Is Christianity about being “a good person”?

Following up on last week’s blog, “Discovered; a new species of human,” are there really just two types of people – those who are “dead to God and alive to sin,” and those who are “dead to sin and alive to God”? 

Is there a third group of people, however – those who have no interest in God as yet, but do not give “free rein to their own desires and feelings” (paragraph five in my previous blog)? Instead, they’re really nice people to be around. They’re what we’d call today, “good people,” many of whom do more good works than Christians, love doing good (for both people and the planet), support all kinds of charities, help the poor, respect the marginalized, fight for justice and fairness for all, and don’t demand that everyone bow to their demands and preferences. 

They aren’t “alive to God” yet, but many of them have a happy, loving nature, strong marriages and caring children. They love people, enjoy giving, have lots of friends and enjoy good times together, and they are great neighbours and employers. They work hard, always do a good job, they’re reliable and honest, and they wear masks in pandemics for other people’s sakes. They’re well known for their hospitality and generosity. With no interest in God they “know how to give good gifts to their children” (Matthew 7:11).

Maybe it’s because they grew up in a good family, or that goodness is part of their culture (where people take strangers in without hesitation). Or they’re good because they have a sensitive conscience, or they like helping people because it feels good, or that being good keeps them out of trouble. 

Or is it because the Holy Spirit has been “poured out on all flesh” and they’ve unknowingly tuned in to that Spirit? Or is it because an “unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband,” and because of it their children “are holy” too, 1 Corinthians 7:14? Maybe, then, the Holy Spirit is working in them in a special way, and that’s what makes them want to be good. 

Does this make them a third type of person, therefore, who doesn’t have an interest in God as yet, but God is working with them? We know God admires and appreciates goodness in people, like Job (who was “blameless and upright” in God’s sight, Job 1:8), and Cornelius the Roman centurion (“whose prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a remembrance before God,” Acts 10:4). God also appreciates those “who show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness,” Romans 2:15.

But it doesn’t stop there, does it? Job was a good man, yes, but God let Satan loose on him. Cornelius was a “God fearing man, respected by all the Jewish people,” Acts 10:22, but he “also received the Holy Spirit,” verse 47. So his goodness was a good start, yes, but Cornelius needed more. So did Job. And responding to one’s conscience is good too, but if that’s good enough why did God send Jesus to die for us and be raised to life again? 

The answer to that is in Romans 6.

Romans 6 shows us that life for us humans is more than trying to be good and trying not to be bad. It’s more than having good morals. The next chapter, Romans 7, gets into that too, where Paul tells us he tried so hard to be a good person by obeying God’s laws as best he could, but every time he tried to be good there was something in his brain that wanted to resist and do the opposite. Well, God had made that obvious right from the beginning when he said don’t eat off the tree of knowledge of good and evil, because knowing good and knowing evil wouldn’t be enough to resist or stop evil thoughts and evil actions.  

And having conclusively proved that through the sad history of Israel, God then sent Jesus to show us what has to happen to us to solve this problem. We need to be bonded to Jesus in such a way that we die to sin and live to God like he did – which God made possible by having our old weak self killed off and buried along with Jesus’ old self being crucified and buried, and raising us up to a brand new life, just like he raised Jesus up to a brand new life.  

Just like a baptism in water – the analogy Paul uses in Romans 6 – our old self is drowned to death, and we’re given a brand new self in its place. And this brand new self IS able to resist and stop evil thoughts and actions. It becomes an “instrument of righteousness,” Romans 6:14, that “leads to holiness,” verses 19 and 22 – righteous and holy both being what God is. Which means we can “live to God” like Jesus did (verse 10). We actually take on the same characteristics as God himself, which is what God intended for us from the beginning, so that through us he could spread his nature, his wisdom and his greatness all through his creation. This is how he would establish his kingdom of heaven on earth. 

And we come “alive” to all this “in Christ Jesus,” verse 11, and only in Christ Jesus too, because it’s only in our being bonded to his death and resurrection that all this opens up in our brains. It doesn’t come from us trying to be good and trying not to be bad.   

What we need as humans is the ability to die to sin and live to God like Jesus did, because that – and that alone – “results in eternal life,” verse 22. And God provided that for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus – as his “gift” to us, verse 23. 

So, yes, there are only two types of people, or two phases in a human life. We’re either “dead to sin and alive to God,” or “dead to God and alive to sin.” And what makes the difference between the two is the death and resurrection of Jesus, not our goodness. 

Christianity doesn’t boil down to us being good people, then, it boils down to the bond we have with Jesus and his death and resurrection, that God made possible for us as his greatest gift to us. 

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