July 2019

July 2019

Basic Christianity: God Alone Is Good

In our series on Basic Christianity so far, we’ve covered some of the chief ways in which we are most likely to misunderstand the Law of God. We’ve been reminded that even though our sins are forgiven through faith in Jesus, we should nevertheless try not to sin (though sin remains an inevitable part of our lives until bodily death). We’ve been reminded that Jesus should always be the most important thing in our lives; that God’s name is to be kept holy and treated with respect even in our day-to-day conversation; that the marital act is for marriage alone; that we should not speak ill of one another behind each other’s backs. These are all good things to remember, and we constantly have to work on putting them into practice. But they are all part of God’s Law, i.e., what God has commanded us to do. If we always put our sole focus on God’s Law, we risk losing sight of what alone has the power to save us everlastingly: the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that through His sacrificial death on our behalf, we have the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. That’s basic Christianity at its most basic.

One of the most insidious ways we can lose sight of the Gospel is by imagining that we ourselves have kept the Law. That’s what I’ve encountered when trying to get people to come to church. There are many reasons for people not to come to church, but the main reason has always been, “I’m a good person.” If I am a good person, then church is just something extra, an optional social gathering. But if I am a wicked person, “a poor, miserable sinner,” and if the gathering of believers in church is where Jesus has especially promised to be present to forgive the sins of those who trust in Him, then I need church desperately. So there’s a lot hanging on whether or not I am, in fact, “a good person.” And it is basic Christianity that, in God’s judgment, you’re not.

How do we know this? We know it by comparing ourselves to the perfect and holy standard of God’s Law. If we peer inward and find in our hearts that there are sinful desires that run contrary to God’s commands, then we ourselves are sinners. One serious problem we face is that we don’t naturally consider to be sin that which God calls sin. So, for example, if I am holding a grudge against my neighbor, and it feels good and satisfying to hold that grudge, I am unlikely to take to heart the command of God to forgive my neighbor from the heart and to love my neighbor as myself. It won’t feel like sin to me, and I can still imagine that I’m “a good person.” But when that grudge is held up against the standard of God’s Law, it is shown to be sinful, and I am shown to be not, in fact, “a good person.”

And if our own experience has failed to prove to us that we are not “good people,” we have the clear testimony of God’s Word. The classic example is the list of Old Testament quotations in Romans 3:10–18 (I’d encourage you to check out those verses for yourself), which is summarized in the well-known verse 23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But there is another, less-used example worthy of our consideration. When the rich young man addresses Jesus as “good Teacher,” Jesus corrects him: “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19). Of course, we know that Jesus is good, because Jesus is God. But the rich young man didn’t know that. He thought that Jesus was “a good person,” the same way we today think of ourselves as “good people.” And Jesus disabuses him of that notion. Our goodness before God does not come from doing good things or trying our best, i.e., by keeping the Law (because we can’t!). Our goodness before God has to come from somewhere else. In fact, it has to come from Him.

And our goodness before God is not just produced by Him. It is not as if God takes bad people and makes them good so that they can go to heaven. Our goodness before God is actually God’s own goodness.

How can that be? As we just said, Jesus is God. And because Jesus is God, He is good with God’s own goodness. But Jesus has suffered as a criminal and died a sinner’s death. So the goodness of God that is His is given to us as our own. God counts His own goodness to us when we believe and trust in Jesus. As St. Paul says, “To the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies [i.e., forgives] the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). We are not “good people” in and of ourselves, because of the things we do or the way we live. We are “good people” because God counts His own goodness to us for Jesus’ sake.

Now of course the faith that God counts to us as righteousness is a powerful, mighty thing. It brings forth in us a new life, so that we actually can do good things and become genuinely “good people.” But we are good people who recognize ourselves as sinners in need of God’s mercy. And our goodness in God’s sight is and remains His own goodness, the goodness of Jesus that is ours by faith alone.

God alone is good. We are good only with His goodness, through faith in Jesus. That’s basic Christianity.

God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf