I have had the honor of being surrounded by good men and good women most of my life. My family and my church is saturated with them, and I am thankful for that. But “goodness” has to be defined clearly. What makes someone good? Is it the way they treat people? Is it things they accomplish? Is it the amount of money they give to churches and charities? If you have been involved in a gospel preaching church for any length of time then you will, no doubt, know that those things don’t make a person good. And yet, most of us still aspire to be good by doing those things! What is it about us that drives us back to seeking goodness this way, even when we know that it does not work? It seems that it all has to do with glory.
If we are honest with ourselves, we have the tendency to attempt to do things to be good because we want others to perceive us as good. We want people to look at our lives and covet them the way that we have coveted the lives of others who we see as good. We want people to want to be like us so that our egos will be fed and we will ultimately be worshiped. There is a subtle pride that creeps in the lives of Christians and whispers in our ears, “You may have been saved by grace, but you must convince people this is true by being a good person.” We attempt to rob God of our sanctification (being made holy) so that others will look at us and think that we are good. When we do this, we are being incredibly foolish.
The gospel tells us that we are made right with God by grace alone. We are so utterly depraved that the only way for God to forgive us and still be just was to become a man and live the life we could not live (a perfect life), die in our place on a cross to satisfy the wrath of God, and rise from the dead showing his power over sin and the grave. If it took all of that work on God’s part to forgive our sin and give us right standing with him, what makes us think that we now are able to say to God, “Thank you, but I’ll take it from here.” The grace that saved us from the wrath of God is still ever-present to sanctify us (Acts 26:18). We should not feel more pride in ourselves when we grow in holiness. As a matter of fact, it is quite the opposite. J.C. Ryle said it best, “Pride sits in all our hearts by nature. We are born proud. Pride makes us rest satisfied with ourselves, thinking we are good enough as we are. It closes our ears against all advice, refuses the gospel of Christ and turns every one to his own way.”
GOD DOESN’T SHARE
One particular passage of scripture really helps us understand what becoming “good” should look like.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
-Philippians 2:12-13 ESV
We should “work-out” our salvation. We should try to be good. We should strive to live a holy life. But we should only do these things by trusting God who works in us. If he did not work in us, there would be no salvation to work out. God does not share his glory (Isaiah 42:8). He is more than able to accomplish the whole of our salvation. He justifies us, sanctifies us, and glorifies us. It is all his doing from start to finish, and therefore the prideful “good” we try to do on our own is really no good at all.
When our motivation changes from what others think about us to what others think about the God who works in us, then we are moving in the right direction. Jesus told us that we should have these good works in us so that others would see them and glorify God, not us (Matthew 5:15-16). When this happens, we are liberated from the exhausting and useless work of attempting to make others think well of us. It is far better to make much of God by the goodness of his Son than it is to attempt to manufacture goodness within ourselves. Jesus was the only truly good man to ever live, and the only reason I can say other Christians in my life are “good people” is because they have been covered in his goodness. Let us make much of Christ instead of attempting to make much of ourselves. When that is our motivation then we are free to have joy and peace. We cannot hold ourselves together, but he has us firmly in his grip where we can rest in his goodness.