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The Problem with Being Good

Updated on February 19, 2014

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..

See results

Your call

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.

Comments - I'm listening

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    • liftandsoar profile imageAUTHOR

      Frank P. Crane 

      5 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Thanks, Hyphenbird. You are always so encouraging.

    • liftandsoar profile imageAUTHOR

      Frank P. Crane 

      5 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Indeed, MsDora. Paul put it this way in II Corinthians 5:21. "For our sake he (The Father) made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him (Jesus) we might become the righteousness of God."

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      So it is the goodness of God, and not our false sense of being good, that is worth focusing on. Thanks for presenting this topic so effectively.

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 

      5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      You did well on this article. Indeed God's grace is what is required. When people are without it through their denial of Christ, Mr. Crabb's observations are true. Without Him for whom the spirit ever yearns, that emptiness is filled with fear and the material things people use to ease the aching. We know however that no fig leaf can hide the nakedness of spiritual destitution. Bless you liftandsoar.

    • liftandsoar profile imageAUTHOR

      Frank P. Crane 

      5 years ago from Richmond, VA

      teacherjoe52, thanks for your kind comment, big bro! I've never been called "little sister" before. But I'll take anything I can get. Last I checked, I'm very much a 72 year old man. :-)

    • teacherjoe52 profile image


      5 years ago

      Good morning precious little sister.

      Unfortunately too many people try to hide or deny thier problems which is what causes so much physical sickness in this world today.

      A very good article with great insight.

      God bless you.

    • liftandsoar profile imageAUTHOR

      Frank P. Crane 

      5 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Good to have you come by, skye2day. Appreciate your zeal and love for our Savior.

    • skye2day profile image


      5 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      liftandsoar Well done good and faithful servant. Praise God He has saved us from our iniquitties, opression, sickness, depression, infirmities so we are made righteous before the Father. Thank You Jesus for saving me!

      God Bless you for writing this blessed truth. You have a beautiful works here. The Holy Spirit shines in you precious friend. I am honored to know you. Keep em coming! In Christ, My love Skye

      Linked from my born again hub, thank you.

    • liftandsoar profile imageAUTHOR

      Frank P. Crane 

      5 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Always good to hear from you my sister. Thanks for your comment.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      5 years ago from southern USA

      We all have sinned and have fallen short, and there has only been one perfect one to walk this Earth, our sweet Lord. No one can ever be "good enough" to earn their way into Heaven, as He has already paid that high price for our sins. Praise Him! To God be the glory.

      Voted up ++++ and sharing

      God bless. In His Love, Faith Reaper


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