Is Christian altruism really possible?

(Painting of the good Samaritan by unknown Dutch master)

In a recent online discussion, I came across a rather interesting supposition. It was suggested that an act can only be classified as truly altruistic if the actor either has no expectation of reward for her action, or has no fear of retribution if she fails to perform that action. This seems quite reasonable, since reward and retribution introduce elements of self-interest into the act, thereby muddying the altruistic waters.

This puts Christians in a bit of an awkward spot. They are taught that God looks favorably on kind works (even if he may not count these works toward the worker’s salvation), and that he abhors sin. Thus, even if a Christian acts with the best, most selfless intentions possible, she knows, in the back of her mind, that she stands to personally gain (or lose) by performing that action.

It seems, then, that the only way to improve her chances of acting altruistically is for the Christian to give up her belief in God’s attitude to kind acts. I wonder if any Christian could maintain such a belief.

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