Try something and see what you think. This won’t take but a minute to do. Get a pen, pencil or open Word on your computer. Then ask yourself the following question, “Am I a good person?” Answer honestly. If you want to know what you really think, take a moment right now before reading further and write down your answer before continuing. I’ll give you time. Be sure to get it in writing so you can see how you responded later.
This week Michelle, Alexis and I went into Jinja town for some groceries. As we pulled up, a charming young boy, about 8 years old, approached the vehicle and handed us a sheet of paper telling us about his background and requesting money for his elementary school fees – here in Uganda it’s up to the students to pay for their fees on their own, rather than the government taxing the adults’ paychecks.
As the young boy and I were standing under a small palm tree on Main Street outside the grocery store, I questioned him about his fees. We were interrupted by an older male teen, whom I did not recognize. This teen Henry (not his real name) knew me. Months ago when we first arrived in Jinja, I had invited him to church, and given him my phone number.
About three weeks prior to this meeting on the street, Henry had started calling and texting me about medical and school fees. He continued this almost on a daily basis, sometimes 4 or 5 times. I could not remember his appearance and physical features, but he sure remembered me.
I must admit I was a bit irritated that he had called our phone for requests for money instead of visiting our church.
Henry greeted me with a very large and pleasant smile, which changed my irritation to a more receptive greeting. This guy was a young, handsome kid and he proudly wanted to show me his recent report card – 19 out of a possible 20 points! I acknowledged his good work and asked him what type career he was going to pursue. He liked computer technology.
Henry quickly got to the point, asking again about me covering his school fees. Instead, I desired to get to know more about him, and returned back to the topic of our original meeting a few months ago.
“Henry, are you a Christian?” I asked.
He smiled and assured me he is. I then thought about asking him a probing question to determine where his faith rested.
“I want to ask a question,” I stated.
Henry seemed puzzled, but was willing to go along.
Suffice it to say his answer to the question failed. His answer was like most people’s answer to the question when asked. Henry gave many reasons for why He was a Christian, yet he failed miserably at the crucially most important answer.
I still gave him the benefit of the doubt, but wanted to explore further. With his permission I then held God’s law up to him as a mirror. “Have you ever lied, Henry?” I asked.
“Oh, no. I never have!” came the surprising response. I was quite astonished.
“You have never lied?” I continued.
“I have not,” Henry assured me.
“Not even when you were a boy?” I asked. This guy is 17 years old.
He would not admit to lying. “I think you are lying now,” I said, laughingly. He chuckled a bit, but assured me again he has never lied. Wow, not many people are that bold.
“OK, have you ever stolen anything?” I asked.
Henry thought for a few seconds.
“I did steal one time,” he replied.
“Yes,” he insisted.
“Ok, what does that make you? If you steal, even once in your life, what does that make you? What do we call people who steal?”
I could tell Henry began to realize what my question implied.
“A thief,” he quietly and sheepishly admitted.
“Ok, have you ever disobeyed your parents?” I asked.
A few seconds pause and then, “Yes,” was the reply.
“What do we call a person who disobeys?”
Henry had a little more difficulty with this answer. After a bit of time I tried to help him. “Would you call that person a rebel?” I asked.
Again, he sheepishly answered in the affirmative.
“Henry,” I said, “you have just admitted to being a rebellious thief.” In reality he is a rebellious, lying thief, but he honestly could not see that.
Henry was a bit taken aback. So he naturally sought to justify his position, providing excuses. We talked about this, but it only got worse. He even (from his own mouth) claimed he was “not in the same category” as sinners.
My heart sank. I had been giving the guy the benefit of the doubt about his faith in Jesus Christ. But he clearly set himself apart from drunkards, drug addicts and other filthy type sinners. He was not in that category he boasted. Like the Pharisee in Luke 18, he was better than they were. In fact Henry revealed to me his reasoning for this conclusion. One of the reasons being, “I pray twice a day.”
In interest of time I won’t go into detail about the remainder of the discussion. Bottom line, he could not see his need for a Savior. I longed for him to recognize his eternal need, but he just could not see it.
As the rich young ruler, Henry walked away sorrowful. He didn’t have great possessions, but Henry had an imposing idol that blinded him to the reality of his spiritual poverty. His obedience sufficed in his eyes.
John MacArthur asks, “You want to cut the heart out of the church’s Gospel message? Just convince the (listeners) that people are good.” Most people think they are good, especially church going people. James Boice quoted a Gallup poll revealing 75% of evangelicals believe man is basically good.
Try this yourself and see what responses you get from others, “Are you a good person?”
Now after reading the above story, how does your answer stack up? In my experience most will somewhat sheepishly admit at first to making mistakes or doing wrong (almost never have I had someone use the word “sin”), but most will quickly follow up by saying something to the effect that overall their good outweighs their bad or they do their best. The more arrogant ones will boast of their goodness. Those who have difficulty with confidence or are down on themselves often will answer something to the effect, “I’m terrible” or “I’m really bad.” And if the question is asked by someone else in a verbal conversation or chat the vast majority are so ashamed of Jesus they won’t even mention His name in response to a question about goodness.
Although some may generally refer to their belief in God in their answer, the apostle James warns about that, “You believe in God? You do well, the demons believe, and they tremble.”
This answer is no small matter. Not once in the conversation did Henry turn to Jesus. Not once did he claim his need for a Savior. In fact, the opposite happened. As spiritually destitute as we all are, Henry’s pride got in the way. He greatly erred by assuming he was in with God, based squarely on his goodness and probably somewhat his errant belief that God will somehow overlook his sin if he (Henry) means well.
My purpose here is not to condemn Henry. If God saves Henry by His grace, then I am a blundering fool. Thus let God be praised and me be a fool. However, Jesus said, you will know a tree by its fruit; and from the heart, the mouth speaks. My purpose is to use this real life example to point out how we can easily think we are resting in Jesus, when in reality we are ignorantly resting in our commandment keeping, obedience or good works. No doubt those things are extremely important. The Bible clearly testifies of the obedience of the saints, but true followers of Jesus are not ashamed of Him, nor are they resting in their works, obedience or commandment keeping. They are resting in none other than their Savior, Jesus Christ.
Pride is a deceitful enemy. It thoroughly permeates our being. We get focused on so many peripheral issues. We all have pride, but are we truly trusting and resting in Jesus Christ for our salvation? Or are we trusting and resting in something else? Anything else, even religious commandment keeping, is an idol.
If you believe or feel like you’ve failed and can’t make it, that’s the awesome Good News: Jesus saves sinners. The power of our salvation is not “doing” or “obeying.” The power of our salvation is Jesus Christ, who causes us to obey and do from the heart. Rest in Him. Abide in Him. Trust in Him. Repent of your pride. Accept Him into your life. The result will be the power of salvation showing forth repentance, obedience, commandment keeping from the heart, and good works that glorify and honor God through our Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory forever and ever.
“The effort of liberal and borderline modernists to woo men to God by presenting the soft side of religion is an unqualified evil because it ignores the very reason for our alienation from God in the first place. Until a man has gotten into trouble with his heart he is not likely to get out of trouble with God.”
– The Fear of God, AW Tozer