I know many people are works obsessed, even while proclaiming being saved by grace alone. Likewise non-believers (and those of hybrid beliefs, some God, some pagan, which is just as bad) have world views that include the delusion that one can assign to one's self and to others "grace" bestowing chores and "to do" "checklists." It was when thinking about that problem when I was on Twitter this morning that I started to collect in my mind a few random scriptural references and explanations about God that will help you to detox from that mindset, which is dangerous and cruel, to say the least.
1) Be sure to understand that love and fear of God, and one's relationship with him alone, comes before ANY works, whether those that are "recommended" in the Bible or not. To explain let's go to the heart of the instruction of Jesus, where he added the commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself. He ADDED that commandment TO the others. In other words, you still have to obey the first ten commandments, most particularly 1-4 which proclaim and worship God alone.
Most Christians have understood that full well. It's only in modern times that people have a kind of Chinese menu attitude toward "achieving" salvation, where they think they can "specialize" and make "to do" lists that will get them saved. Thus they think that they can do a lot of "good deeds" related to the new Commandment, and that will earn them points. Wrong. When Jesus talked to his disciples or the crowds he knew he was speaking to God's Chosen People, people whose entire life and indeed their government was based on their faith and relationship to God! You, dear friends, are far from being in that boat. So let me digress a bit with some Old Testament perspective.
I've blogged before that no one knows God like the Jews do. It's a fact. The Jews "grew up" alongside of God's continual presence. They know in their soul, in their heart and in their guts the essence of God far more than any other person can ever do, no matter how pious. When Christians speak of a personal relationship with God, usually through Jesus Christ, that is still not the same as people who traveled side by side with God in a tent.
It is with that familiarity with the real presence of God that is the baseline situation, the baseline culture, the starting point for all the Law and the Commandments that follow. So each Commandment (and other Law or instruction in the scriptures) is built upon the reality of the pre-existing knowledge both personal and community wide of God being real, of being ever present, and his un-judgable via human means Truth.
Let's give an example, just for a mental air freshener exercise. Imagine an Israelite of the time of Moses who, just for the sake of argument, broke all Ten Commandments and never actually followed them at all. He is still, in one sense, better off than every modern Christian. Why? Because he knew for certain God is real, as he had to just glance over at the meeting tent and see Moses emerge from speaking with God! That guy might be an idiot for assuming the God he clearly could witness to every day is going to not punish him at some point for disobeying, but he never doubts the reality of God, because he can see him! I mean, duh, think about it. That guy is a gambler, assuming he can sneak worship of an idol in here and there, skip keeping the Sabbath holy, covets all day long, etc, even kills the occasional person, but he knows God is real because he can see him, and he travels with him.
All Jews carry inside them that *sigh* of reality, which is that God is real, and that their ancestors walked with him, and that sin will result in punishment and suffering sooner or later. But see, Christians, even the good ones, are constantly testing "if God is real" and "if he hears me." They don't have that core spiritual DNA, for lack of a better term, that the Jews have, which is a long history of direct interaction with God himself, here on earth. Believing Jews, even the most lukewarm, have like a unique understanding that you can espy sometimes, even when they are not aware of it. It's when they talk about God, or about a Jewish tragedy, or about the state of Israel (arguing usually) and someone gets philosophical. You can see the look in the eyes, fleeting as it may be, as they think back over the obey-disobey-obey-disobey relationship they've had with God, but all happening against the backdrop of God's actual existence and presence among them.
In the Bible you can read how the Israelites became anxious when several hundred years would go by and God would not bring them a prophet, a genuine prophet (prophet is someone who speaks God's words, not is foretelling futures and so forth like moderns think). Jews were anxious, angry and melancholy for exactly that reason during the time of John the Baptist and before... as they had been centuries without a prophet. But they didn't run around "testing" to see if God was "still there," as just about every Christian I know actually does (if you strapped a lie detector test to them). Oh boy, Jews know God is there, has been there, and will always be there, but they also know he often is silent to individuals and communities.
So back to Jesus adding the new Commandment. Jesus was telling those people who I described right above here that Commandment, adding that to their already framework of understanding the every minute reality of God.
Thus the new Commandment is not a checklist item for getting in good graces with God. Rather, you can think of it as the test, not of God by man, but of man by God, because if you have the first Ten Commandments right, the new Commandment will flow from you naturally.
