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Can’t I Just Be a Good Person?

…for millions of Christians, nevertheless, God is no more real than He is to the non-Christian. They go through life trying to love an ideal and be loyal to a mere principle. –A.W. Tozer, the Pursuit of God (chapter 4)

Have you ever met a Christian who grew up in a pretty stable environment, came from a loving home, but wanted to say that without Christ they would probably be a prostitute or homicidal maniac?

I know I’m exaggerating the point, but really, can we truly believe that everyone is doomed to a life of crime or debauchery without Christian morals? Of course, none of us can fully comprehend where we would be without grace, but I believe we’re missing the point when we try to convince people of their need of God in this way.

Chances are good my example person above would have never been homicidal maniac or been overly promiscuous or any number of detrimental things. They probably would have turned out as a person who got married, had a family, and tried to live a good life.

The world has a great number of these actually, and Christians shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge that there are bad people and those who try to do good, even apart from Christ.

Herein lies the sad reality: many have to make this point because it’s all they’re clinging to. When we don’t have personal experience of God or delve into His deeper reality, all we can hope for is to be better and more moral than those outside. Sin separates all of us for sure, but Jesus wasn’t only after making sure sin didn’t rule us anymore.

Did Paul write to the Philippians and tell them that his highest treasure was having a good, moral foundation? No, it was knowing Christ.

7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, –Philippians 3:7-9

Too many are simply content to know the principle while forgetting to press into relationship with the Prince. They see God as unknowable. They see Jesus as intangible. They see the Holy Spirit as spooky. In embracing these views, we miss the point.

Jesus didn’t die to produce a morally superior race of people; He died for a Bride, a covenant people who would know Him–His heart, His mind, His will–and would come into abiding and oneness.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a good person, but it’s not why we’re Christians and we need to stop pretending that’s all there is.

God is not an ideal; He is a Person, and His word gives us example after example of people who knew and followed Him, who experienced a living reality.

We can unburden ourselves as we quit desperately trying to be better people and start displaying to the world what it looks like when a person knows Jesus. Then they’ll finally see Him, which forces a decision.

Yeah, that’s going to leave a mark.

What do you think? Have you ever felt compelled to make an argument that only Christians are good people? Do you feel differently about it than I do?


Welcome to week 7 of our book club discussion of the Pursuit of God (disclosure) by A.W. Tozer. We are taking a sentence, paragraph, or passage that inspires, encourages, or challenges and writing about it and we are taking two weeks for each chapter. If you have a response on your blog, head over to my friend and co-facilitator, Sarah Salter’s blog for the widget and another great take. Whether you’ve read the chapter or not, please share your thoughts! We always appreciate a vibrant conversation.

18 Comments

  1. I have met a lot of “good” lost people. That’s not me judging them, that’s them telling me they do not believe. They still live good lives. In some cases there is more evidence of goodness in them than in some who claim to be Christians.

    Goodness does not save us… only God can do that. But having been saved by a real, personal, and intimate God… I cannot help but be good. As I walk in a real relationship with Him, He leads me into and through His goodness -- holiness -- righteousness.
    Dusty Rayburn recently posted..Evaluating Our FaithMy Profile

    • That’s a sad part I didn’t know if I wanted to say, but it’s true. Some people who profess to be Christians are worse than the unsaved trying to be good. Like you said though, if we truly believe Jesus is Lord, that His life is being formed inside and displayed through us, we submit to the process and it will change us. That living relationship makes inestimable impact on who we are! Thanks so much, Dusty.

  2. I think the whole, “People don’t come to Christ, because they don’t see Christians living differntly” can have a two-fold meaning. I mean the argument can certainly be made that they are doing the same “bad things” as any non-Christian, but how about the flip side? “I’m living just as ‘good and cleanly’ as you without following Jesus.” You definitely hit on a real issue in the church. It is definitely good to be “good” people, but Jesus was more than a “good” person He brought actual change to the atmosphere around Him. We are to do the same and greater, His words. To further your point Jesus also alluded to those trying to live good lives in Matthew 7:9-11 when he said even those who are “evil” know how to give good gifts.

    Great word today!
    Philip recently posted..A Burning SensationMy Profile

    • Absolutely. Those are great points. In fact, I believe that idea has been part of the militant atheist’s movement. I remember around Christmas reading about buses around London having an ad essentially saying, “be good for goodness’ sake. Why bring God into it?” Many were outraged, but seriously, if that’s ALL we’re showing the world, a couple of good deeds to ease our conscience, we don’t even need Jesus for that. Thanks Philip.

  3. I really like where you went with this Jason.
    Most Christians treat Jesus like a religous ornament on a shelf in the living room.
    or like a wallet in our back pockets.
    Only taking him out when we need something.

    There are plenty of “GOOD” people out there they I talk to everyday that don’t have Christ.

    I would even dare to say the act BETTER then most christians I know too!
    YIKES!

    But what it comes down to is exactly what you said.

    Showing the world that in our life…NOTHING COMPARES TO JESUS!

    THAT EVERYTHING, WHEN COMPARED JESUS, IS RUBBISH.

    WHEN WE STARING LIVING IS CHRIST AND DYING IS GAIN.
    arny recently posted..POLITICS.My Profile

    • Exactly, this is the point! Not being good, but being Jesus to the world. What a huge, massive, ginormous difference that is! Thank you, Arny.

