Years ago, there was a man in the town in which I was living at the time whom many people believed to be a good man, no one more so than his own family. He drank a little and cursed a lot, but in his heart he was kind and generous, according to those who knew him best. He looked out for others and was constantly surprising people with gifts from his shop or garden. Until the day he died, however, he decried faith in Christ as a useless tool for the weak-minded. When he passed away, one of his family members said this: "I'll never have anything to do with a God that wouldn't allow my father in heaven. He was a good man."
The son was raised in church, yet believes what I think may be the most dangerous lie facing the Southern church -- that we are basically good people. Most Christians try to do good, and, in large part, succeed. They are gentle, patient, and generous, many of them, as well as a host of other Christ-like qualities, all without ever really calling on the power of the Holy Spirit or actively searching the Scriptures to know the character of God. (And please, I'm not blind to Christians' faults or saying we're perfect, only that many of us do have some good qualities.)
This belief in inherent goodness was shown last year in the wake of a national tragedy, when thousands of people posted or tweeted a quote from Nelson Mandela's 1994 autobiography: "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite (emphasis mine)."
I have a great deal of respect for Nelson Mandela, a man worthy of it, in my opinion, for his humanitarian work. But about this, and specifically the last clause, he was dead wrong, and I say that backed by the authority of the Word of God, which says,
Mark 7:21-23 - “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts...murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (c.f. Matthew 15:19)
Psalm 5:9 - "For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction."
Pride inclines us to believe we are good in our core, and we would love to believe we are naturally predisposed to goodwill toward others, but God, our Creator, knows our hearts better than we ourselves do, and He deems them not inclined to love, but to evil continually.
It is only by studying God's Word that we can truly understand our depravity.
James called God's Word a "mirror" that reveals ourselves. The Sermon on the Mount was delivered exactly to point out that we're not as good as we think we are. Only when we see the character of God and realize what goodness really is, what purity looks like, do we see how terribly short we fall. When our measuring line, the standard by which we judge ourselves, is only what we see around us, it is easy to believe we're doing well at this whole Christian thing. But our standard is not sinful people; it is God's perfection, utter holiness.
It's an incredibly high, unattainable even, bar set before us and exactly why we need the Holy Spirit.
How is God's Word conforming you this week? How do your Bible
study habits need to change in order that you might know Him better?
Holy God, You are perfect in every way, and truly, there is no darkness in You. Teach me more, reveal to me more every day, who you are and who I am.
TRUTH FOR TODAY: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)