Can a non-Christian without the Holy Spirit do anything spiritually good, such as glorifying God, seeking God, praising God, obeying God, fearing God, pursuing righteousness, being generous, etc.?
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No amount of 'righteous works' can save a person, since no one can achieve the utter perfection God requires. We all, save Christ, have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. However, that does not mean that the unsaved are incapable of anything good or of any righteous work whatsoever. Unbelievers can do 'good works,' as scripture shows in many places: - Ahab's (temporary) humility: "Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day..." I Kings 21:49 - Cornelius: "At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius,...He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly...The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God." Acts 10:1-4 Parable of the good Samaritan: But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he had compassion on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine....“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”" Lk 10:33-37 Jesus flipped expectations around in that parable - it was the Samaritan show showed mercy, not the devout Levites. Nebuchadnezzar: "... Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation....Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble." Dan 4 Sailors: At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. Jonah 1:16 In addition to these and many other examples in scripture of specific individuals doing something morally good, there are some scriptures as well about the general ability of man to obey, seek God, and do right. [Again, none of this contradicts the fact that no human can -perfectly- obey, seek God, and do right, as even one transgression makes us a lawbreaker (James 2:10-11.)] Mankind seeking God: Paul said, "From one man He made every nation of men, to inhabit the whole earth; and He determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands. His purpose (will) was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him--though he is not far from any one of us." (Acts 17:26-27) General ability to do what is right: "...'The righteousness of a righteous man will not deliver him in the day of his transgression, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he will not stumble because of it in the day when he turns from his wickedness; whereas a righteous man will not be able to live by his righteousness on the day when he commits sin.' If I tell a righteous person that they will surely live, but then they trust in their righteousness and do evil, none of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered; they will die for the evil they have done." Ezek 33:12-13 And "For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves...They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)..." Rom 2:13-16 Etc. The natural man is capable of doing good works, but can't acheive salvation by any number of good works - only by faith (Rom 4, Rom 5, Rom 1:16-17, Gal 2:15-16.)
If one believes that every word in THE Word is absolute truth then the answer to your question is a resounding "NO." Heb 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
As humans we are made in the image of God and as such we have a desire to do good and help those less fortunate in life. However all our best intentions are marred by sin which puts up a barrier between God and us. Only Jesus by has sacrificial death for us at Calvary broke down that barrier of sin and allowed us total fellowship with God. The young man came to Jesus asking about salvation. He was a good man who kept the law and did all the right things. When Jesus said you need to give up your riches and follow me he walked away sad probably because he thought his good works would save him. Jesus also highlighted that his wealth had priority over God despite his good works. As Christians we know that we are saved through grace by what Jesus did for us at Calvary 2,000 years ago. So salvation is not faith and works but faith that works.
The answer is a NO, for the following reasons. Romans 3:10b “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. John 4:24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” As these verse state an unsaved/unregenerate person is spiritually dead, a dead spirit can't do anything thats why they are enslaved to sin, Romans 6:16-22. There are 2 types of good in the greek, a beneficial good to others and a morally good, a unsaved person can do a beneficial good to others but that does NOT please God because they are doing it outside of faith and it is impossible for them to do anything morally good which is in faith by the power of the Spirit which only saved people have.
The question is, "Can natural, fallen man do anything that is spiritually good?" Christ tells us that "apart from me you can do nothing" John 15:5. The immediate context is about bearing fruit that is in harmony with the moral law. See verse 10 Now let me rephrase your question: Can an unbeliever do something that is beneficial to another person? Of course, but this so called "good deed" is always done for a selfish motive in the non-believer. Paul brings this out in 1 Cor 13:3 "If I give all I possess to the poor..but do not have love (agape) nothing is gained (i.e, nothing good is done in God's eyes)." What is agape? "Love (agape)..it is not self-seeking". (See 1 Cor 13:5 NIV). Doing something outwardly good for a reward or notoriety isn't doing good in God's eyes! Doing to get isn't based on agape, but rather self-love and self-seeking. Not only can the unbeliever not do "good", but the believer, of himself, can't do good either. Paul brings this out in Roman 7:25 "So then, I of myself (i.e., without God's Spirit) serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin." In other words without God's Spirit doing the willing and the doing (see Phil 2:13) all we can do is serve the flesh based upon iniquity. What is iniquity? The primary meaning of iniquity is not an act but a condition. As a result of the fall, man by very nature is spiritually “bent,” so that the driving force of his very nature is love of self. Paul defines it as “the law of sin and death” [Romans 7:23; 8:2]. It is this condition that is the basis of all our sinning, and which makes us slaves to sin [Romans 3:9-12; 7:14].
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