It seems that being a good person has become the goal. It’s at least what we teach our children. Be a good person with a good heart, be kind to all, make good choices, and do the right thing even when it’s hard. And on the surface, there isn’t much wrong with this way of thinking. After all, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all lived this way? The truth is that there are many in the world today that believe being a good person is enough. But is it even possible to be good apart from Christ? Is this what the Bible teaches? What exactly is the difference between good and godly?
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Is it possible to be “good” without God?
There are two major problems with trying to be “good” without God:
- What does it even mean to be “good”? Is it kindness? Serving others? Giving to the poor? There are some good deeds that we can all agree on, but what happens when we all get to define “good” any way we choose? Is it “good” to support abortion? Is it “good” to leave your spouse because you’re not happy anymore? What about issues relating to politics and religion? Let’s face it… letting everyone choose their own definition of “good” creates a problem.
- Does our motivation matter when it comes to good deeds? My ethics professor in college asked this question during our first week of class. Is a good deed still “good” when done with a selfish motive? This is not to assume that all deeds done apart from God are selfish. (There are many out there trying to do good in the world who are not Christians.) But at the same time, I think we can all agree that a lot of “good” is done for the wrong reasons. This is exactly what the Pharisees did in the New Testament. They did “good,” but only because it made them look good in the eyes of the people.
Is it possible to be “godly” without being good?
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. – James 2:14-17 (ESV)
Truth be told, the Bible tells us that we were set apart to do good works. The bride of Christ is said to be clothed in linens, which are the righteous acts of the saints (Revelation 19:8). True faith gives birth to good deeds. It’s not enough to believe in Jesus. Even demons believe He is who He says He is. A godly person will produce godly fruit. So the answer is no… it’s possible to be “godly” without being good.
What is a “good person”?
The world is constantly changing its definition of a “good person.” It used to be that a good person had integrity, was a hard worker, did the right thing even when it was hard, always told the truth, stood by his or her spouse no matter what, and raised their kids to do the same. Now… it’s about following your heart, doing what’s best for you, taking care of yourself first so you can better take care of others, and fighting for the “right” to live our what we believe to be our “best” lives. We still value kindness and integrity, but being true to yourself matters more. To say that the lines are blurred is an understatement.
But what does it mean to be a “good person” according to God? Here’s the truth: God looked at His creation… us…. and called us “good.” But then things fell apart. The Bible says that no one on planet earth is righteous apart from Christ… not one. That means that it is impossible to be a “good person” apart from God! The only way to be “good” again… to be the person God created us to be… is to make Jesus our Lord and Savior. We become a child of God, and we live what we believe. We allow the Holy Spirit to guide our hearts and our actions.
But most importantly, God gives us a heart transplant. And according to Jesus, whatever is in your heart, will ultimately determine your actions and your words. So in the end, there is no difference between good and godly because it’s impossible to be good without being godly.
The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. – Luke 6:45
*Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.