THE FALLACY OF “THE GOOD MAN”: WHY GOOD IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH
Whenever we say a person is “good”, there are one of two possibilities as to what we are really saying.
The first possibility is that we mean the person is good “to us”. The problem here immediately becomes obvious. What of the countless other people the person in question may not be “good” to?
There is not a soul who has lived on this earth that is not(or was not)a good person to at least one person. For example, despite the obvious atrocities and corrupt embezzlement perpetrated by a late Nigerian military “dictator-esque” who died in 1998, there are still some people who hold the view that he was a very good man. This was a man who embezzled so much money during his tenure that it is still being returned to the country in tranches till date! Would we say those holding the opinion that he was a good man are not entitled to it? Of course not, just that the vast majority of the general public would find their point of view quite scandalous.
The second possibility is that we “perceive, believe or think” such a person is a good person. The issue with this possibility is this, “how and why do we trust our perceptions, beliefs and thoughts in that regard?”. Anyone who has lived long enough has had an experience where their perceptions, beliefs and thoughts despite being sincere turned out to be sincerely wrong, thus leading to dire and sometimes cataclysmic outcomes. How are we sure our perception is not also wrong as regards this “good” person?
The first interpretation of “the good man” reeks of selfishness while the second is fraught with possibilities of inaccuracy. There is a third possibility as to what we mean when we say a person is “good”. We could mean, “This person is good according to my standard of good”. There are some problems with this perspective.
The first problem is, “How can we trust your standard of good?”. Everyone’s definition of what and who is good is a reflection of their life experiences, circumstances of birth, upbringing, education, exposure all subject to the limitation of their knowledge, which by the way, poses another problem. How do we know a person is good when there is a limit to what we know about them? We do not know what they do in the dark when no one is watching, we do not know the thoughts in their hearts and we do not know their motives for doing the good that they do. Even the Biblical Anti-Christ preaches and fosters world peace, a good thing, for a while.
The third problem is that everyone has a standard of what’s good and what’s not so what makes your standard more standard than the next person’s standard? The final problem is the biggest one and ironically, it’s the one that is most ignored and it’s this: Your standard of good and your opinion of a person’s goodness is not of any relevance at the end of the day because you are not the one to judge them.
Ultimately, everyone answers to God, so what matters is God’s definition of “good” and His opinion as to who is good, not anybody else’s. How does God define good?
Jesus tells us in Mark 10:18,
“…there is none that is good but God…”
God’s goodness is God’s standard of good. In other words, God uses Himself as the yardstick for defining good and by those standards, no one qualifies as good. Paul concluded on the basis of scripture (and rightly so) that all had sinned (Romans 3:23, Galatians 3:22). God’s goodness demands both inward and outward perfection hence Jesus extended the definition of murder and adultery under the law of Moses to emotions and thoughts as well (Matthew 5:18–48).
Jesus also touched on the motives for being good(Matthew 6:1–18). In other words, God’s standard of “good” entails not just being good but being good for good reasons. Mind you, the definition of both “goods” (The act as well as the reason for it) are as required by God’s standards and God, unlike men, is fully aware of what goes on in the heart,
“ for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
“ Hell and destruction are before the Lord: how much more then the hearts of the children of men? (Proverbs 15:11)
Jesus summary of God’s moral requirement was,
“ Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
But wait a minute! I thought Jesus already said no one on earth was as good as God? Why require that standard then? That is the point! The only moral standards capable of impressing God are His own and only His Son Jesus Christ exhibited and maintained them to perfection. This is why God in His wisdom, does not judge by standards of morality, but on the basis of Jesus Christ. As Paul in his sermon on Mars Hill said to the men of Athens,
“ Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:31)
Man’s goodness is not good enough for God, it is “filthy rags” (A woman’s menstruous cloth in the original Hebrew) as the prophet Isaiah says (64:6). There are four categories of people that need to understand this fact and let it sink in.
First, those outside Christ who believe they are good people and do not need Jesus Christ. Second, Christians who believe other people who may be living far more moral and disciplined lives than they are have no need for Jesus Christ or the message of the gospel.
The message to people in these categories is that it is possible to be a good, decent and even moral person without Jesus Christ but it is not possible to be saved without Him. It is “in Christ” everyone and everything is reconciled to God (Ephesians 1:10, 2:13–18, Colossians 1:16–21), everything and everyone outside Christ is heading for damnation. This is why the heart of the gospel which is the message of Christianity and the Bible is salvation not morality.
The third category of people are Christians who were not necessarily terrible people before they met Jesus Christ. They tend to think Jesus did not do very much for them because they had not done anything heinous when they were unsaved. The message to this category of people is the parable Jesus spoke to Simon the pharisee,
“ There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?” (Luke 7:41–42)
Notice that the emphasis of this parable was not the amount of the debt owed but rather on the fact that they both could not pay. In the same manner, whether the Christian’s life before he was saved was one of total nihilism, chaos and recklessness (like the five hundred pence, a pence by the way, was a worker’s one day wage) or one of abstinence, discipline and asceticism (like the fifty pence), the point is he was in sin and could not pay the price for freedom from it. Thankfully, just like the creditor freely forgave both debtors, God has freely forgiven all men, irrespective of how heinous or innocuous their sins were and are, in Christ Jesus.
Jesus told Simon that those forgiven much will love much (Luke 7:47). The truth is we have all been forgiven much but those in this category do not often recognize this. All, irrespective of moral values were bound for hell and destruction. Thankfully Christ footed the bill and paid that debt none of us could pay.
The fourth category of people are Christians who think they are better than the unsaved and look down on them. This is the Pharisaical mentality. It’s root is clearly identified by Luke,
“ And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others” (Luke 18:9)
The reason Christians feel this way is they think their righteousness comes from them. They are yet to realize that Christ alone is their salvation, that He alone is their righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21) and that their works add nothing to their salvation. The message to this category is simply this,
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9)
Christians have nothing to boast about because Christ is all that separates them from the worst of the worst. If Christians understood this, they would not judge anyone. They would instead look at the unsaved with love and seek that they be reconciled to God in Christ, just as they themselves have been. This is why Paul emphasized that the ministry and the word God has given to Christians is that of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18–19) not condescension or epicaricacy.
In the final analysis, there is none good in God’s sight (Romans 3:10, Mark 10:18) so He does not judge on the basis of man’s goodness. God, in His goodness has provided man with one Good Man, Jesus Christ and judges man on the basis of that Good Man’s goodness. This Good Man is not only a product of God’s goodness but its perfect replica and outside the context of this Good Man, good just isn’t good enough.