I’m Good

My daughter Shoshi and I share a love of music. Today, she is a good ukulele player. A few years ago I introduced her to a string instrument, teaching her how to play guitar. When she first began learning rudimentary chords, her excitement of playing was buoyed by the knowledge that only a few few basic chords was required to play many praise songs.

When I demonstrated a popular praise song, utilizing only 4 chords, she was astonished. What also amazed her were my chops – the ability to execute the music. In my little girl’s eyes, daddy was an amazing guitar player.

Now, although I’ve played the acoustic guitar over 30 years, I only play chords. I don’t consider myself an awesome musician, but rather simply functional. On occasion, Shoshi and I will watch a youtube video of a Christian artist to see what an accomplished musician really looks like. One of our favorites clips is Josh Wilson’s song That Was Then. Now this guy can play!

Interestingly, today my daughter would say I’m a good guitar player and I would say she is a good ukulele player. But at the same time, we both would admit “good” is a relative term. Because if I’m good, there are multitudes of guitar players, like Josh Wilson, who are better. And I suppose if you asked Josh Wilson if he was good, he might say, “Yes, but…” – then point to someone more accomplished than him. 

Obviously, goodness is a relative term when it comes to the guitar, ukulele and many other areas of life. Yet, in the spiritual, our view of goodness requires a much different perspective, for the very nature of human goodness, or lack thereof, is at the very core of the gospel. To rightly understand goodness from a divine perspective, is to see that true goodness is absolute, not relative. More importantly, being humble enough to surrender to God’s declaration of who is good and who is not, is a key component to entering the Kingdom of God.

Two-thousand years ago a rich young ruler engaged in a fascinating and instructive conversation with our Lord. At the heart of the conversation was who is “good” and what “goodness” gets someone into heaven.

“Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?’ So Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God’” (Mark 10:17-18).

There is nothing new under the sun, for just as many people today believe they get to heaven through good deeds, so it was in the time of Christ. “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” is a question Jesus addresses, but not before clarifying that only One is good, namely God!

Ouch! When put in such distinct terms, Jesus is not only putting the rich young ruler in his place, but anyone who would make the claim – “I’m good.” Yes, the Lord has made man in His image and He loves us with an everlasting love. Yes, we are of inestimable value, yet, as image bearers we’ve been corrupted by sin and that sin separates us from a holy, perfect, and righteous God.

The gospel makes a statement about the inherent condition of man: we are not good! This flies in the face of the common perception among many that man is inherently good. No, people are not good. We are sinful. David wrote, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). In Jeremiah 17:9 the prophet stated, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?” 

We shouldn’t be surprised that the message of the good news of God is couched in the bad news that something is terribly wrong with people. Naturally, we don’t want to hear that we are born into and live in a state of depravity. 

The late British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge put it this way: “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.” 

Nobody likes to be the object of criticism, but the truth remains. What should we do with this uncomfortable knowledge about our spiritual condition? Pride will attempt to reject and rationalize it away. Humility will receive it and confess it before God. 

The truth that man is not good, but depraved, is not so quickly embraced. In the natural, no one is going to hear that message and respond, “Cool. I see your point. I’m a filthy, rotten sinner who needs saving.” Such an admission is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit showing us our sin and need for a Savior. He can and does move in the human heart and bring us to a place where we can agree with God about our true condition. Then we can receive a new life through God’s provision found in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. For the Bible says, “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up” (James 4:10), and, “He who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).

We shouldn’t harbor illusions about the nature of the message and people’s response to it. Many will cringe and reject it; some will receive it and believe. 

Why? Because the gospel is polarizing. It creates a strong response when presented. Some will respond positively, others negatively, but there will be a response. Paul notes: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

In the case of the rich young ruler, here was a person who thought they had it together, telling Jesus he had kept all these things – a reference to the commandments – from his youth (Mark 10:19-20). When Jesus commands him to give up everything and follow Him, the man goes away grieving:

“Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.’ But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:21-22).

Jesus was not looking for this man to be good or to do good. He was requiring the man to surrender all and follow Him. 

As we witness, may we pray that the Lord would reveal to people their true condition apart from Him, that they are not good, and that He would also reveal the true nature of the goodness and grace of God found in Jesus, our Lord, the only hope for eternal life!

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

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