is a good deed for a bad reason still good?

I posted this in another part of the forum but thought I’d post it here as well. So I got into a conversation with a few non-denominational friends a little while ago and I wanna see what you guys think. We were on the topic of idolatry and talking about how it’s wrong and selfish to help someone or do good if it’s for monetary value (money, food, etc.), but that you should do it knowing that by doing good, you will be working towards a higher spot in heaven because God will look favorably upon your actions.

The question I have is that they were saying that although it is a good thing to help others or do something good, if you are doing it for some monetary and for selfish reason then it is bad because you have the thought of a reward in mind for doing such actions, making it a good deed but with a bad premise. If you were to do something good or help a person out with the thought of being looked favorably on by God, is this not a selfish act as well? It might not be for anything that we can use here on earth or anything but it’s still the idea of receiving a reward. Is this not a good deed but with a bad premise as well? Is the only true good that someone can do be invoked simply by you doing it for the love of your fellow humans and doing something because it’s the right thing to do?

I appreciate any responses back to my question. Thank you and God bless!

If a person does a good act in order to please God, why is that “selfish?” It is the purest of intentions that should motivate everything we do. Maybe I just don’t understand your logic here. :shrug:

Is the only true good that someone can do be invoked simply by you doing it for the love of your fellow humans and doing something because it’s the right thing to do?

It goes back to the sheep and goats parable. The questioner said, “When did we see you hungry, or naked, or (whatever) and minister to you?” If one ministers out of love, and does not have a particular motive of serving God, nevertheless, He counts it as being done unto Him.

Truthfully this is a tricky issue for there are so many variables. It really comes down to the initial or primary motivation that drives the action much more than any given particular.

By this I mean that a good hearted person will do things because they are good hearted. If they receive some recompense, they are grateful but it was not their primary motivation - and accepting the recompense does not detract from that motivation…in fact accepting some payment can in itself be an act of Love.
If the one giving is truly giving some payment out of honest desire then should we refuse it? Perhaps in some cases yes - and in other cases no…

Numerous permutations can be seen in the above…

But let us consider something in the most perfect light possible…
Two Christians are talking - Jack is moving to and Bill offers to help. He asks for nothing in return - only the opportunity to help his brother in Christ. Yet Jack wants to give to Bill because He knows that this is a sacrifice, it will be hard work and frankly he knows Bill can use the money. So he says to Bill, “I’d love for you to help me but only if you let me buy you dinner and give you $50 to help you out.”
Bill agrees, not because he seeks the money but because he knows the Love that Jack is expressing in the offer.
Has either person acted in anything but a Christian way? Can we suggest that any of the acts above are somehow diminished because some sort of reward is involved?

So the real matter of "good deeds’ is really less about the particulars than the heart - or the motivation - behind them.
Look to God, act in love and all else will follow nicely…


Beautiful reply, James! God bless!



  • 1 If I speak in human and angelic tongues* but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
    2 And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.
    3 If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.*

What is the driving motivation to please God? Is it for love of Him? This is something we must ask ourselves often as we live our Christian life. If we do our good deeds to the betterment of our own image, for others to see how good we are; if we do our good deeds with pride as the driving force behind them, then we are no better than the proud pharisee who stood declaring his works and goodness before all. But if our good deeds are done for the betterment of others, not to be seen but rather to kiss the leper clean and to remain unseen by it; if we do our good deeds with humility and adoration of our Savior and His creation in order to please Him, then it is for love of Him rather than love of self.

First, doing a good act in order to recieve a monetary reward is not always bad, although that may be enough to make it less morally good, or possibly morally nuetral or bad, depending on circumstances. (Example: feeding a hungry person on the street is good, selling food to a soup kitchen at normal prices is not the charitable act of feeding the hungry, but you are actually indirectly causing the hungry to be fed and you aren’t doing anything bad. You just aren’t doing charity. Charging a starving person the last of their worldly possesions in order to consume some of your excess food would obviously be bad.) Of course, actual bad motivations (projecting a dishonest image of oneself, unjustly causing someone to feel indebted to you) can make an action that is normally good actually be bad, but merely gaining money is morally nuetral.

When it comes to pleasing God, I would make a slight distinction between two types, similar to the distinction between perfect and imperfect contrition: a) desiring to please God purely for the sake of pleasing God, which is more noble, and b) desiring to please God for one’s own sake.

Clearly, a) is more noble, but recall that God desires true goodness for us as well. So even if our motivation is our own salvation, our motivation is in fact a good thing that God desires. So the motivation in b) is also good, just not a more narrow good. And so the action is definitely not bad.

In Judaism, there are several degrees of charity from the lowest to the highest. Doing good grudgingly or for selfish gain are the lowest forms of charity but still better than doing nothing at all. Doing good for love of neighbor and G-d as well as anonymously is the highest form of charity, but also hoping to be rewarded by G-d for the act of charity is not quite at that highest level although still praiseworthy.

Ideally, a person is righteous because it is who they are and they take delight in it. Providing motivations for it would be like providing motivations for why your heart beats. You don’t really sit down and come up with a list for why that is. It’s just self-explanatory and a part of your nature.

Our natures have been rendered imperfect in this life, and we run into the case from cradle to grave that we have to use our will to forcefully prop ourselves into conformity with God. Our breathing doesn’t always happen automatically like it should for a healthy body. We have to manually pump air in and out.

Charity isn’t necessarily destroyed when we do things for ulterior motives (earning brownie points, making a profit, giving us something to do, etc.) but they can weaken it. It is generally the case that our initial conversion to God is a weak and feeble one; a mere mustard seed, or crude ore that has yet to be refined in fire to a pure metal. We don’t just have a flashy, colorful animated morphing scene, and ten seconds later we’re a Power Ranger. But the more we prop ourselves into conformity to God’s will, the more intuitive it will become for us. The extra baggage slowly recesses away. The yoke is easy and the burden is light.

A couple thoughts…

A priest in the state of mortal sin and only doing mass because he has to do it, has no desire to be there, doesn’t take away from the graces that flow from the mass, of which the priest might have no desire to be a part of.

So I would say, yes a good deed done is separate from intent.

another example,

I might want to move a disabled car to the side of the road so I can get on my way. The act though helps the person with the disabled car, of whom I am not concerned (because I am only thinking about my drive).

The deed was good, though I wasn’t paying attention to the good of the deed.

Though one could argue that paying attention to your good deeds can lead to sin. Pride.

Hmm. Not entirely. With apologies to my Brother/sister FFG, A priest is not celebrating Mass because he does so for himself. It is for the others.

A good deed done for a bad reason cannot be good. Only a good deed done for a good reason can be good. The important factor is not the deed itself, but the intention behind it.

Dominus vobiscum.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit