I've read Randy’s book Managing God's Money, and it's awesome. I have a question: if a sinner does good deeds for years, like giving to the poor, then gets saved but dies a month later, will God reward him only for the good deeds done that one month he was a Christian? Or God will reward that person for all the good deeds in his lifetime, even before he became a Christian?
You ask a great and thought-provoking question. I ran it by Randy and he said there’s not a definitive answer that he sees in Scripture, but we can provide some additional thoughts that may be helpful. (You can also see his answer to a very similar question.)
First, in this article, Randy addresses the question of whether an unbeliever can please God. However, that article doesn’t totally answer the question of someone who later becomes a believer. But 2 Corinthians 5:10 came to my mind: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” It seems that if someone, for example, helped Jews during the Holocaust, and did great good in saving lives, and later became a Christian, God might still reward them for those good things they did to help people.
To be absolutely clear, there is no righteous deed we can do that can earn our salvation! But the theme of God judging each person’s deeds and being a rewarder is found throughout Scripture (see Hebrews 11:6, Revelation 22:12). And as Randy points out in that article, there are still some deeds unbelievers can do that are most likely pleasing to God. So at the end of the day, we can’t know for sure, but we do know we can trust God’s character and rest in the fact that the Judge of all the earth will do what is right (see Genesis 18:25).
Stephanie Anderson is the communications and graphics specialist at Eternal Perspective Ministries.