What God Really Thinks About Good People

In Christian RealTalk, Tough Questions by Antwuan Malone21 Comments

I hate merit reviews.

I used to love them. Well, maybe not love, but at least I looked forward to them. And that’s because, somewhere along the way someone told me  merit review time meant “raise” time, assuming you did good work. And not a piddly raise you won’t hardly notice. I mean something that really shows appreciation for  dedication and  quality work. I was a naive nineteen when I started believing that malarky. Clearly, whoever told me that was mistaken. I later received counsel from a more seasoned corporate colleague who revealed merit review time for what it really is – a time to show you what’s wrong, not to highlight what’s right. As it turned out, his assessment held far more true.

I remember a particular merit review I received years ago. It should’ve been good for my wallet. The department was understaffed and that meant me carrying a larger workload. I did this, and humbly, with a great attitude (at least according to the comments from the people I helped). At the review, my manager sat across from me and said everyone loved dealing with me.  Only good reports from our clients.But right before my chest filled with expectant air, my manager leaned across the table and said, “… but I can’t give you a 5.  Nobody gets a 5.”

For those who don’t know, the scale of these things are usually 1(scum of earth) to 5 (Superman, Mother Theresa, and Muhammad Ali).

I remember thinking, so nobody gets a 5. Nobody! There’s some managerial rule against granting a 5, no matter how great you work? It’s just there as an unattainable goal, a constant reminder of our  inadequacy?  Really?  What kind of rigged test is this anyway? (… and now I’m all agitated.  Exhale Antwuan!)

I bring this up because of something I hear more and more these days.

Expecting A Raise

The prevailing thought seems to be that God primarily wants us to be good people, that He is only interested in our ability to outperform our bad acts with good ones.

Most of us imagine our post-death/apocalyptic encounter with God something like this. We’re in a great hall and a magnificent figure, fashioned in a super-bright white robe with electric blue trim (as in real electricity) is standing six inches from our nose, staring into us with eyes alit by flames of fire! This figure, after curling its lip, looks us up and down, then asks, “Why should I let you into my heaven?”

Most of would want to be able to reply, “Because I was a good person.” And then the fire would go out his eyes, and the electricity would dissipate, and a rainbow would appear after the pearly gates opened, and we’d jump in a cab to ride on golden streets to get to that mansion Jesus talked about in John 14.

… or something like that.

But is that really it?

First off, I don’t see God as a robed figure with electricity and fire. And second, though we’d like to think Judgment Day, or our post death experience, will be like a merit review about how good we were here on Earth, it won’t.  Because if it were, we’d all fail.

According to the Bible, God’s scale is way worse than the scale your corporation uses. While they employ a 1 to 5 scale, God’s uses a 1 or 5 scale. To put it churchy, either you’re a sinner or you’re a saint. To put it casually, either you were awesome or you sucked. To put it bluntly, either you were perfect or weren’t good enough.

Nobody’s Perfect

We hear the phrase, “Nobody is perfect,” all the time (especially when someone feels  “judged.”) The fact that we aren’t 5 people isn’t news. But heaven is the ultimate 5 star resort. Seriously. God will not coexist with sin… not even little ones. Look, we saw what one little sin did the first time (hello Adam and Eve). God’s standard for heaven is the ultimate good… perfection. We only need to fail one time to disqualify ourselves. We’ve all failed, so we’re all disqualified (or maybe unqualified is better) by God’s standards. Every single one of us.

So if “being good” isn’t what God wants from us (or if it is and we simply can’t live up to it), what do we do?

Enter GRACE. Jesus and his sacrifice takes our efforts out of the picture altogether. We don’t need to work up to heaven, or worry about under-performing our way out of it. We don’t need to focus on good works as a way to justify our wrongdoings? Jesus’ work on the cross makes our morality a moot point in the conversation of heavenly “salvation.”

And good thing too. Because if he hadn’t we’d have missed the point.  And that point is that God did not create us to follow moral codes. He created us to be in relationship with Him. He created us to love Him.  And if we focus our efforts on what is “good” or “bad,” then we will have placed noble ideals like Morality and Philanthropy on the throne in God’s place. We will have made Jesus’ work on calvary vanity. We’d be saying the sacrifice on the cross is not good enough. And in so doing, we’d miss out on the reason we’re on this planet.

Make no mistake, God wants us to be good, but our goodness should flow out of the relationship we have with Him.  It should flow out of the love we have for Him and his Son. If it doesn’t, if we get our priorities turned around and start trying to earn heaven with a 5 (or a 4 for that matter), I’m afraid God will simply reminds us, “Good is not good enough.” Grace is the name of the game.  Accept it, and enjoy a relationship with God today. It’s what life is about.

What do you trust more, your record of goodness, or the cross of the Savior?

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.
19 comments
Robert J. Smith, III
Robert J. Smith, III

"Walk in love, as Christ also loves us..." Pure good versus contrived good? God surely knows our hearts and how we facilitate our lives in order to establish not only a closer relationship with Him but also how we try to naturally walk in love. God's message is love. We are to practice and live and breathe love. We may fall short a lot but God reminds us that He still loves us.

Jeff Cobb
Jeff Cobb

Antwuan, good stuff. If you have not read C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce" yet, I would highly recommend it. It's very much along these lines. He suggests the putting away of the carnal flesh - or at least its desires - is a choice we make. Because to enter Heaven is to away with all vestiges of the carnal self. After reading the book, one could very well imagine certain people refusing the Kingdom of God and opting out, even after witnessing the edge of Heaven itself!

Jeff Cobb
Jeff Cobb

Antwuan - Enjoy your blog. I agree life is about our relationship with God and not our good works. It's our faith in God, and His reciprocal grace to us through Christ, that "purchases" us and saves us to the Kingdom. Where I always get bogged down, and where I think Rob Bell has a point, is when is the day of reckoning? When exactly are we "bought" by God? Does the offer only extend to the point of bodily death? When does God make His choice about a person's eternal fate? And "when" is the key word here, because as we all know, God exists apart from time - it is a construct that does not box him in. So "when" someone makes a decision to trust in Christ is not really something we can pin down, is it? Yesterday, today, tomorrow...all the same in the eyes of God.

Jamison I
Jamison I

Good post. One comment/crit I would make. For either the non-Christians OR Christians who read this post, don't forget to proclaim the whole gospel! I loved how you covered sin, and what Christ has done, but I felt like I was asking myself constantly through the post: "ok I get the bad news, and Christ did something, so is everyone then saved like Rob Bell believes? Or must I do something or respond in some way to what Christ has done? Yes! Repent, turn from sin and trust in Jesus _alone_ to save you from your sin!

Nathan Carter
Nathan Carter

Not so much with the serious comment (although I did enjoy the post), but I had a lecturer at university who did the same thing. He outraged our class by telling us, "None of you will ever get a high distinction in my class. It's pretty unlikely that you'll get a distinction as well. If I give you a distinction -- and I've only given three -- that means I think you're good enough to be a professional. If I give you a high distinction -- which I won't -- that means I think you should be doing my job. And none of you are that good."

@DrunkBaudelaire
@DrunkBaudelaire

So very well stated! I enjoy reading your posts and your Twitter comments!

Jonathan Brink
Jonathan Brink

What if the problem is not that we are bad. Genesis portrays God's original declaration of value as "very good". (And I love the very) What if the problem is that we just don't understand how God could see us as good, so we try and earn it. So in essence, we're trying to get what we already have, which is love. And by doing so, we become blind to it. Grace was always true, even before the creation of the world. But how do you convince someone of its validity when they are blind?

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

I have read it, and I was fascinated by it. I need to read it a second time.

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

Thanks Jeff! Ah yes, the "when" question. That's a tough one because we are dealing with things we don't understand when we starting talking about God and time. and he doesn't leave us much info. I'd say we all are "bought" by God now... (or the moment Jesus died). In essence, the price was paid at that point and we all belong to God, sinner or saint. With the, for lack of a better term, justice part out of the way now, God has put it in our court to respond to his story with love. At this point, the conversation can get really tricky because we'd begin our "how long do we have" questioning, to which I'd answer that everyone appears to have a different amount of time. But scripturally, at least in the way that I interpret it, death is the expiration point for our decision making, and I think it so largely because of the emphasis God seems to put on Faith. If after death, we see God and no longer need faith, then whatever value God has placed on faith is lost... and he must have placed some value on it, as "we are saved by grace, through faith". Ahh... it's been a while since I've talked about Rob Bell and his ideas... thanks for bringing it up.

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

You're right Jamison. I probably should have added more about how to get into that relationship I was referring to in the writing. Thanks so much for adding to it with your comment! Be Blessed!

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

Interesting. The class was outraged, eh? Funny. He's got a point. Thanks for reading/commenting.

ridingacross
ridingacross

"What if the problem is not that we are bad. Genesis portrays God's original declaration of value as "very good" The problem is very definitely that we are bad....and much more than bad. Dead. Without the Lord bringing us back to life by His sovereign decree, we are completely, 100% spiritually dead. No good is in us by nature. This comes a little after the Lord called His creation very good: “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5) And much farther along, Paul, speaking to the believers in Ephesus tell them, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we [Christians] all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Eph. 2:1-5) Really, there is a mass of scripture that confirms God's view of us in our fallen state, and it's not a pretty picture at all. If we deny our fallen sinful nature, then we also deny that Christ had any business taking that sin to the cross and suffering unknowable torment and death for it. But thank God He did do that, and saves us out of death because of it.

