to share this love with others, following our Lord’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
Doing good works never increases your standing with God! Ultimately, we are saved by God’s grace and by accepting Christ as our Lord and Savior. And the Lord looks at the heart and our intentions; you could feed a million people but if you’re doing it to show off, it will not glorify God.
It is such a blessing that God does not hold our works against us, because we do not have to live in fear of messing up or living under the pressure of being perfect. Jesus has already carried that burden for us.
But that does not give us a ticket to not do good works. On the contrary, because of God's Spirit who lives in us, and our intimate relationship with a Father who loves us, good works become a natural part of our daily lives. Our works reveal our faith and we love and give and sacrifice so we would love Him back and to show the world how awesome He is!
"For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead." James 2:26
How to help your Muslim friend understand the difference
Talking to your Muslim friend about Jesus can offer them freedom from the life of impossible standards they’ve been trying to live up to and the uncertainties which makes them live in fear of what's coming. It is important to explain that when you do good things, it is not because you are trying to tally up points with God, but it is because you are grateful for what God has done for you and want to pass on this love to others.
If you have a conversation with your Muslim friend about salvation, make sure that you emphasize that we only gain salvation through Jesus, and nothing we can do will make us more worthy of it! Explain the difference between mercy and grace and that we need them both to be saved. You can simply say, "mercy is when God removes the death sentence that is on me because of my sins, and grace is the gift of salvation and eternal life that God gives me without me doing anything, though I do not deserve it."
To help start a conversation, ask them questions like:
- Do you feel like you have to be perfect to please Allah?
- What do you do to make sure your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds?
- How can you be sure that you will get into Paradise?
Prayer for your Muslim friend
Dear Lord, I pray that my friend can be freed from the shackles of religious practices. Let your Holy Spirit open up their heart to receive your grace through your Son, Jesus Christ. Please let me speak into their life and show them your love through my words and actions. Amen.