The Problem with Being Good
Good - a slippery notion
Counselor to client: "You need to do what's good for you."
Boss to employee: "Good job!"
Jesus to rich young ruler: "Why do you call me good? There is no one good except God alone."
Mother to toddler: "Good boy!"
Passenger to flight attendant upon disembarking: "Good flight. Thanks!"
No doubt you could keep this list going. We use the word good in a variety of ways, all of which are valid when the context is considered. The mother's "good" refers to her boy's using the toilet for the first time. Not quite what the passenger meant by "good." :-)
Good before God
Does God care whether a toddler is potty trained or a passenger enjoys a smooth flight? Well, if He cares about the birds in the air and the flowers in the field I suppose He cares about these as well.
While He cares about our being good or bad, being good doesn't make us his children and being bad doesn't earn his rejection. In God's economy the currency is not performance, but grace. Our security is not in what we do but in what God does. Our joy is not in what we achieve but in that our names are written in the book of life.
The worldling scratches his head. It just doesn't make sense. It won't unless you look at the matter from God's point of view.
If good, then perfect
Let's assume for a moment that being good is the standard by which one gains God's approval and eternal joy in his presence. How would you go about living by that standard? You'd have to find out what God considers good. That's a relatively easy thing in as much as God has given us his Word, in particular the Ten Commandments.
On the surface these commandments seem pretty forthright and easy to keep. Most people can assert that they have never stolen anything or committed adultery. They believe they've honored their parents sufficiently and they don't consider themselves greedy. But Jesus explained that even if you haven't killed anyone, to ridicule him is to break the six commandment. And even if you haven't bedded down with someone other than your spouse, if you've lusted after another you've broken the seventh commandment. Then we read in James that whoever has broken one part of the law has broken it all.
No wonder Jesus asserted that there is no one good except God. So the problem with being good is that you can't be good enough by any standard you set. Create your own set of laws. Set the bar as low as you want. You'll still run afoul of your own standard.
Christ - superfluous
Paul wrote to the Galatians as follows. "If you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law." (Galatians 5:2,3)
Circumcision was a ceremony required in Old Testament times to indicate one's acceptance of God's covenant of grace. By the time of Christ it had become a mark of distinction for the Jews to whom the Messiah had been sent. It was a mark that set them apart from all other races and which came to be regarded as the ticket to heaven, no matter how you behaved. So the New Testament uses circumcision as a shorthand term for doing good with the expectation that God will notice and give you brownie points for your good behavior.
Paul's point is that if you're going to go the route of circumcision. i.e. doing good, then you are obligated to keep the whole law. If you succeed, Christ and his work would certainly be "of no advantage." Perfect people don't need a Savior.
What do you think?
Do you agree with Larry Crabb's assessment of humankind? Fear, our core emotion. Nakedness, our core condition. Hiding, our core strategy..
God in his wisdom allows us to pursue Him on the basis of good works, but He doesn't allow us to find him. Instead, we encounter frustration and fear. Finally, we give up in utter depression, albeit masked by the multitude of distractions this world offers. Folks in this condition mirror the attitude of Adam and Eve. When God called out to them in the cool of the day, Adam, who had been passively silent up to now, found his voice. He uttered words that have become the template for the human condition
“I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” Genesis 3:10
Larry Crabb observes, "Fear is our core emotion. Nakedness, our core condition. And hiding, our core strategy." Just a little observation will show that most people are driven by fear. They are deeply aware of their vulnerability. But they hide or deny it by means of covers the world offers, mere fig leaves. These include riches or the pursuit of them; popularity, success, sensual entertainments, sports. These are not all bad. Neither are fig leaves. But they don't hide much from the gaze of God.
A better way
God hinted at his solution when he replaced Adam and Eve's fig leaf coverings with garments made of animal skins. A death had to be suffered in order to provide them with suitable covering. Thousands of years later the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world appeared. Jesus died that his righteousness, written up in God's book to the believer's account, might clothe the believer for all eternity.
God's self-sacrifice on behalf of sinners. That's a goodness worth pursuing.