Aren't all good people Christians?
It's a fairly common question and the implied answer is 'yes', but in response we must ask 'Good, by whose standard?'
Was Mahatma Ghandi a good man and therefore a Christian? Would anyone dispute the fact that the Dalai Lama (who is a Buddhist) is a good man? But is he a Christian? Neither man made any claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ. And though history may well conclude that here were good, peace-loving men who spent their lives serving others yet can we in all honesty call them Christians?
Our world has many good peopleŠ good people who are atheists; good people who are Buddhists; good people who are very religious. We have neighbours and workmates who are kind and helpful. But tragically, hell will be crowded with good people.
Maybe the real question being asked is, 'Don't all good people go to heaven?' (so that whether they are Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or atheist is not the basic issue.)
However our answer to either question is fundamentally the same. So let's focus on the question that we started with. There are really two issues here. It depends what we mean by 'good' and what we understand by 'Christian.'
Who is the best Judge?
Years ago I built a sandpit for my two children and carefully edged it with brickwork. My family inspected the finished work and pronounced it good. Not long after, a bricklayer&emdash;a specialist in his trade&emdash;was visiting us, and after casting his trained eye over my efforts said, 'What a shoddy job! It is terribly out of line. Don't you own a piece of string and a spirit-level?'
I was embarrassed and hurt by his remarks. Yet they were true. When judged by the highest standards of workmanship it was a poor effort.
Really our society is no different. We say. 'What a good person.' And in our estimation it is undoubtedly true. But God who alone establishes the standard of goodness sees the same person and says, 'His motives are all wrong and his attitude to my commandments and to my Son Jesus is far from good.'
So then our initial question isn't as straightforward as we might first have thought. In fact, in God's book the Bible, God says, 'There is none who does good, no, not one' (Romans 3:12).
Who then has made the right assessment? Man, who judges by outward actions, or God, who can also read our motives? The person who is the ultimate judge of goodness is the one that we should heed. And we are left in no doubt at all if we are prepared to listen to what God is saying.
Tragically the Bible is full of true stories of men and women who chose their own way and rejected God's. So many thought that their own goodness would satisfy God's requirements. But as we read the four Gospels we are reminded that their very best efforts&emdash;even their religious works&emdash;fell far short of God's perfect standards (read Luke18:9-14).
In other words they failed to see themselves as God saw them. And really this is the issue. We might consider ourselves to be good people. We think that we've obeyed God's commandments, and that all is well. But how wrong we are.
Jesus meets a good person
One day a young man ran up to Jesus. He needed an answer to this one great question: 'What must I do to inherit eternal life?'
As we read the story (Mark 10:17-23) we are introduced to a very keen, morally upright and devoutly religious person. His life seemed to be impeccable. He had kept God's law (so he said). From childhood he had done his very best. In his own eyes he was a good person.
But Jesus, who sees into our hearts and knows our motives, perceived in this young man an idolatrous attachment to his possessions. 'Leave those things behind, and follow me' said Jesus, 'and you shall have treasure in heaven.' But this was too much for this likeable young man. He rejected Jesus' terms and 'went away sorrowful.'
Jesus was saying that to be a Christian we must heed his words and follow him closely.
What is God's verdict?
God does not say. 'Try to be good and that will satisfy me.' However hard we try we can never reach God's standards. In fact God tells us that we are all guilty of breaking his laws (Romans 3:19). Further, he tells us that the mission of his Son Jesus was 'to seek and to save the lost' (Luke 19:10).
Thus we are reminded in no uncertain terms that our failure to live up to God's standard is the great blot on our supposed goodness. God calls this 'sin,' and the Apostle Paul tells us 'that the wages of sin is death' (Romans 6:23).
Despite what we think, God's verdict is clear: if left to ourselves, none would reach heaven. But that is not the end of the storyŠ
What God has done
This is such good news! God has sent a Saviour. We did not ask that he be sent. God did it out of love for a lost world (John 3:16). In the person of Jesus Christ, God came and lived amongst us. There was no sin in him. His obedience was perfect. As well, he undertook to bear our guilt and the judgment due for our sin. This was why Jesus suffered and died. He was bearing the eternal curse for sin. And he did it willingly and lovingly. It was something that we could never do.
And having died as the one and only sacrifice for sin, God then raised Jesus from the grave. In doing all this he satisfied every requirement that was placed upon him.
What a price he paid! Not for good people, but for bad people; for lost people; for rebellious law breakers of the worst kind; for people who have nothing at all to boast about.
How do we respond?
We must ask God to have mercy upon us. We must open our Bibles and read of God's readiness to forgive sin. (Psalm 51, Luke 15, 1 John 1:8,9). We must heed Christ when he says, 'Turn from your sin to me'; 'Trust in My goodness and not our own'; 'Believe in Me and you will not perish'.
The 'good' people will say, 'I can make it on my own. I'm good enough as I am. I am trying my best.' As if our best is good enough for GodŠ! These are the Christ rejectors. They see no relevance in his sacrifice for sin and no need for prayer.
But what about you? Do you acknowledge that you have sinned against God and that you desperately need a Saviour? If you come in faith to him he will hear your prayer, will deliver you from the damning consequences of your sin and will embrace you as one of his children. Then you will rightly bear the name 'Christian', and God will fill you with his goodness.
He is so gracious to the undeserving. Will you today accept God's verdict and seek God's remedy? The issue before us is the difference between life and death. It is the difference between heaven and hell. It is the difference between God's view and man's view. And a wise person will listen to God.