The term ‘good’ is relative. We tend to think of ourselves in a better light than some others and so compare ourselves favourably. So, compared to a murderer or a habitual thief, I consider myself ‘good’. But is this the right standard?
Take the student Fred. He is top of his chemistry class. As a result he considers himself good. But he came top with 37%- all his class were abysmal!
What is God’s standard?
His standard comes to his in two ways.
- First, his moral law, and here the standard is perfection.
‘... the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested (Jesus ) with this question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
Jesus replied: " `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbour as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
By this standard no one is ‘good’.
- The second way in which God’s standard comes to us is in the form of a person, his Son Jesus Christ. Which life has measured up to his?
Here is a real life encounter with someone who thought that he was ‘good’ but which Jesus exposed as selfish and unwilling to put God first:
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except God alone. You know the commandments: `Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'"
"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."
Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"
In a poorly lit room, a dress may look quite acceptable, it is only when you bring it into the bright light that the stains are revealed. So it is with our lives when brought into the bright light of God’s revelation in the Bible.
The term "Christian" is definite
Sometimes the term ‘Christian’ is used interchangeably with the term ‘a good person.’ No one would deny that, relatively speaking, Ghandi was a ‘good man’. But he denied basic Christian beliefs and was a self-professing Hindu. It would be unfair to think of Ghandi, or for that matter many ‘good’ humanists, as ‘Christian.’ It is not a term they would accept or want to accept.A Christian is someone who knows certain things to be true and in their own experience have responded to those truths.
Here is a classic description of a group of Christians:
They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
Christians are people who recognise they need saving. The question is: Saving from what? The testimony of the Bible writers is unanimous - we need rescuing from God’s righteous judgement - his ‘wrath’.This will be perfectly carried out one day. That is our greatest danger and so our greatest need.
Christians are people who have turned around (the religious word is ‘repented’). They turn from ‘worshipping idols’ - that is anything which is put at the centre of our lives, displacing God - what we actually live for. They turn to ‘serving the living and true God’ - the One who truly exists and is not a product of our own imagination or wishes, but who has revealed himself in the Bible, and supremely through his Son - Jesus Christ. This ‘service’ means putting him first, ensuring we adopt his priorities, knowing and loving him personally.
Christians are people who exercise trust (or faith) - ‘wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead. ’Christians no longer live for short term gain - they take into accunt the bigger picture, that the world belongs to Jesus and is ruled by him and is heading towards a great climax. They do not fear God as their ‘judge’, they wait for him as their ‘saviour’. They have a future to look forward to and live for.
How does a person become a Christian?
Not by being good. But by believing and acting on what God has made known in the Gospel - the Christian message, and being changed on the inside by God’s Spirit as they hear that message. It is not so much that these people have had the wit to ‘choose’ God, but the humility to accept the message whereby God chooses them:
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.
1 Thessalonians 1:4-5
This is not just a ‘head thing’ - mere believism - it involves a change of heart - ‘deep conviction’. A person becomes a Christian by personally responding to God’s truth in Jesus - turning, trusting and taking.