When Good Isn't Good Enough

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Sunday, March 24, 2019 0 comments

by Logan Ames

I recently saw a meme posted on Facebook that addresses an age-old question that causes some people to turn away from God. The question is simply, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” You may have wrestled with this question before and I can almost guarantee that you’ve heard someone else ask it. It goes against what makes sense in our finite brains. We see that people who appear to be “more” wicked based on their actions may not suffer as much as someone who seems to be genuinely trying to “live a good life." But it’s important to remember how “good” is actually defined. The creator of that meme referenced above answered the question this way: “Well, that only ever happened once, and he volunteered."

You see, our definition of “good” is based largely on how we compare ourselves to each other. But even Jesus himself addressed our understanding of what is good. In Mark 10:17, a rich man comes to Jesus and falls on his knees, a great move to begin with, and asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, as he often does, begins his answer with a rhetorical question: “Why do you call me good? No one is good - except God alone” (Mark 10:18). This response used to confuse me. It comes across at first like Jesus is saying He is not God. But He doesn’t actually say that. In reality, He is challenging the man to think about what he is saying. If he really believes Jesus is good, and no one is good but God alone, then he should connect the dots and realize that he’s talking to God in the flesh! Jesus then continues His point to help the man see that his own standard of “good” doesn’t meet God’s. In Mark 10:19-22, Jesus reminds him of several of the Ten Commandments that have to do with how we treat others. When the man begins to think, “Alright, no problem because I’ve already got these down," Jesus tells him the last thing he must do is sell all of his earthly goods and give the money to the poor so that he can have treasures in heaven. The man walks away disappointed because he realizes how big of a sacrifice that would be for him.

The above story illustrates the problem with those who try to BE or DO good on their own. They don’t realize that to meet God’s standard of “good” is to love others just like we love God (Matthew 22:37-39). But it’s not just about saying we love God and others; there has to be action involved. To be good like God in the way we love others is to sacrifice EVERYTHING for those who don’t deserve it, those who are not good, because that’s what God did when He came to this earth as a baby who grew into a man who died to set the whole world free from sin. The disciples who watched Jesus’ encounter with the rich man are shocked and begin to wonder how anyone could possibly be saved, but Jesus tells them, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:26-27).

Years later, Jesus’ younger brother James writes to the first-century Jewish believers about the danger of assuming they’re doing “good” in God’s eyes while not completely following the most important law. In James 2:8-9, after he had just addressed the problems with showing favoritism or partiality toward the rich, James explains that the believers can’t justify their love for those who are rich by saying, “Jesus tells us we’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves." James says that if you REALLY love your neighbor as yourself, then you’re doing the right thing in God’s eyes (v. 8). The issue was that some of the early believers were using this “royal law” when it was convenient to justify their actions rather than loving EVERYONE as “neighbors," even those they saw no reason to love. It doesn’t matter how well you think you are loving your rich neighbors if you refuse to show the same kind of love to those who are poor, and James says this is a sin (v. 9). And he adds that once they sin, according to the law, they are convicted as “lawbreakers."

I remember when I was much younger and the general consensus among non-Christians I knew was that “being a good person” consisted of not breaking the law and being kind to others. Honestly, I’m not even sure if that is true anymore as people seem to value rebellion and doing what’s best for oneself more and more. But the easiest way to respond is to ask if they’ve ever rolled through a stop sign, driven over the speed limit, walked across a busy street outside of the crosswalk, or paid less than required on their taxes. Some of these probably even happened unintentionally. Yet, there are in fact laws against these behaviors and to break one, even unintentionally, makes a person a lawbreaker.

In James 2:10, the writer makes his point crystal clear: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." Notice that the person doesn’t even have to TRY to sin. He could just stumble at one point on his journey, just like someone who runs a marathon but doesn’t see a stone in the middle of the road along the way and trips over it. They did well for the majority of the race, but the fact that they tripped over the stone makes the entire race less than perfect. Most of us are okay with being less than perfect, but God’s standard of “good” is perfection. And James says that if you avoid other temptations but commit one sin, you are a lawbreaker in God’s eyes (v. 11).

We’ll get more into how this should cause us to behave toward others next week. For now, we have to understand that God commands us to treat every human being as our “neighbor” and to love them as we would ourselves. This is true even when we don’t feel like it or when the person has hurt us. The reason we do this isn’t just because it’s a “royal law," but also because we recognize we are not good in God’s eyes and we make it pretty difficult for others to love us. If we catch ourselves comparing ourselves to others and believing we are “good” when others are “worse," Jesus and His brother James are there to remind us that no one except God is truly good. We can either choose to judge others and ourselves by His standard of holiness or live by the law of love for all our neighbors, but we cannot choose both.

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