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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Good Men and Women

Daniel

by Dennis Pollock

Are there good men and women in this world? Or, to make things a bit more personal, what about you? Are you a good man or woman? The standard evangelical answer would be a swift and certain no. Some might quote from Ecclesiastes: "For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin" (Ecclesiastes 7:20). In Romans Paul writes that "there is none who does good," in making the case that we all need Jesus as our Savior.

There is no denying this, nor does this seem at all unreasonable, when we consider the absolute purity and perfection of our holy God. Surely in His eyes none of us are good. And yet this is not the whole story. There are numerous Scriptures that describe men and women as good or just or blameless. And in the books of Psalms and Proverbs we find many references to how good men behave, and promises made to them. Psalm 37 tells us that "The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, and He delights in his way" (Psalm 37:23). And Proverbs declares that "A good man obtains favor from the LORD…" (Proverbs 12:2). It would be silly for the Bible to say all kinds of things about the blessings of goodness if none of us had the slightest chance of being good.

Ultimate and General

The answer to this apparent contradiction is found in the fact that God speaks of human goodness in two senses: the ultimate sense and the general sense. Let us consider the ultimate sense first. In the ultimate sense, the Bible makes it clear that none of us is good, was good, or ever will be good in this life, apart from the grace of Jesus Christ working in and through us. Paul deals with this concept plainly and forcefully in the third chapter of Romans:

For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside… (Romans 3:9-12)

Paul goes on to give the reason for the law of God: "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (Romans 3:19). The law of God is God's means to reveal to all men their own lack of goodness and desperate need for salvation from sin. This knowledge is vital to all, but it is especially important to nice, decent, friendly, law-abiding, charity-supporting, folks who drive the speed limit, pay their bills on time, attend PTA meetings, and cry at sad movies. Even the best of men and women, who may seem outwardly nearly perfect, have a deep source of corruption that ferments and spills over from within, that could, under the right circumstances, lead them into the worst of sins and betrayal.

For this reason Psalms tells us: "The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one" (Psalm 14:2,3). As God's eyes roam over the continents, observing the different races and cultures, and scrutinizing the various nations of the world, the verdict is always the same: "there is none who does good, no, not one." This is basic Christian theology. This is something all evangelicals believe. And apart from this the cross of Jesus makes no sense at all.

And yet this is not quite the whole story. There is another sense in which the Bible declares men and women good, and encourages all believers to be good. To understand this we must recognize that the Bible was given to communicate God's mind and will to men and women. Because of this, God speaks in the language of men and women. Imagine spending ten years of your life learning the complex and intricate Russian language. You attend class after class, take numerous exams, and stay up late for countless nights to master the language. Finally you become fluent in Russian. Upon which you promptly take a plane to China to share the gospel in Russian with the Chinese.

The Language of the People

Of course no one would be so stupid, and our Creator is also fully aware that to communicate with His creation He must speak the language of His people. Thus we find that the inspired writers of the Scriptures write and speak the way men normally write and speak. And often they use terms and expressions that must be understood in the context in which they are given. An example of this is found in Matthew's gospel, where he describes Israel's response to the anointed ministry of John the Baptist. Matthew tells us: "Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins" (Matthew 3:5,6)."

If you insisted on a literal interpretation of this passage, you would assume that every single person in the city of Jerusalem and in the land of Judea went out and was baptized by John. But this was not the case as we can clearly see elsewhere. Matthew was talking the way people talk: "You should have seen the parade downtown – everybody was there." Of course everybody was not there, but we use expressions like this to indicate a large crowd of people – which is exactly how Matthew describes John's baptismal gatherings. This is not lying or even exaggerating. This is simply how people talk.

When King David saw a messenger from a distance, one of his men told him that the man was Ahimaaz. David said, "He is a good man, and comes with good news." David wasn't suggesting that the man was perfect and without any sin whatsoever. This Ahimaaz probably argued with his wife, griped when things didn't go his way, and lost his temper when he was cheated at the market. But in a general sense, as far as David was concerned, Ahimaaz was a good man. We all use the terms good and bad to describe people in a general sense. We speak of a "good guy" or a "great gal." And we find that God does as well. Sometimes He even uses the terms righteous, blameless, just, and devout. These are all to be understood in a general and comparative sense, not the ultimate sense.