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

If the Bible is our standard, then we must accept that we are bad (or at least not good enough). All of our "righteousness" is a filthy rags (it says) and any righteousness attributed to us comes through faith not deed.

Jeff Cobb
Jeff Cobb

I see your point about a person faced with God not having much of a choice to believe in God or not. But it would seem to me that a person's heart could remain unchanged. If they were prideful, arrogant, self-sufficient in life, perhaps some would take those traits to eternity? The refusal to give up self, id, ego. I could see someone like Stephen Hawking refusing to admit God exists even if God Himself thwacked him upside the head! :) Also, if death is the expiration point for our decision making, it would seem those raised in non-Christian cultures or those raised in God-less homes, have a couple of strikes against them from the start. A muslim raised in a country where practicing Christianity is against clerical law clearly does not have the same opportunities to be exposed to Christ and make a conscious choice to follow Him as you or I. In terms of "fairness," I would seem that a person's choice for Christ should extend past the finite period of years they lived on earth. Peace.

@WarWraith
@WarWraith

As of recently, I'm not entirely convinced that this understanding regarding that verse, and works is entirely correct. And it's Jesus own words what done it ;) Matthew 25:31-46. "The sheep and the goats". In this parable, it seems to me that Jesus is saying that what we do *does* matter. Not only does Jesus say that the basis of their being welcomed into the kingdom is based what they did for "the least of these brothers and sisters of mine", but the people referred to in the parable appear to be surprised by the idea that they are sheep, and welcomed into the kingdom. And the "all our righteousness is as filthy rags" verse seems to be taken out of context of the passage in Isaiah. I don't see how it makes sense when placed against that passage in Matthew, nor when taken out of its context in Isaiah. Btw, can't blame Rob Bell - haven't read any of his books yet :p

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

Well we could open a much larger can of worms if we start looking for fairness in life. In my view, it would only be fair that everyone live the same amount of time, with the same amount of exposure and and number of chances to accept God. This is not the case. Or better, is it "fair" that one would have endless opportunities to "love God"? And what and where is happening in the meantime? If heaven is God's presence, and it cannot abide Sin, then where does one "sin" until they make the decision in the afterlife? The question is "what does death truly accomplish" or better, why would death make sense as an expiration. Could it have to do with sin... with the carnality of the flesh. And if so, then does the "renewal" of a new body come without that carnality? And if yes to that, then what choice does one then truly have? And if not choice, then can it truly be love? These are the questions I tend to ask.... the answers will be speculative at best.

ridingacross
ridingacross

The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats is fairly looked at here: http://www.gotquestions.org/parable-sheep-goats.h... With so many statements that tell us we are saved by faith alone and not works, we must seek to harmonise the overall message of scripture. Works do matter in the sense that they indicate a regenerated heart, which is the real deciding factor in salvation; good works flow from a new heart, like good fruit grows on a good tree. It is God who makes the tree good first.....not the tree that makes itself good. It's worth looking at Matthem 7 in this context; Mat 7:21 "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Mat 7:22 "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' Mat 7:23 "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.' We can see here that some people, who even called Jesus Lord and were said to be doing many works for Him, were in the end told to depart from Him. If works were the deciding factor, then surely these people would have been accepted, right? So why the result we are told about above? Notice that these people actually try to justifiy themselves as worthy by refering to their works....they thought that they had been saving themselves and earning their way into God's favour! This shows us the very real danger in looking to our own work and righteousness as justification when we shall stand before the Lord, rather than looking instead to Christ's perfect work and righteousness as our only reason to be approved.

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

Oh, I'm totally blaming Rob Bell!! :) The article is not meant to say works are not good, just that they are not the qualifier for our salvation. Sure those verses you mention are places where he is speaking to Christians. But when juxtaposed to the end of Matthew 7, you might find those works don't carry that much weight. As for the Matthew 25 verse. I don't think the Isaiah passage matches it directly, but I would use it in a case for grace in a second. That whole chapter (of Isaiah) really. The image here is still that Shepherds keep sheep, not goats. The sheep "belong" to the shepherd, not because of anything the sheep does, but because the Shepherd has chosen to care for them. There is more to that image, but for this conversation, Matthew 25 still suggests a relational delimiter rather than a works one.

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