Are you a good person?
Most folks – and many Christians – reading my title will have ideas in their minds as to what these two categories of people are like. As to good people, we might think of a friendly neighbour, or a kind checkout chick, or a smiling and quite nice grandmother.
As to bad people, many would think instantly of a Hitler or some serial killer or a rapist or a heroin addict. In a sense we can say yes, such folks are more or less good or more or less bad. But here I want to look at these two categories of people from God’s point of view, especially in relation to those who are truly his and those who are not. So I am talking about two sorts of humanity here.
Indeed, Scripture asserts this truth repeatedly. There are numerous texts that make it quite clear that not everyone is saved, not everyone is part of the family of God, and not everyone is headed to an eternity with God. I list just some of these passages here: billmuehlenberg.com/2017/06/07/two-humanities-two-destinies/
So we must be very careful about assuming people are “good” in the sense of how God ultimately views them. Sure, while we cannot know a person’s ultimate destiny – only God knows those who are truly his – we are nonetheless to apply certain tests. Jesus for example said you will know people by their fruit (Matthew 7:15-20).
There are other tests, including doctrinal tests that Scripture says we should employ. Here I want to look at two contemporary celebrities – each in their own way – and one notable group of people. The first celeb who recently passed away at an early age was the sporting star Shane Warne.
I am not a massive cricket fan, but he was evidently one of the greatest spin bowlers of all time. And he was also evidently a rather loose living fellow, with various female partners and flings. But now he has passed on, at just age 52. Some are saying ‘he is looking down on us’ and so on, as if he was welcomed into heaven with open arms.
I have seen even some Christians speaking so highly of him. It is one thing to remember him as a great cricketer, but whether he ever got right with God is another matter. We do not know, but it is too late now for him if he had not done so.
A second sort of ‘celeb’ has also been in the news of late, this time for some sexual improprieties. I refer to Hillsong Pastor Brian Houston. At the moment he is on leave as these matters are being looked into. www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/19/hillsong-church-apologises-after-investigations-find-brian-houston-engaged-in-inappropriate-behaviour
Now can I say at the outset that there are often two main camps when it comes to him and Hillsong: some love both and will defend them to the death, while others think they cannot do anything right and they are always looking to demonise them.
I am not in either camp. I am not a great fan of the church and its pastor and many of its teachings. But I am not going to hate on them all day either. For me the only appropriate response is to pray for him and his church right now. Hopefully real church discipline will occur, and the aim of church discipline is always the restoration – where possible – of a fallen brother.
But my third example – a group – is the whole people of Israel – at least those living 2000 years ago. One would have thought that if ever there were good guys it would be God’s own chosen people. But of course they so often became ‘bad guys’.
Here I want to look at just one text on this, and offer one bit of commentary. The passage is Romans 10:1-4:
Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
And my commentator is Martyn Lloyd-Jones. In his book Saving Faith he discusses Romans 10 – part of his 14-volume expository commentary on Romans. In it he says this concerning ‘good and bad people’ and how we are to understand proper biblical preaching:
First, that Christian people are mistaking natural qualities, niceness, a cultural veneer or politeness, for true Christian grace. It seems that we are no longer capable of differentiating between the two. How often today is affability mistaken for saintliness! ‘What a gracious man he is,’ they say. What they really mean is this: he never criticizes and he agrees with everybody and everything. I know of nothing more dangerous than that. These so-called gracious men are, of course, altogether nicer than John the Baptist or the Apostle Paul! I do not hesitate to go further – they are very much nicer than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who denounced the Pharisees! Affability is not saintliness. A mere intellectual, moral flabbiness, is not synonymous with graciousness and with the possession of grace!
Secondly, the fact that people are devout tells us nothing about the truth of what they believe. There are very devout Jews, devout Muslims, devout followers of Buddha, Confucius, and so on. A devout attitude in and of itself tells us nothing.
Thirdly, the moment we begin to talk in these terms, it means that we have abandoned all objective standards. We are now judging only by our own subjective feelings, by our impressions and reactions. Is there anything so dangerous?
Fourthly, and much more important, it is a complete denial of what the Apostle is teaching at this very point, and indeed in the whole of his Epistle. The Jews, he says, are lost and they need to be saved. Why? Because they are lacking in exact knowledge of the truth. This is the reason for their condemnation. So we must never put anything before exact knowledge. It is the most important thing of all.
My fifth argument is this: to speak like that is a violation not only of what the Apostle teaches here, but also of the whole of the New Testament teaching with regard to the way of salvation. What does it teach? Well, it talks about coming ‘unto the knowledge of the truth’ [I Tim. 2:4]. Everything in the New Testament is put in terms of truth. What is preaching? Preaching is a proclamation of the truth. And it is an exact proclamation. Preaching is not talking about a vague feeling, but is the presentation of a message, of a case. Preaching is something that is reasoned and argued from the Scriptures. It is truth, and therefore it must always be in the first position.
The Apostle says this clearly and specifically in 1 Timothy 2:35: ‘For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved’ he means all types and kinds of men ‘and to come unto the knowledge of the truth’. That is salvation, this exact knowledge of the truth. ‘For there is one God’ there it is! ‘and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.’ There is the truth specified. And yet the whole tendency today is to say, ‘It doesn’t matter!’
He finishes this chapter with these words:
The whole trouble with the Jews was that they thought that they knew what the law of God demanded. But they did not. Their knowledge was so imperfect that it had become a lie, and it was standing between them and the knowledge of salvation in and through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
So you see the point at which we have arrived. This precise knowledge is absolutely essential. Not only must you have knowledge, you must have precise knowledge. Ignorance (a little knowledge) is the enemy; it is the cause of the lost condition of Paul’s fellow countrymen, the Jews. May God once and for ever rid our minds of this dangerous, terrible tendency to discount exact knowledge, definition, propositions, doctrine and theology.
And may the Lord help us to see that what passes as charity is at the expense of denying precise knowledge of the truth and is not charity but laxity. Ultimately, it is a betrayal and denial of the truth of God.
So the real issue is this: it is not so much whether you are a ‘good’ person or a ‘bad’ person. We are all bad in the sense of being sinners who are alienated from God. But the good news is this: while hell may be populated with plenty of ‘good’ people who never saw the need of a Saviour, heaven is populated with bad people – sinners – who knew they were lost, but they repented and found forgiveness and new life in Christ.