  4. I live in a small town (for now) in Minnesota and there is a lot of good people but a lot of them are not Christians. And Thankfully when they know its there last moments on earth they ask to see either My Mom or Dad before there last breath. But its time that we the church get back to the calling and preach what the bible says to preach. The Book of Galations tells us what we the church are to preach. Especially read it from the NLT and Message. The headlines of each chapter tells us the call of the church. THe Headline for Galatians 3 tells us how we are to live as the church. Trust in Christ, Not the Law
    Man’s law tells us we are to do Good, But God says we are to do Acts of Grace
    andrew recently posted..Christmas-Winterland Photo ExtravaganzaMy Profile

    • The Gospel does make it plain. Father, help us to live it and preach it effectively so people will truly come to know the living Jesus! Thank you, Andrew.

      • The Lord spoke these words to me about what his word his.

        God’s Word (The Bible) is Supernatural Results For Those Who Want Supernatural Results In There Lives.

        And That’s what Paul teaches to live in the Supernatural Grace Christ Provides for us. By receiving the holy spirit.
        andrew singh recently posted..Christmas-Winterland Photo ExtravaganzaMy Profile

        • Whoops typed to fast and messed it up
          God’s Word (THe Bible) Is Supernatural Instructions For Those Who Want Supernatural Results

          • Amen to that. His grace and truth cannot be confined to the natural or it is not His grace and truth! Thanks Andrew.

  5. I don’t think any of us are good, at least not the way God is good. While we are forgiven, we struggle against our flesh, our senses as Tozer puts it. I marvel at many things, one of which is the people who live only by their flesh and ignore the fact that, “The universe declares His majesty.” The believe the obvious lies that smother their very senses, and when something happens they can’t explain in and with their senses, they call it, “Unexplained Phenomenon.”

    Another things that I marvel at is the people that judge themselves as being “good,” or good enough… By what standard are they capable of being the judge of what’s good enough? If they can judge what is good enough then they are powerful enough to judge between life and death, good and bad. They are the absolute judge… but they tell you they don’t believe in absolutes… The person that can judge what is good enough to get to heaven should also be able to speak themselves into immortality… If they can’t do that, then they aren’t the judge…

    • I agree. We’re talking a human definition of good, not God’s but unless we have a revelation of His goodness it’s pointless to argue with someone. We have an opportunity to show how a relationship with God works and that’s different than any other religion in this world. I’m with you on the beauty of the creation and how awe-inspiring it is. How could we deny His hand? Thank you, Floyd.

  6. Okay, so, I came from a loving home, and at times, I was both suicidal and promiscuous. But that’s not your point…

    I was kind of raised with the implication that ONLY Christians were good and that other people were bad and couldn’t be trusted. And what I’ve found out is that that’s just not true. At the same time, I also know that goodness isn’t enough. And that’s one of the hardest truths in the world to accept. So, when one is surrounded by people who are convinced that goodness IS enough and that Christ is only ONE way to eternal life and that anyone who believes different is intolerant, how do you minister to them? That’s a place I’m in, in a lot of relationships right now. And I’m still not sure of the answer. I know that one answer is to continue to live my life hidden in Christ, yet being non-judgmental. But that feels like such an inactive, passive way to minister. How ELSE can I reach them?
    Sarah Salter recently posted..To Know and to Be Known…My Profile

    • The interesting thing about real relationships is that you get the opportunity to go through things with others and they go through things with you. When a real loving relationship with Jesus is seen and that it makes the difference in your life and how you love, it affects and draws.

      Life is full of hard situations (we certainly don’t have to go looking for them) and when we hit one of them, the depth of Christ and His grace we get to display can be astounding. It’s not passive--so don’t worry. We all have to make use of the opportunities God gives us to speak or do what we can. My prayer for you is that you recognize those times and don’t back down. He has placed you in this wonderful position and I know He’ll lead you. I know He’ll do awesome things through you because you understand you’re not trying to get them to do anything, you’re just loving them out of the love He’s lavished on you! Blessings to you, Sarah! Thank you for sharing this.

  7. I remember when I first became a Christian I went to a “Jack and Jill” wedding shower. Everyone was sharing about how this couple was doing it the “right way” and because of God their marriage was guaranteed to be successful. I struggled because I knew deep down that wasn’t true and I knew plenty of other marriages that were just fine who didn’t know Christ.

    We put too much emphasis on doing “good” and being “right”. So much so that it is often easy to slip into legalism without even recognizing it.

    I was listening to a lesson recently and got my wheels turning about Jesus saying “no one is Good, only the Father in heaven.” I have more to write on that, but I need to ponder it more. But this post hits on many of the same points.
    Frank recently posted..The Real and the UnseenMy Profile

  8. Christians are never going to be so perfect that they do everything right. My own brother isn’t a Christian (at least not that I know of), but he’s got a good heart towards his family and friends.
    Ed recently posted..When Does Prayer Become Powerless? « simplyjulianaMy Profile

    • Exactly. Most love their family and friends and try to do the ‘right thing’ as best they can. What makes a Christian is the relationship with Jesus. Thanks Ed.