People say the darndest things — sometimes to preachers. This continues a blog series on some of those things that have been said to me over the years. Here’s one:
“I can be good without God.”
On the surface, that sounds perfectly reasonable. There are plenty of atheists out there who do good things. They write checks to charity, pay their taxes and take care of their families.
On the other hand, “good” is relative, isn’t it? One man’s goodness is another man’s evil. Dictators believe they are doing good, and whose to say they are not? Majority rule isn’t always right, is it?
This is where God comes in. God has given humanity an objective standard to observe in the Decalogue, otherwise known as The Ten Commandments. Many Christians pride themselves in the fact that they “do their best” to follow God’s Top Ten. I’ve even heard some non-believers reference the commandments as an admirable model of living.
But hold the phone. Do you follow these commands to the letter all the time? Do you get jealous when well-to-do Facebook friends post pictures of their fabulous vacations while you sit at home, holes in your socks and your car leaking oil in the driveway? If so, you’ve broken Commandment 10: “Do not covet.” Ever clocked out and found that some company supplies just happened to follow you home? That’s call “stealing,” a violation of the Eighth Commandment. All of us have broken the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” We may not bow down to wooden statues on home altars, but if we blow more money on gadgets and games than give to the Lord’s work, we have an idol on our hands. Can we honestly say that we spend more time in our Bibles than our TVs and computers? If we claim to honor God, but invest little time in prayer or worship, we are not fooling the One who gave us this commandment in the first place.
“Well, at least I haven’t murdered anyone or committed adultery!”
I’ve heard this one, too. If you’ve said it, you’re not off the hook. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus delved deep into the spirit of God’s law, not just the letter. Are you married but lust after other people? Jesus said you have committed secret adultery. Ever let your anger take control and branded a person a “fool” (or something worse)? Jesus said that this kind of fury is murdering someone in your heart.
If we think we’re good because friends tell us we are or we are comparing ourselves to the less-virtuous, that’s called “pride.” The Bible gives this human-centered belief a cold slap in the face time and time again.
God is the gold standard of goodness – and the bad news is that no one can flawlessly live up to this standard. No amount of good deeds will tip the scales in our favor. At the end of the day, we all fall drastically short of God’s lofty requirements.
The solution? The Bible tells us that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). With His perfect life, Jesus fulfilled the Law. He offers this righteousness to anyone who will receive. This is not a matter of trying to follow the rules, but living in the light of our salvation provided by God’s grace. Martin Luther described this kind of life as “Coram Deo,” living one’s entire life before God, under the leadership of God, all to the glory of God – not ourselves.
Do you pride yourself on your goodness? Read what the Bible has to say of our good works apart from a relationship with God.