This is why you have to run from people who imply they can give you a list of chores or any checklist based on the new Commandment and that this will in any way "earn" anything for you with God. Absence of being like the new Commandment is a problem yes sir, but you can't "earn" points by pressing the new Commandment good-deed charity button over and over because if you are doing that you are demonstrating you don't get at all Commandments One through Four.
How can I show you this another way in the scriptures? Easy, by looking at Jesus with Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, who were disciples and early followers and friends of his. Everyone loves the story where Martha is slaving in the kitchen serving Jesus and the others while lazy Mary is able to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from him. When Martha expects Mary to be rebuked by Jesus, Jesus kind of sighs and says basically, "Don't blame Mary for choosing the better part."
Now, here's where modern people miss the point that everyone else (pre labor saving devices and first world prosperity) knew to a T. That is that it's not like Mary sat around all the time! It was that one time that she sat and listened to the important teachings of Jesus. The rest of the time she was working at providing for the household, and probably in the fields too, just as hard as everyone else. See, moderns think that the "enlightened" people can sit around (Jesus "said so") while "other" people serve them, and that it's kind of their fault anyway for choosing that "life path." This scripture has gotten a gooey New Age taint. People forget, what I explained above, that all Israelites, including the Jews of Jesus' time, already GOT the reality of God. They didn't think in terms of works and brownie points, what to do and what not to do, to earn being on a better "life path." So with those soot colored glasses they read this scripture and totally miss the point. On this one occasion Mary was so moved by what Jesus was telling to those around him that she sat at this feet, rather than doing her USUAL WORK. That's why Martha complained, as she too wanted to listen, but felt she had to do the work.
But see, Jesus is telling her to just trust and learn from him, rather than fret the meals and the cleaning. Remember that Jesus twice led thousands into the desert with no food or water, and he provided for them. The people trusted him. How much more so could Martha have trusted him to let people go without food or water or a clean house for a few hours or a day while Jesus was teaching? That's why Jesus gently rebuked with a sigh.
But see, just like the new Commandment, the story of Martha and Mary is fodder for those who do not understand the reality of God, unlike the people who knew full well the reality of God right then and there, throughout the times of the Bible. So certain modern people glean the Bible for checklist, scorecard, chores and brownie earning point activities, thinking that "puts them and others on the right path." It does not because the right path is knowing one hundred percent God exists and is there all the time and that YOU need a relationship with him first. It does not matter a mouse behind or any other body part if you are making someone wash dishes, or not, read scripture, or not, throw dirt around for someone else to pick up, or not, and all, like an accountant, "applying" to one's "checklist" of "what the Bible says to do." You will DO the things that are right, in their season and time, IF you FIRST understand and obey God's reality.
2) I cannot possibly overstate that you must understand when Jesus tells the disciples about the rich man who went to hell, described in Luke 16. You need to understand that was a PIOUS BELIEVER who probably did all the right things in every other respect, but ended up in hell, to his total shock. (Believe you me, sinners know why they are in hell. Those who think they are square and OK with God and end up in hell are those who are shocked, as that guy was. That's why he wanted to warn his brothers, not because they were obvious sinners, duh, but because they probably thought they were wonderful, worthy, pious people too! Remember that during Jesus' time the Jews had degenerated so that they thought the healthy and rich were rewarded by God for being good, while the poor and the sick were punished for being "sinners.") Everyone who heard that story from Jesus totally understood that, unlike today. The rich man was punished in hell because he ignored the ONE person God expected him to save from illness and starvation. So believe you me, that guy in hell (he's still there) had a long "good deed" checklist, but oops, he left out the one person that he should have saved. James warns that to know to do good and not to do it is a sin.
3) Here's some blunt truth. You know how in the Apocalypse Jesus tells those who "did not know him" (because they did not feed, clothe, visit etc others in his name) to begone and not be saved? The only reason that Jesus is having that conversation at all with them is that those folks did believe in Jesus. Nonbelievers and those who deny God don't even get to that point of conversation, as they are rejected just as they rejected God. So again, the people who are rebuked by Jesus for lack of good deeds were ALREADY Jesus believers. You have to believe and obey God in the first place before you even get a shot at meriting through your natural sanctity appropriate good deed leadership. It's not like Jesus is saying that good deeds earned them the right to approach Jesus upon death. Belief in Jesus, in God, earned them the right to approach him, but what they did with that belief (or not, as is this case) is what gets them rejected. It's the fact that they did not follow through with their total and accurate belief in Jesus by now exuding that sanctity toward God into service toward others that got them in the hot place.
I hope these thoughts help.