“You’re good people.”
I heard it again last weekend. What do you say to that? “Umm…thanks?”
I live in the south, and most of us are good…at least we’re polite and nice. Our mommas told us, “Be good!” every time we went out the door. We wait our turn; we try to help people; we give Christmas gifts to our mailmen and garbage collectors. We try our best to be nice (except on college football Saturdays, but that’s another story).
Nice people seem just as
good as me, from the outside.
So when someone who doesn’t follow Christ hears, “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10), they bristle. They say, “I’m good. I’m nice. I don’t cheat or steal. I help other people.” And they do. From the outside, they seem just as good as me.
Thing is, I know I’m not truly good. I know I fail every day, and sometimes, when it seems like I’ve succeeded, I haven’t because I did not please God. Other times, when it looks like I’ve failed, I haven’t because God is pleased with me.
Worldly Good v/s God’s Good
World’s Good: nice,
Thinking on this for a while, I came to a conclusion: There are two kinds of good. The worldly good means nice, likeable, polite, kind—all healthy societal expectations. God’s good, however, means pure, righteous, holy. It’s rooted internally, compared to worldly good, which is determined by external qualifications.
God’s good: pure,
Worldly good is culturally conditioned. Mommas in China who say “Be good” probably don’t have the same thing in mind as my mother did. God’s good, on the other hand, is constant. It transcends culture—both geographic and chronologic. (The Bible does this, too, by the way. Maybe that’s why we call it The Good Book.)
Good v/s Sin Nature
The problem is, we’ve defined ‘sin’ to mean actions, so people think if their actions are good, they don’t have a sin problem. They tally up their good deeds and bad deeds, then decide they’re doing alright.
For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. –Romans 7:18
God pushes past our good deeds to see our inner motivations, and they are seldom as altruistic as we would like people to believe. My sinful nature, like Paul’s, can produce all kinds of worldly good, but it cannot be good. Only Christ in me can do that.
Good Deeds v/s Motivation
As a child, I learned sin is anything that separates us from God, but that’s a self-centered definition. Sin is anything that doesn’t bring God the maximum glory. It’s a high bar.
Let’s say I donate time or money to a homeless shelter. With utter transparency, why might I do this act of charity?
- to make myself feel good
- to feel superior to others who didn’t do it
- for my own recognition (a pat on the back from friends, maybe)
- to make myself look good (e.g. for a college application)
- to rack up “points” with God
- to earn God’s favor or attention
rules the day.
You can probably think of more. Regardless of motivation, the charity is good/helpful in a worldly sense, but it’s rooted in sin because God’s glory isn’t the top-most priority. We can do the charitable work for what it gets us, or we can do the same action because we want to be obedient and honor God with our earthly lives. Motivation rules the day, from God’s perspective.
God’s good will always be good for God.
Good in Us v/s Growing Good
On the one hand, we are declared righteous (i.e. good, sanctified) when Christ dwells in us (e.g. 1 Corinthians 6:11). At the same time, we are becoming righteous as we live out the Christ-life here on earth (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 5:23). I don’t understand it either.
Can we increase our Godly goodness? How can we learn to be good in God’s sense of the word? By the end of Romans, Paul had an answer.
I myself am convinced, my brothers and sister, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. –Romans 15:14
Filled with knowledge
Competent to instruct
I would be supremely happy if people described me this way. We will become more good (bad grammar there, I know) when we fill ourselves with the knowledge of God. Leave a comment if you want to share another way we become “more good.”
Here’s an interesting thought: The more we become good as God sees it, the more the world will see us as good, according to its own definition.
When we talk to people about the Christ-life, especially good people, we need to distinguish between what people normally mean by good and what God says is good. I’m okay with having those two definitions. We can celebrate the goodness and kindness of all…well, most…people. We can work for good in the world alongside those with different motives. And, without pointing fingers at others, we can always reveal God’s definition of good along the way.
Have you had the “we’re all good” conversation with someone recently? How did it go? How do you think of goodness in God’s terms?