I listened intently to the guest speaker at our church this past Sunday. His message was insightful and biblical. I'm going to paraphrase key points for you.
One of the key questions he asked was this: Can people be good?
Christians understand that we are not good, if we compare ourselves to God and Him alone. It is because we understand that we are inherently not good in and of ourselves that we need Someone outside of ourselves who has the power to save us from ourselves and our sin. This grants us salvation - again coming from outside of ourselves from Someone who has the power to provide that salvation.
We are also aware of the fact that in numerous places throughout His Word we learn that we are not good at all. In fact, what we see as "righteousness" to God is simply filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). There is absolutely no doubt that God views what we call good, as "filthy." We cannot count on our own achievements to gain access to heaven. It simply cannot and will not happen. Understanding this means opening the door to embracing life eternal because if we understand that we are fully corrupt and bereft, without any righteousness of our own, we will have to conclude that we must reach out to Someone outside of ourselves to extricate us from our predicament that sin has created for us.
Anyone who has truly received Jesus as Savior and Lord understands this truth. It is an unavoidable conclusion because of the facts of the situation. We are unrighteous, without Christ in a lost and dying world. Once our eyes are open to this truth, we can then receive the only salvation available to all who will come to Him in humility, through faith, believing that He has done for us what we have no capacity to do for ourselves (Romans 10:9-10).
What is also very interesting is that the Scriptures teach that once we become saved in Christ, it is possible to become "good" as well. But what does that mean? Is it something we achieve? Is it something that by our own effort is accomplished within us? Yes, and no. We need to understand that any "goodness" we might become is accomplished only one way and it is God's way. Let's take a look at Scripture to see what it says to us.
20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord (Acts 11:20-24 ESV; emphasis added).
I've included surrounding verses here for context. Because of the report that the church leaders in Jerusalem heard, they sent a man named Barnabas to Antioch. As you may recall, Christians were first called Christians at Antioch. But Barnabas was a true "helper" and "encourager." He dutifully did what was needed to be done to help spread the Gospel and the leaders in Jerusalem knew this about him, so they chose to send him from Jerusalem to Antioch to search out the matter and verify the reports they had heard.
When Barnabas arrived, he "saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted (believers there) to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose," (v. 23).
There is an implied question between verses 23 and 24 with the use of the word "for." Why did Barnabas do what he did? Because "...he was a good man..." (v. 24). Barnabas was a "good" man according to the Scriptures. But wait, I thought God said that all have sinned and fallen short of His glory and that our righteousness is filthy? Yes, God has said that and it is true.
So is this then a contradiction here? Is God speaking out of both sides of His mouth? Absolutely not! May it never be, as Paul might say! If Barnabas was a "good" man, there must be a clear explanation as to why he was seen as such. The answer is in the next phrase: "...full of the Holy Spirit and of faith."
In truth, judicially, all people before God are corrupt, unrighteousness and of course, the standard is Jesus Himself, God the Son. Each person is compared to the Lord Jesus and all of us come up woefully short. We are not righteous. We are fully corrupt.
Yes, when we become Christians, God imputes to us His Son's righteousness. That is a huge part of the salvation we receive through faith. We literally gain Jesus' righteousness so that from that point forward, when God the Father looks at us, He literally sees His Son's righteousness in us. This means that the fear of judgment is forever gone, judicially.
But the verse above is not speaking of that righteousness. It speaks of a goodness that comes to us when we walk a certain way before God. What is that way? Well, the result of it is being full of the Holy Spirit and of faith (in God and His purposes). That is the result. What is the path that brings that result? Obedience.
Longtime readers of this blog know that I was involved in the Charismatic Movement in the 1970's for a few years. Because of that involvement, I was taught repeatedly that only the "second blessing" (or the baptism of the Holy Spirit), provides the necessary impetus to live a life that pleases God. So, many of us then worked diligently to gain God's attention so that He would pour out upon us a "second blessing," that often exhibited itself in signs and wonders and tongues. Once we received this, then we would be enabled to live a life that pleased God on a daily basis.
Though Charismatics would likely disagree with me now, the reality appears to be that the thing that brings us closer to God in fellowship and fills us with His Spirit while increasing our faith is endeavoring to live a life of obedience to God in all things. There is absolutely no substitute for this in the life of the Christian. None whatsoever. We are either obedient to God or we end up being disobedient. It is that simple.
Barnabas was obedient. He did what God wanted him to do...