“All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes . . .” ~ Proverbs 16:2
Most of the non-Christians I talk to believe that God exists. They also believe in eternal life and eternal judgment after death.
But . . . they equally believe that receiving God’s favor and inheriting eternal life is a matter of scoring brownie points with the Creator. And to their minds, they are “good enough” to be awarded with eternal life when they die because they aren’t “bad people.”
From my experience and observation, this is the prevailing view among most Americans.
Yet the truth is that God stopped keeping score a long time ago. He grades on a completely different curve.
Let me paraphrase a story that Jesus once told. The point of the story is that God does not like “good people.” Instead, He favors “bad people.”
Here is the story that Jesus told, paraphrased and made contemporary.
Two men were praying one night in their bedrooms. One man was an elder of a church. The other was a dishonest car salesman.
The elder prayed, “God, I want to thank you that I’m not a bad person. I don’t cuss, I don’t smoke, I’ve never been immoral. I don’t cheat or lie. I fast once a week. I go to church every Sunday and I pay my tithes weekly. Thank you for making me a good and moral man.”
The car salesman, being heavily convicted for his dishonesty after talking to one of coworkers, could not even lift his eyes up to the ceiling. He fell to his knees and said, “God, be merciful to me. I’m a sinner. I’m a lying, dishonest person who has taken advantage of others most of my life. Come into my life and save me.”
Jesus went on to say something that was shocking. He essentially said that God favored the “bad” person but condemned the “good” person.
That is, the car salesman was made right with God, but the elder fell under God’s judgment.
“For every person that exalts himself will be humiliated and every person that humbles himself will be exalted.”
The elder in this story represents all who trust in their good deeds to win God’s favor.
These are people who, in the main, live “good clean lives.” They also have a penchant for ID-ing those who are outside the fold of “the true, the right, the moral, and the good.”
The car salesman in this story represents everyone else. The knuckle-headed sinners.
According to Jesus’ story, God condemns the good person (the elder) but rewards the bad person (the car salesman) with eternal life.
This story is one of many examples where Jesus surprises us, turning our common assumptions on their heads.
The truth is, neither you nor I could ever be good enough to win God’s favor. This is why Jesus came and paid the penalty for our sin.
Thus it is humble faith—trust in God’s goodness and sufficiency in Jesus the Messiah—that brings His favor into our lives.
Faith unites us to Christ, who is the object of God’s complete favor and satisfaction. Faith makes us one with Christ, who is perfect and has no sin.
By trusting in Jesus, His righteousness becomes our righteousness.
According to God’s holy standards, we are all sinners. This is in contrast to a motto I’ve heard all my life:
“If you live a good life and don’t hurt anyone, you don’t have to worry about being judged by God because He takes all good people to heaven. God only judges evil people like Adolf Hitler and Charlie Manson.”
The Bible turns this sort of thinking on its ear. According to the Scriptures, all have sinned. And if you have broken one of His commandments, you’ve broken them all (James 2:10).
Many people have the idea that God is in heaven holding a scale, balancing everyone’s sins against their good works. The people whose bad deeds outweigh their good deeds will suffer divine judgment. While the people whose good deeds outweigh their bad deeds will be saved. So the thinking goes.
But this is a human idea. God doesn’t play with scales.
In God’s viewpoint, no one is righteous (Romans 3:10ff.). We have all fallen short of His holy standards and we are all deserving of condemnation.
You and I can never be holy enough to atone for our own sins or to justify ourselves before a holy God. For that reason, the good deeds that we do to try to win God’s favor are like filthy rags in His eyes (Isaiah 64:6).
But the good news is that Jesus came.
And He lived a perfect life, never sinning once. He was qualified, then, to take our place and pay our debt. And He did.
Thus the Bible says that we are saved by grace, not by works . . . by God’s mercy, and not by our own good deeds.
Eternal life, then, is available to you. In fact, eternal life is Jesus Christ Himself. And that life begins now, here on earth. It’s not something we have to wait to experience.
Salvation comes when you repent (turn away from your own “goodness” and living life your own way) and by trusting in Jesus (yielding to Him as Savior and Lord).
The amazing thing is that if your faith in Christ is real, then God’s righteousness will begin to play out in your life and your behaviors will begin to change. The eternal life of the next world will begin to manifest itself in your life here and now. And it will be His work . . . His righteousness . . . and not your own.
You will lose interest in many of the things you used to love and you find a new found love for what is true, good, and right in God’s eyes.
As you continue to follow Jesus and grow in His life, you will be transformed little by little into His image. And you’ll begin to taste what Jesus meant when He said, “I have come that you might have life and have it in abundance.”
It is only when we avail ourselves of the benefits of His death that we begin to live.
At just the right time, when you were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6‑8)