How do You Handle the “Good Person” question?

This question has been addressed many times and my goal is to take a look at this claim from a hopefully, different angle. I want to assume that there are different people holding different world views, including the Christian world view, reading this blog. I want to address the Christian as well as the atheist. To the atheist I want to say that I know I’m quoting the Bible and all I ask is that you consider what Jesus was saying and also the apostle Paul. Jesus, to the atheist, should at the very least, be considered a good teacher . . . at the very least. Am I wrong?

So, if you can read the Bible quotes,  not as dogmatic rules and finger wagging but as an historically accurate reading from, at the very least, a wise teacher and His disciple, then we can get through the blog and maybe my representation of dealing with the question could be considered a rational one. My only goal for this blog is to rationally present how we fall short of “good people” outside of a relativistic framework. Within a relative framework we can each be the best, the smartest, the best looking, the most educated, etcetera. But from what Jesus says of Heaven, Heaven has a simple, but specific requirement for entry into an eternal life with a Holy God. If getting into Heaven was simply a case of being a good person, Jesus had no need to sacrifice His life, endure such excruciating pain and suffering, and die on a Roman cross next to thieves. If I can even come close to making these points I’ll feel I met my goal. Let’s get started. As Greg Koukl from Stand to Reason says, “I just want to put a stone in your shoe.”

So, how do we handle the “good person” defense? The cringe-worthy response from the Christian that is far too often given is; “To get into Heaven the bible says you have to be a Christian and you’re not a Christian but, repeat after me and you will be.” I have heard it, and every time it makes me catch my breath and cringe with one eye shut waiting for the eye roll from the non-Christian. goofy looking guy with hat onI feel that if a humanist, an agnostic or an atheist has enough courage to objectively present the “good person” defense, then we should have a respectful, thoughtful and accurate answer for them not an arrogant, self-righteous, minimalistic response. Being a “good person” is not enough and why? In terms we can all relate to; where you’re expecting to go, (heaven), they have a strict dress code and there’s nothing you can decorate yourself with on this earth that will meet their strict demands at the pearly gates. You need help. Inside help.

Sin separates us from God but God made a way to defeat sin and bring us back into a relationship with Him in eternity. You have to take this seriously. This isn’t a term paper or job application. This is for eternity; that’s a long time.

To give you an idea of how God sees mankind that has fallen away from Him through the help of Satan, listen to what Paul wrote in Romans 3:10-19;

“There is no one righteous, not even one: there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is not one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”

Paul takes it a step further and brings us hope, letting us know we are not lost in our sins and we are given the gift of salvation through the suffering of Christ. He writes in

Romans 3:21-26 explaining righteousness through faith in Christ;

“But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made know, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished, he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

In other words, keeping the Ten Commandments is not only impossible for any man to keep, but the Ten Commandments were given to us to silence us on our self-righteousness, realize we couldn’t keep them, and to look for a savior, God’s Son, who would set the standard for “good”.  In fact, Jesus would raise the bar above that of the Ten Commandments. Jesus made it clear as to why we need a savior. We are incapable of staying pure in any sense of the word.  He took it a step beyond the Ten Commandments. He says, even if you think it . . . Matthew 5:27, 28

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Jesus follows with a disturbing reminder of the seriousness of what He says. Matthew 5:29, 30

“If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

As you can see, defining a good person without a standard outside of our time and space is always in relativistic terms because in using God’s standard, there are no good people. Only fallen ones in need of the free gift of salvation. So, if we can’t define good or bad people, what standard do we use? Where do we go? Christianity has the answers that make sense and are what most closely defines reality. For there to be a moral law that defines good and bad, there must be a moral law giver that is outside of our time and space. It’s the only way to avoid relativism. It makes the most sense.

Jesus made it very clear.

If we insist on using our own scale, then what scale is being used to define “good”? Certainly not God’s moral truth because that’s the very thing we would be denying. Who is it that’s ultimately defining what “good” is? Ironically, are we unknowingly having to borrow from the Ten Commandments or from the Sermon on the Mount in order to define “good”?

Apologetics is what brought me from the Occult to the Christian Faith.  I needed facts, proof, and things that made sense. Even the disciple Thomas, who walked with Christ, could not believe that he had risen from the dead, in spite of the testimony of all his fellow disciples. In John 20:27;

“Then he (Jesus) said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

In spite of Thomas having been told by the other disciples that they had seen Jesus, resurrected, Thomas would not believe. He only changed his mind upon feeling Jesus’ hands and side. He needed verifiable proof. A careful study of the resurrection of Christ will yield the truth of His rising from the dead. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence to this truth and far too much to add to this blog post.

Resources for Proof of the Resurrection of Christ

The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright

The Son Rises – William Lane Craig (He has also written more recent works)

The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus – Gary R. Habermas

The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of Evidence for Jesus – by Lee Strobel (former atheist)

 

Addressing the Non-Believer – A Different Approach

If Thomas, a disciple who walked with Christ, wanted proof of Jesus’ resurrection and would not take the word of his fellow disciples, how much more proof or evidence does an atheist or humanist need in order to be convinced that they need Jesus’ gift of salvation to enter Heaven? At best, atheist may believe that Jesus was a good teacher with good ethics but that’s about it. Do you think that just stating that “the Bible says so” will convince any non-believer to get on board? We need to know the facts, be able to thoughtfully explain these facts, and be sincere in our ability to want to bring others, even our worst enemies, to Christ.

Let me get back to the question. When someone says to you that they’re not worried about the afterlife because they’re a “good person” and everyone goes to Heaven, what do you say? What do you say when they are actually considered a “good person?” In fact, they might do more for the community and people in need than any Christian you personally know. Then what? Let’s face it, very few people consider themselves “bad people.” Even the one’s that do say they are bad, they mean it in a way that they think makes them tough or more street-smart. Few people, if any at all, actually realize that they’re a “bad person.”woman looking into lighted doorway in book

C.S. Lewis said it well; “A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is . . . A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.”

