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Good Person? Wrong Answer!

Christian, tell me why do you think that we have to be Christian in order to be good people? Lots of non-Christians are good (and some Christians aren't!)

Because…How good we are, or aren’t, is not the relevant factor. What matters is how we relate to God.

I’ve heard more than one person say that they don’t accept Christianity because “I know how to be a good person without needing some higher power to tell me.” This may sound like it should be correct, but it has two major flaws.

Flaw #1: “Good” is Irrelevant

God’s goal for His people is not that they be “good”; it’s that they have a right relationship with Him. God’s laws, such as the Ten Commandments, aren’t meant to be followed in order to be good enough for Heaven. That’s fortunate, because none of us is capable of completely following any rule.

As an example, we once visited the Sistine Chapel on a vacation. The rule there is respectful silence from all visitors. But the guards had to call for quiet every five minutes or so. Visitors admiring the magnificent artwork could not help doing so out loud! If I can’t keep my mouth shut for a few minutes, why would I expect to be able to live my entire life without coveting what someone else has 1? Or to consistently honor God above everything else, giving nothing else priority over Him and never mis-using His name or His special day 2?

As Paul teaches in Romans 7:7-12, the Law shows us how far we are from the standard, so that we realize we need help. In His “Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus explained that the inner motive counts as much as the outer actions (Matthew 5:17-48). Even if I act good, I still haven’t met the standard unless I am good on the inside.

Knowing that God has standards that flow directly from His own infinitely-righteous character, and that I don’t come close to meeting them, drives me to Jesus for salvation. He alone is truly, completely Good…and He loves me enough to share His goodness in trade for my sin. That transaction gives me clearance to come into God’s presence. No one, no matter how good they are, can have that clearance while they continue to reject God’s claim on them and refuse Jesus’ offer of reconciliation.

When someone thinks that they can try hard enough, or be a good enough person, they are not realizing just how vast the gap is between humans and God. Look at it this way: The very best slug in my garden — admired by the other slugs, always sharing its food and doing other good slugly deeds — would still never be welcomed as a member of my family. 😝 I have more in common with the slug, my fellow creature, than I do with the God who created both of us. My personal slugly good deeds are just not that impressive to Him!

Flaw #2: How do they know?

How does anyone know what is good, and what is bad? Where does the definition of right-vs-wrong come from? The Christian’s definition comes from God. Even if I didn’t have the written Bible, my innate sense of right and wrong exists because I was created in His image. His character, what He is like, is embedded in my DNA. Writing to the church at Rome, the Apostle Paul said:

…that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made…

Romans 1:19-20 (Note that the full passage is saying that no one has any excuse, because God has made Himself clear to everyone.)

For those who know how to be a good person — and it’s likely that they really are good people — without God as the Source of that knowledge, then where do they believe the knowledge comes from?

It’s not just because their parents taught them. As important as good parenting is to children, parents can only teach morality; they don’t invent it. I have read a reminder that just because something is taught to children doesn’t mean that it is man-made. They are taught multiplication tables, also, and math would continue to be true even if the child didn’t yet understand it. The same is true of moral principles: They hold regardless of whether we know or acknowledge them.

It’s not from society as a whole, either, as if “good” can change from one culture to another. “Society” is just a group of people, and societies throughout history have had basically the same ideas of morality. There are plenty of different cultures, with different etiquette and social hierarchy. But none approve of randomly lying, cheating, stealing, and killing. Even those that seem to do so only approve of such things for the ones in power, not as a universal rule for everyone. And from outside, those cultures are not held up as role models for anyone else.

So to the person who believes they are good without any reference to God, I ask again: To what authority do they defer to define “good”?

Bottom Line

The moral foundation to be a “good person” comes from God. No other authority explains the innate knowledge that transcends all times and all cultures. But even if I were capable of being perfectly good (I’m not!), behavior alone is not the criteria for eternal life in Heaven.

Rather than deeds, God wants my heart. He wants me to love and trust Him, enough to obey Him. Why He wants such a thing, I will never understand. After all, I have no interest in the slug’s relationship to me. But God wants my relationship so much that Jesus lived, died, and rose to provide for it.

The incredible thing is: He wants that relationship with everyone, regardless of whether or not they are are “a good person”.

Footnotes and Scripture References

  1. Tenth commandment, Exodus 20:17
  2. First four commandments, Exodus 20:3-11

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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