5. Why Good isn't Good Enough
The idea that there is only one way to God through Jesus sounds offensive to some people. They may point at whole generations of people they know who have lived good and righteous lives, but didn't know of the Gospel of Jesus. Does it mean that God is unjust in not counting these people as being good and acceptable?
There are some questions to ask about this situation,
- What do they expect?
- What do they get?
- What do they deserve?
- Are they good enough?
- What is “good” anyhow?
What do they expect?
If someone is not a Christian, then they are not expecting the hope of Christianity, or at least they would have no reason to expect it. Perhaps they have a philosophy, or hope of life that comes from another religion. This might be as simple as feeling they live a fulfilled life, or as complex as a progression of a series of afterlives through reincarnation.
What do they get?
If the Bible is true then, as it has already been established, alternate philosophies and Gods will be false. It's quite clear then, that these people will not receive the complex progression of a series of afterlives though reincarnation. There would be nothing to say that it is an option, no matter how hard we want it to be true.
On the other hand, the outcome of living a life that feels fulfilled might be quite achievable. Even from the standpoint of the Bible, other philosophical elements and ideas about life can be considered to be good, or the right way to life a life. The Bible says that such ideas make good living sense, but still won't lead to an acceptance by God, or any hope for the rewards in the Bible that depend on Jesus.
In terms of life after death, after the sin of Adam and subsequent condemnation to death, the state of humans appears reasonably clear. In Genesis, life is shown to be a window of existence, surrounded by non-existence.
Gen 3:19.: In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return." NKJV
After dying, it appears that it is just like the person never existed. The book of Ecclesiastes is more explicit, saying that without God, death marks the end of life and existence.
Eccl 9:5.: For the living know that they will die; But the dead know nothing, And they have no more reward, For the memory of them is forgotten. NKJV
What do they deserve?
The Bible claims that people really don't deserve much at all. From the account in Genesis, people are mortal beings, and we can basically just get what we see. This is also the prevailing view of science, which is simply based on observation. From observation, we can see that “good” people will generally feel good about their lives, so perhaps this is one expectation that may exist.
In terms of life, the expectation is that normally we expect about 70 years of living, followed by a cessation of living. The Bible shows that God's blessing for the world was the creation itself. Science is a study of observed things, and so only expects what is seen. On this information, there is no evidence or reason to expect any more out of life, or any greater purpose. People do find it hard to accept death, so they say that “there must be more to it”, but this is not a valid argument. We cannot claim immortality exists simply on the basis that we would like it to be true.
Furthermore, it cannot be considered a “right”, or something a person is deserves. From the Bible, people are deserving of death as a result of the rebellion of Adam, and from science people have no more right to immortality than they do of being able to grow to 5 metres tall.
From a human perspective people often expect a particular lifestyle and length of life. If it is shorter, or deemed less pleasant, they feel cheated. If it longer, or more pleasant it is often considered a thing that was deserved. This is based on observation, and the standard being set by the observation of other peoples' lives. From the perspective of the Bible, however, we are blessed to received life in the first place, and even more blessed to receive a long and healthy one. Scientific thought also says that we were just lucky to be here.
Are they good enough?
This question may be seen in the light of another question, “Do we really need Jesus, or can we become good by developing our own better moral code?” This is a natural thought of the humanist way of thought. People naturally feel that they can design things, and design them better than their predecessors, so why not design the definition of what is good?
In doing this, people are liable to take the general principles of Christianity - basically love and respect - and working from there. The laws of most countries are vaguely derived from this approach.
Whether or not this can be seen as a way to being good in the eyes of the God of the Bible can be determined by an example. This example is of a man called Cornelius, who was by all human standards a good man. His story is recorded in Acts 10:
Acts 10:1: There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2. a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. 3. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, "Cornelius!" NKJV
From this introduction, Cornelius appears to be a very righteous man, and worthy of whatever reward God is to give out. In this case he even fears God, as well as giving generously to other people. He sounds like he is already a very good person. As far as the record is concerned, this is a very important case, because Cornelius is not Jewish, but it is clear that by any common definition, he would be a good and righteous person. Despite this, the record shows that he needed something more, and that that wasn't enough. At the end of the chapter, we see that the apostle Peter came, and said,
Acts 10:47: "Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" 48. And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days. NKJV
So, in this case Cornelius needed to be baptised in water to obtain salvation from God. This brings to mind the words of Mark noted earlier,
Mark 16:15: And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16. "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. NKJV
So the Bible is quite clear that in order to be accepted by the God described in it, one has to live by the standards described in it, and believe in Jesus. So Jesus is not something we can improve on.
What is Good anyhow?
It is not a silly question to ask what is good. At the turn of the 21st century, relativism has been the prevailing basis for popular moral decisions. It is a bit vague in application, but basically says that different people can hold different ideas of what is good. People are then supposed to live happy lives mixing among each other, acknowledging and accommodating other people's different standards.
This quite obviously doesn't work, because it's common to see standards that simply can't coexist. For example, if a police officer believes that corporal punishment is the correct way to discipline, but I don't, should he use it on me or not? You can point to the laws of the country, but even that breaks down on a global scale.
Right now (at the time of writing), there is a Russian computer programmer (Dmitry Skylarov) waiting for trial in an American court. He is accused of writing software to circumvent copy-protection of documents, which is now illegal in the USA after recent legislation. However, it was done by a Russian citizen working in Russia, where it is not illegal. He was then captured while travelling innocently in America. The question comes as to whether the USA has the right to dictate the laws of another country.
The point here is that laws and common standards only work in a closed system, and they can't coexist with competing standards. The USA cannot impose laws on Russia without assuming a superiority, and the converse is also true. But even when abiding by your own local standards, others are still affected.
So really, without a global set of standards, we are lost in terms of finding a moral code, and just drift from one stage to another in terms of understanding what is right. On the other hand, the Bible has a clear idea of what is right and good, and defines it as what comes from God.
Matthew 19:16: Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" 17 So He said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." NKJV
In fact, the book of Galatians goes further to say that even the law of Moses, which was a law given by God in the Old Testament wasn't enough to bring salvation. If that law couldn't do it, then one could hardly expect a law of human values to do it.
Gal 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21. "I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain." NKJV
Ephesians gives a hint to the reason, as it is not a matter of working to be righteous that ensures success, but rather to gain the gift of God.
Ephesians 2:8: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, NKJV