Consider that in 1 Corinthians 13 Paul taught that our works are useless if they are not motivated by love. In verses 1-3 he wrote:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have prophecy, and if I know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give up my body to be burned, but I do not have love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
Works, and even spiritual gifts, that produce beneficial results merit no reward if they are not motivated by love. And as we have already seen, things that do not merit reward are not good in God’s eyes.
We see this concern also in the way that Jesus summarized God’s revelation in Scripture in Matthew 22:37-40:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and most important commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40).
To reject God’s law is to reject him as he offers himself to us in covenant relationship. And to disobey his law is to sin. Here Jesus teaches us that the Law itself, and the rest of the Old Testament as well, require above all else that we love the Lord and our neighbors.
Love is an aspect of every law God requires us to obey, so that if we do not act in love, no work we do can conform to his standard. And what makes God’s standard even harder to meet is that our love must be for both God and neighbor. Unbelievers do not love God they are hostile to him. And as a result, they can never be motivated by love for God. In other words, they can never have the right motive. And because of this, they can never do anything that God considers, in an ultimate sense, to be good.