Food for thought:
If all humans are made in the image of God,
then humans are dependent creatures made for a purpose, namely:
to love and serve our Maker, and to be happy in his love and glory forever.
Even justice is not an independent entity, but best finds its definition in reference to God’s unchanging character. Although the cultural expressions of justice may change from time to time, at root, the principle of justice essentially remains the same.
Doing right for right’s sake is necessary but not sufficient for doing good to others.
After all, what makes something the right thing to do? It is usually something we take for granted.
In a sense, doing the right thing has its own intrinsic reward, but I would propose that the meaning becomes richer and more complete when the action is done in reference to honoring God.
This would be a proper understanding since “righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne” (Psalm 89:14)
Doing the right thing is not something that is meant to stand alone, but rather, it should become subservient to something greater than itself. Good works are fingers that are meant to point observers beyond themselves to something greater.
“When an atheist performs an act of charity, visits someone who is sick, helps someone in need, and cares for the world, he is not doing so because of some religious teaching. He does not believe that god commanded him to perform this act. In fact, he does not believe in God at all, so his acts are based on an inner sense of morality. And look at the kindness he can bestow upon others simply because he feels it to be right.”
Although what the atheist does is honorable, it is incomplete. Good works done without reference to God is giving a thirsty traveler a cup of water when you can point them towards an oasis instead.
If atheists do right for right’s sake,
then Christians do what’s right for God’s sake; because the Bible teaches us to do everything for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), which would be consistent with the postulate that we humans are made in God’s image and thus are meant to honor/glorify him with our lives.
How is God glorified when we do things for His sake?
When we do what God says is right, we end up enjoying Him more.
We enjoy Him more because God delights to reveal more of himself to the generous than to the stingy. (Acts 20:35)
When God is desired as a treasure in this way, He is glorified and honored.
To be motivated to do right by the desire for more of God glorifies God.
Also the joy that is found in doing good to others is meant to escalate to a greater joy to be found in fellowship with God.
If we were to do good deeds for others with no reference to God, this would contradict the very purpose for which our life was made and ultimately falls short of the joy that can be had.
Not only does trying to do right for right’s sake dishonor God, it doesn’t show love to others.
People don’t experience it as love.
But why would they experience the good we do for them as love, if we are seeking our greater joy in God?
Part of the greater joy we seek in God, by doing them good, is the inclusion of them in our joy.
Our joy in God would be expanded by their joy in God.
We are wooing them into our greater joy, and desiring that they become part of it.
Doing right for right’s sake does not have this effect.
For instance, suppose you visit an older lady who just had a heart attack.
She says to you, “Oh, you did not have to come visit me.”
An atheist would say: “I know, but it was my duty to come. It was the right thing to do for its own sake. So I came.”
A Christian would say: “I know, but it always makes me happier in God to bring some encouragement to you, and lift you up into what the Lord has promised.”
My pursuit of more joy in God by doing good to her, and wanting her to be part of it, is what genuine love is.
To conclude my thoughts:
Doing the right thing for right’s sake
-dishonors God, and thus contradicts the purpose of our lives
-dishonors neighbor, because it falls short of the greater joy to be had in God’s fellowship.
To rephrase it more positively:
Doing the right thing for God’s sake:
-honors God, and thus fulfills the purpose of our lives
-honors neighbor, because we draw them into a mutual enjoyable experience of fellowship with our common Creator.