The ability to do good works before salvation
Ps 14:1-3 The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.
2 The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.
3 They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
David’s contention is that the fool (the wicked) are corrupt and filled with abominable works. When the Lord looked down, He found that there were none who sought after Him. But there were indeed those who did seek after God: David, himself, was a man after God’s heart. What David was referring to was the fact that no one of their own accord sought after God. God reaches out to us, first, and then we are able to do good.
John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
There are several ways in which people come to understand goodness from God.
• God’s Word gives understanding:
Ps 119:130 The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.
• Jesus, Himself, gives light and understanding.
John 1:9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
• God’s Work gives understanding
Rom 1:18-20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
All of this enables man by nature to do things contained in the Law and be able to live in a civilized society, holding each other accountable.
Rom 2:14-15 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
The problem is not whether one has the ability to do good works, but why those works are unacceptable.
Our good works when we were under the Law were unacceptable because we had no standing
When we were lost in our sin, we did not have standing to offer anything to God. Our good works were tainted by our sinfulness.
Isa 64:6 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
Standing is a legal term as to who is allowed to stand before a court to speak. If someone causes damage to another person, I would not be allowed to make a claim for any damage since I was not the injured party; I would not have standing. If a murderer who would offer a poem to a mother whose child he had just murdered, all the well wishes in the world would not make that poem acceptable to that mother. The murderer would not have standing to offer anything. If, on the other hand, he were forgiven by that mother, his offering could be received with grace.
Although we are not perfected until the resurrection, we have standing before God through Christ.
To be free from the Law means simply to be from the condemnation of the Law. It does not mean to be rid of the Law. Paul argues that as in the case of a marriage is no longer in force after the death of a spouse, the law is no longer in force when the sentence of death has passed from us and has been executed against Christ.
Rom 7:1-6 Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?
2 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.
3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
4 Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.
5 For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
6 But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.