On Robin Williams and the Theology of Celebrity Good Works

It is interesting to observe the reactions of people when celebrities, such as Robin Williams, die and how those reactions reveal their personal theology.

Over my life, my own personal observations have been that the majority of people tend to subscribe to a theology based on works, or “works righteousness”, the belief that the good works we perform in this life should serve as assurance that we will be in heaven someday.

Good works are, well, good, and the good news is (no pun intended) that the Bible has a lot to say about it.

For example, Hebrews 10:24, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…” or 2 Timothy 3:17, “That the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work…” and Titus 2:7, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works…”

There are other such verses, of course, but suffice it to say that though good works do have their place in our earthly life as followers of Christ, such acts are not salvific in that, regardless of their breadth and scope of benefit to others, they are insufficient in satisfying the debt we as sinners owe to a holy God who demands recompense for the offenses committed against Him.

That our good works fall short in this regard is made abundantly clear in one of the most fundamental passages in all of Scripture when it comes to the doctrine of justification. It is found in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace [the unmerited, to undeserved, unearned favor of God] you have been saved [delivered from the wrath of God] through faith [firm persuasion; a conviction]. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

In other words, our good works do not justify us before a holy and righteous God against whom we have all sinned and to whom our sins must be atoned. As the apostle Paul writes, in Romans 3:23, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

So, it is not our works that secure for us an eternity in heaven with God. It is a matter of faith and faith alone in the atoning work of Jesus Christ who died in our place on the cross, fully satisfying the sin-debt of those who believe in Him.

As Romans 3:24 establishes, we “…are justified by His [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” and Romans 10:9-10, “…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

I have no doubt whatsoever that during his earthly life Robin Williams did a lot of good to the benefit of a lot of people, as did many other celebrities before him. From all the accolades and condolences I’m reading and hearing about Williams, he was what we would call a “good” man.

Williams made countless numbers of people laugh though he himself reportedly struggled for several years with depression and addiction.

Nevertheless, we must distinguish fallacy from truth and understand that it is not good works that send a person to heaven. Likewise – and this may shock you – it is not bad works that send anyone to hell. 

It is crucial that we understand this, because if our behavior alone (good or bad works) is the issue, then, why did Christ have to die for something that could be so easily remedied? After all, would not the easier solution be that we would all just treat one another better? 

No, my friend.

You see, it’s not our behavior but our nature that is at issue here, which is why Jesus said, “You must be born again.” (John 3:7)

As good as our good works are, they do not measure up to God’s standard, which is absolute perfection, and only Jesus Christ meets that standard.

What ultimately determines our eternal destiny is whether or not we believe in the atoning death of Jesus Christ as the only satisfaction God will accept as payment for our sin, not how “good” a person is or may have been.

“Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin. Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.” – Ray Ortlund, Jr.


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Author On Robin Williams and the Theology of Celebrity Good Works

Darrell B. Harrison

Lead Host Just Thinking Podcast

Darrell is is a native of Atlanta, Georgia but currently resides in Valencia, California where he serves as Dean of Social Media at Grace To You, the Bible-teaching ministry of Dr. John MacArthur. Darrell is a 2013 Fellow of the Black Theology and Leadership Institute (BTLI) of Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, and is a 2015 graduate of the Theology and Ministry program at Princeton Theological Seminary. Darrell studied at the undergraduate level at Liberty University, where he majored in Psychology with a concentration in Christian Counseling. He was the first black man to be ordained as a Deacon in the 200-year history of First Baptist Church of Covington (Georgia) where he attended from 2009 to 2015. He is an ardent student of theology and apologetics, and enjoys reading theologians such as Thomas Watson, Charles Spurgeon, and John Calvin. Darrell is an advocate of expository teaching and preaching and has a particular passion for seeing expository preaching become the standard within the Black Church.