It is important to realize that no matter how many good deeds we may do while we are living here on earth, it by no means guarantees us salvation. When God holds us accountable, it is not a simple type of judgement like one deed for one benefit. For example, the Qur’an says that if someone does an evil deed it is only counted once. Whereas, in numerous places in the Qur’an, it talks about multiplication of good deeds. In other words, if you do one good deed it is given to you ten times or even seventy times as much. Allah said in the Qur’an (meaning):
“The example of those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah is like a seed which grows seven spikes, in each spike is a hundred grains. Allah multiplies His reward for whom He wills, for Allah is vast and knowing.” [Al-Qur’an, Surah Al-Baqarah (2): 261]
Beside this, we also find that if a person intends to something wrong, but does not commit it, it is not counted against him. So it is very generous type of accountability. But there must be at least some credit to be multiplied so the good deeds will outweigh the bad ones. Ibnu Abbas reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Verily, Allah has recorded good and bad deeds and He made them clear. Whoever intends to perform a good deed but does not do it, then Allah will record it as a complete good deed. If he intends to do it and does so, then Allah the Exalted will record it as ten good deeds up to seven hundred times as much or even more. If he intends to do a bad deed and does not do it, then Allah will record for him one complete good deed. If he does it then Allah will record for him a single bad deed.” [Authentic Hadith from Sahih Bukhari no. 6126]
In that sense, we find that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing upon him) has given us very good guidance. He says if any person is really held accountable for every bad deeds in great detail, he will perish. That is to say, out of generosity and grace of God, if you are basically good in terms of belief, and you tried your best in your life, then God will not hold you accountable for each and every small thing. He will forgive your sins. In one verse in the Qur’an it says that good deeds remove the effect of evil deeds.
“Indeed, good deeds do away with misdeeds. That is a reminder for those who remember.” [Al-Qur’an, Surah Al-Hud (11): 114]
In this matter, there’s enough room for grace for everyone, but only for those who deserve it. There is grace for people who maintain a firm belief in God and try their best, despite their human weaknesses, to live up to the requirements and challenges of that belief. If one is doing that, then he will deserve that grace.
Grace exists but it is not freely given. This would be like a teacher saying that no matter what you do, whether you attend class or not, do your assignments or not, you will pass. That’s not grace, but that’s mediocracy. One has to try to earn that grace by translating his belief into actions so that he will deserve that grace from Allah.
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing upon him) also said that when a person comes before the judgment, if he’s basically good, God will ask him, “Did you do so and so?” and he will say, “Yes” and ask for forgiveness and God will agree to conceal it for him. But this is not for everyone. A person would have to exert some effort in order to receive that grace.
Abu Dhar says, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing upon him) told us of a man who will come on the Day of Judgment and will be shown his minor sins, his major ones being hidden from him. He cannot deny all the messed up things he had done and he’s worried about seeing even bigger sins he had committed than those he’s being shown. Then it is said: Replace every bad deed with a good one! And the man says, “My Lord! I did other messed up stuff that isn’t written in here!” And the Prophet (peace and blessing upon him) laughed when he relayed this man’s reaction. (Shama’il Muhammadiyah, Book 34, Hadith 219)