Luke describes one of the Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus' death on the cross this way:  "Now behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member, a good and just man. He had not consented to their decision and deed" (Luke 23:50,51). Keep in mind that the Scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit. If Luke tells us that Joseph was a good and just man, this must be the Holy Spirit's evaluation of him. Did Joseph need a Savior – of course he did! He was a sinner, just like all the rest of us. But in a basic and comparative sense, Joseph was a good man.

Job and friendsJob was another man commended in the Scriptures. In the opening verse of Job we read: "There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil" (Job 1:1). We must keep in mind that this wasn't Job's mama talking; again this is the Holy Spirit's evaluation of and description of a man – a flesh and blood ordinary man who eats food, suffers from stomach ailments, sweats, worries about finances, makes love to his wife, gets upset with his kids, and does the things all of us humans do. And at the end of the book we find Job repenting for his bad attitude toward God over his suffering. So he wasn't perfect, but Job was apparently about as blameless and upright as a man possessing a sinful nature could be. He was still flawed, but in a certain basic sense he was blameless. He had a faith relationship with God, a healthy fear of God, and he did his best to avoid evil.

Peter commands us to make a blameless life our goal: "Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless" (2 Peter 3:14). Paul commands Timothy to live blamelessly: "that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing" (1 Timothy 6:14). It would be foolish and useless to encourage believers to live blamelessly if they had no hope of ever attaining any kind of blamelessness.

Godly Couple

One of the strongest commendations of the Holy Spirit is spoken not over a man, but over a couple. In Luke we are told: "There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless" (Luke 1:5,6). Here was a couple that definitely walked with God. It is not necessary for us to believe that Zacharias and Elizabeth never once argued, never once lost their patience with each other, or committed any sin whatsoever. Like all humanity they, too, had sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Once again we see God using language in the general and comparative way that we often do. Just as Abraham's faith was accounted to him for righteousness, so this couple's faith, with its corresponding works, was accounted to them as righteousness. They were, in one sense, blameless before their God.

There are several other examples that could be given. Barnabas was called a good man, Noah was said to be perfect in his generation, and Cornelius was called a devout man who feared God. The Bible is not reticent to speak well of certain men. So why is this important? If we only consider goodness in its ultimate sense, recognizing that we are not good, never have been, and never will be until Christ returns and changes us, we could give up on any effort to do good. The man who beats his wife, ignores his children, and drinks himself into a stupor every night while he lusts over Internet pornography cannot justify himself by quoting "there is none that does good." There are good men in the world, but he is not one of them.

Soberly, Righteously, and Godly

Paul writes to Titus: "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age…" (Titus 2:11,12). Living righteous, godly lives must be our aim, but we can never aim well as long as we have no hope of ever hitting the target. You don't find men with pistols shooting at targets half a mile away. No, we will never be ultimately perfect, but we can live upright, blameless lives in this general sense such as Job, Barnabas, Zacharias, and Elizabeth did.

The idea that we're all just "sinners saved by grace" is true in one sense, but in another sense it is most decidedly not true. Paul writes to the Ephesians: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus…" (Ephesians 1:1). Notice Paul is writing to saints (holy, set apart ones) and faithful – not to the wicked, ungodly, blaspheming, adulterous, lying, cheating sinners at Ephesus. We must always remember that walking blamelessly and being good men and women is not our own doing – it is the work of Jesus Christ in us: "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Elsewhere the apostle writes, "…for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13). This is the power of the grace of Jesus Christ. Our Savior died on the cross and rose again to pardon us from the penalty of sin, and give us power over the dominion of sin. And as we abide in Jesus, trusting in His power and not in our own ability to live righteously, we shall be transformed into good men and women, walking blamelessly before the Lord. Faithful is He who call you, who also will do it.

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