An Analogy for Defining a Relative “Good” Not an Objective “Good”

What if you were back in high school and you were the fastest runner at your school. There were 900 students and you were the fastest. I mean, no one even came close to your blistering speed. You won every race that the school entered you in. Then one day, a track scout came to the school, looking for and recruiting, the ten fastest runners. You, being the fastest runner at the school, immediately thought; “I’m in.” The scout looked over the track team and went down the recorded times for distances he required. Relative to everyone at your school, you were the fastest, the best, the undisputed “rocket ship on legs”.

In your city and your school, you were the fastest. But the scout took your stats outside your area to the regional races, then the nationals, then the Olympics. Each time you slid down the scale from the best runner to become just a qualifying runner. What changed? Your competition changed and therefore your qualifications. The scale in which you gauged yourself, changed, not you. Your ranking is always relative to the competition. It’s always relative. That’s why in determining if you meet the requirements of anything, it is important to know what scale is determining your requirements.

When Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile in 1954 it was worldwide news. The 4-minute mile was, what seemed to be, an unsurmountable goal that was bordering on the mythical. He had become the fastest mile runner in the world. He was it. The top, the best, the one to beat. Since 1954, that same record has been broken over a thousand times and the goal posts have, once again, moved. Relative to everyone else in 1954, Roger Bannister was the best. It was short lived though. Just 46 days later, John Landy broke his record. So his “best” was now, second best and was to become, 1400th best, or so, as the years went by.

What’s Running Have to do With Getting into Heaven?

So what’s running have to do with your existence in the afterlife? If we gauge ourselves as being good enough to exist in God’s presence for eternity, based on the people around us, it’s a false claim, a false security.  We are not the ones we are to compare ourselves to. God does not compare us to each other but rather to His Son.

Just as in any competition, we first must see what the environment we’ll be competing in is requiring for our skill set. If we’re going to the Olympics, we must qualify at an Olympic level. If we’re entering the holiest environment, we must qualify, or, get help to qualify, at that level. It’s foolish to think otherwise.

The comment, “I’m a good person, isn’t that enough?” is a very common response from a non-Christian who claims that heaven is open to all and that you just have to be a “good person.” Again, the question becomes; relative to who?

If you were to ignore those previous examples of competition and play god yourself, for yourself, where is that line of demarcation that states you’re not a good person? Is it one less good deed than needed? How many good deeds compared to bad ones does it take to qualify as “good”? Is it just a matter of doing more “good” deeds than “bad” ones? Using that logic, you could do just about anything you wanted as long as you kept score, so-to-speak, and did a “nice thing” to offset a “bad thing.” Using that logic you could deny all Ten Commandments and just offset it with a good deed or two. Sounds foolish doesn’t it?

But there’s a couple things wrong with a relative view when you’re determining for yourself if you’re good or not. One, the most glaring of all, is that you put yourself in the position of being the determinate for what is good and what is bad. In other words, you’re standing in as your own, personal god and a relative one at that. You’re declaring your ultimate knowledge of what is right or wrong and even worse, determining what is equally bad. At this point, the arrogance and pride is overflowing. This seems painfully obvious to most but frighteningly, this thought process is employed every day.

Why Can’t I go to Heaven Unless I’m “God Approved”?

If God is the gatekeeper of Heaven, His Son is the standard for you to live up to. Can you do it? God gave us the Ten Commandments to show us that we could not live up to that standard. We can claim to keep some of the commandments but when it comes to lusting after another’s riches, lifestyle, money etc., we all fall flat. This is not something you can keep track of. If you don’t murder someone then that’s fairly easy to keep track of. But have you ever envied your neighbor’s car, house, or wealth? Have you ever hated anyone? Ever lied or taken something that wasn’t yours? Do you have any idols? i.e. cars, job, money that you worship of seek after instead of God? We all have dark hearts and need someone to stand in for us.

Heaven and men are like oil and water; they don’t mix as they are. No matter how hard we try we will never be good enough to stand in the shadow of God. We simply can’t be in His presence in our current fallen state. Put gasoline and fire in the same room or try mixing water and oil. That’s how man’s fallen nature is around God in Heaven. We simply can’t be there.

So, how do we get there?

The atonement is for another blog or actually, book. But this blog was intended only to have the skeptic consider that he or she, cannot save themselves from the depths of self-imposed damnation. Sound seriously bad? It is.

When a Christian tells you that you must put your faith in Jesus Christ, what they mean is that you need someone to vouch for you. You become good in His eyes when you realize your sin nature and your fallen state. Until you accept and realize your current fallen state and understand that you need a savior and that you can’t do it yourself, you’ll remain lost in your sin and God can’t help you. Jesus died so you could live. He was the only one perfect enough to satisfy the wrath of God and His hatred for sin. Jesus stepped in for us and took our punishment that we deserved so we could live an eternal life and shed our sin nature. Jesus is the standard for good. Not your neighbor, not you, not me. Unless you believe that He is the Son of God and that His atonement for your sins is what is saving you from an eternity apart from Him and, unless you allow Him to step in for you, Satan will gladly step up and claim you as one of his own. He has no problem with that.

Hell is the absence of God. The absence of God is the absence of love, happiness, and light. We are all given the opportunity to choose our eternal home. When there is overwhelming evidence that a man named Jesus, claiming to be God’s Son, died on a Roman Cross and then rose from that death three days later, I think it’s worth considering what He had say about believing in Him. We should all take our eternal destiny very seriously. Eternity is a long time . . . oh wait, there is no time in eternity. That’s for another blog.