Feb 5, 2023 657
Is anyone radically good? We live in an age in which it isn’t good to tell people that they’re not good. Instead, the focus of our culture is affirming the innate goodness of us all. If you try telling a young person that they’re a “sinner” or unworthy of heaven in any way, it just isn’t going to register.
I was talking with a friend of mine who teaches in a Christian school, and he was telling me that the way he approaches the problem of sin is by pointing out the suffering that broken relationships bring to our lives. Now, that is something that everyone can relate to!
Still, I’ve been thinking about this issue of goodness and of people who consider themselves good.
How good is good enough? That’s a really important question to think about.
Most of us are used to thinking in terms of a certain percentage standard that must be met in order to be acceptable. When you were at school, you knew that you had to get more than 50% on a test in order to be acceptable and not fail. And since then, that has applied to everything, whether it be driving tests, music exams, university exams, or professional accreditation. There’s always a percentage that is good enough.
But what if there wasn’t?
You probably wouldn’t have the job. You might not even be able to pay for your home. And you probably wouldn’t even drive a car.
Most people think about what it takes to be accepted by God in these kinds of human standards. We tend to think that if we are “pretty good” or better than the average, that somehow that’s a pass mark with God. Deep down, many people have this idea is very prevalent that if you do enough good things they might outweigh the bad.
My Good is Never Good Enough
But that’s not how it is with God at all. God is absolute goodness and nothing except that which is absolutely good can stand before him. David the psalmist says,
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
4 The one who has clean hands and a pure heart… (Ps. 24:3–4.)
The Jewish people in the time of Jesus had too low a view of the goodness that God requires. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that even to be angry at someone else or simply call them a fool was to commit murder (Matt. 5:27–28), and to even look at another person with lust was to commit adultery (Matt. 5:21–22),
Trying to be Radically Good
There’s no way to avoid it. The kind of life that Jesus expects from his followers are lives of radical righteousness. That means impossible love, unheard-of purity and unreachable perfection. In the Sermon on the Mount, with the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3–12) Christ set before the people an impossible standard. Then he went through the rules that the people had been taught to follow, and he told them that they didn’t even come near enough to how God expected them to live (vv.21–27.) Jesus ends this section of the Sermon on the Mount with this command,
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48.)
The context reveals that here, Jesus isn’t telling us to be perfect, like God, in law-keeping, but in something that is even harder! He is commanding us to be perfect in our kind, compassionate and selfless love for others.
For the common people of the day, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were considered the utmost example of righteousness, yet Jesus said,
I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).
What God requires of us is ultimately perfect love, perfect kindness, perfect patience, perfect mercy – perfect everything! The truth is that we can’t even conceive of such radical goodness, let alone aspire to it! At our best we might achieve amazing things in the world, yet whatever we do will never be enough to earn heaven.
Jesus is Good Enough for Me
That’s when we say that someone was a “good” person or lived a “good” life, our assessment of goodness doesn’t even register against God’s radical standard of goodness that he asks for. Jesus was right when he said, “No one is good – except God alone.” (Mark 10:18.) Only he is radically good. That’s a hard pill to swallow for people in a culture that keeps telling us how fantastic we are. But the point is that we’ll never be as fantastic as God. And unless we actually understand that God really is that much better than us, we will never stretch out our hand in faith for salvation.
I don’t have that kind of radical goodness that God requires of me. It’s not in my actions, it’s not in my words. It’s not in my thoughts, and not even, if I’m honest, in my desires and intentions. My best endeavours to live in a way that is acceptable enough to earn heaven is counted by God as simply “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). The same is true for you.
The Good News is that there is a way to have such radical goodness in your life, and that’s when it is credited to you by God. You receive it as a gift, when you trust in Jesus, who died to make this possible. And when you are radically good in this way, then the result of the Good News is that your life will invariably start to move toward that goodness of God. You will be drawn and transformed by his love; not your doing, but his.
That’s why Jesus is good enough for me. That’s how you can be radically good.
– Eliezer Gonzalez