Most people think they are good people.
To prove that all we would need to do is go out from our homes and begin to survey people we meet. It really wouldn’t matter where we decided to go; whether we went to some of the nicer areas around us or to bars or even prisons, if we asked people if they thought they were good people, time and time again we’d hear them respond, ‘Well, yes’ or ‘Sure, I’m pretty good’ or ‘I’m not all good, but at the core, yeah, I’m definitely a good guy.’
The truth is not only do most people think they are good people, most people spend much of their lives trying to convince themselves that they are good people, worthwhile, important, and virtuous.
Like someone who, sinking in the ocean grabs at anything he thinks will keep his head above water, people whose souls would sink if they really looked at what they were doing and who they were, grab hold of the smallest, most minute, reasons to think they are good people.
They may be watching pornography but they’ll say at least I’m not living in adultery.
They may be living in adultery but they’ll say at least I don’t have one-night stands.
They may be having one-night stands but they’ll say at least I feel bad about it.
They magnify the importance of the good things they do in order to minimize the seriousness of the bad things they do.
You talk to some who is prejudiced and he might say at least I attend church.
You talk to a prostitute and she might say at least I’m a good mother.
You talk to a person who is lying bold-faced and they’ll say at least I’m nice and thinking about people’s feelings.
No matter what sins people are involved in, you’ll find that they have an amazing ability to rationalize away their sins, even the worst of them. You talk to someone involved in the grossest of sins and I guarantee you they’ve found a way to minimize its seriousness and thus maintain the image of themselves they have in their minds as basically good people.
They’ll change the name of sin. I don’t slander others, I share concerns. I’m not proud, I’m self-confident. I’m not mean, I’m just intense.
They’ll use common little sayings to justify their sin. “You got to look out for number one!” “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.” “Boys will be boys.” “You only live once.”
They’ll blame their actions on everyone but themselves. “The only reason I’m yelling at them is because they are yelling at me.” “I wouldn’t have done anything, but they started it.”
They’ll use the world’s opinion to justify their behavior. You name the sin and there’s someone out there who defends it. Now people don’t care whether the defense makes sense or not, all they care is that there is someone out there who defends it. And if they want to do it, they’ll find someone out there in the world who will tell them that it’s all right.
They’ll bring up the religious things they do as an excuse. This is amazing, but some people because they do religious things, doing those religious things makes them feel like, the bad things they do aren’t so serious. Sure, I’m totally not listening to God in all these different areas of my life – but hey – look at me, I go to church!
They’ll twist Scripture to defend what they do. “I’m just sinning so grace can abound…” “God forgives sin, so what’s the big deal?”
They make selfishness the ultimate standard for right and wrong. If it doesn’t feel good, it’s not good and if it feels good it is good. So sure I’m a good person, because I do whatever I want to do and I don’t do what I don’t want to do. How hard is that? But that’s exactly the way most people manage to convince themselves they are good people even when they way they are living is so obviously wrong. They are exacting revenge on somebody, well, look at the way they treated me. They are giving into the grossest of desires, well, it can’t be wrong if it feels so right. They are not fulfilling their responsibilities, well, I did everything I could and the other people didn’t follow through.
Most people do whatever it takes to maintain an image of themselves in their minds as good people, and go to even greater efforts to persuade other people to think that they are good people.
They play this elaborate, complex game where they constantly are putting on a front when they are around other people. They wear themselves out letting people know when they do good things and they waste no effort keeping people from finding out about the bad things they do when no one else is looking.
Most people are so committed to this image they have of themselves, this image that they have concocted, that they thing they hate most, the one thing they fear more than any other is having it exposed as something other than the truth.
If you have any doubt about that, just talk to someone involved in the most blatant of sins, and directly identify what they are doing as sin, then watch their reaction. They might not have any concern about the sin, they might not be embarrassed about the sin at all – but people freak out when someone confronts them and says what they are doing is wrong.
People hate to be rebuked and criticized because rebukes and criticisms reveal they aren’t really as good as they like to think they are.
Without a doubt, the self-concept people cherish most is that of themselves as good people.
Perhaps I should add to that, good and capable people.
I add that word capable because, you see, it’s not that people normally deny they have problems. When I say people like to think they are good people, that’s not what I mean. I haven’t met many people who wouldn’t admit they have their issues.
But by and large, most people think or want to think, that whatever issues they do have, aren’t that big a deal, because they are good people and thus they are capable of resolving those problems with just a little extra effort.
No one wants to be told their problems are too big for them to solve.
Talk to a drunk, as he staggers away in a drunken stupor, and he’ll shout out, “Don’t worry about me! I’ve got this under control. I can handle it…”
People are so committed to this way of thinking about themselves that it affects their view of God and of salvation. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed whether you are talking to Mormon, a Muslim, or your average every day person, you’ll find at the core of whatever faith they have, a belief that somehow through what they do, by being good, doing the will of Allah, saying their prayers, being nice to little old ladies, they can save themselves; and worst case scenario, they can save themselves with a little extra help from God on the side.
This way of thinking, believe it or not, has even infiltrated the Christian Church. The desire to stand on one’s own two feet is so strong that people develop theologies around it.
One of the most famous men to do so was a British monk who lived in the latter part of the fourth century and the beginning part of the fifth century after Christ. His name was Pelagius, and he developed a system of doctrine theologians call Pelagianism.
Pelagius devoted most of his life, as a monk, to being what he considered a good person. He had all sorts of strict rules. He really was very serious about what he thought was holiness.
And he became very frustrated with people, who when they sinned and were rebuked for it, would blame their sinful nature – and say things like, “Oh that’s just the way I am” or “I can’t do what God wants.”
So whenever he was given a chance to speak on holiness, he would talk about how great human nature was and what humans had the ability of achieving.
“If God commands us to do something,” Pelagius would have say, “we must in and of ourselves, have the ability to obey it.”
In fact there was a little prayer that was famous in Pelagius’ time that quite frankly, sent him over the edge – someone would say, “O God command what you want, and grant what you command.” In other words, God you tell us what to do and give us the ability to do it.
Now Pelagius didn’t have a problem with God telling us what to do, but he went bonkers when someone would say we needed God’s help to be able to do it. Because the one belief at the core of Pelagius’ system was the belief that we as people have the ability to do what God commands us to do on our own apart from any help.
I’m not here to give you a history lesson but it is true that those who don’t know the past are doomed to repeat it – and that’s certainly the case with good old Pelagius. Even though the church roundly rejected his teaching, his influence is so powerful and pervasive that there are millions upon millions of people today who are Pelagians and they don’t even know that a person named Pelagius ever lived.
Most people think they are good people, capable people. The fact that people go to such great lengths to hide their sins from others, to fool themselves into thinking they are good people when they so obviously aren’t, the way in which people respond to rebuke, the religions they make up, the fact that even professing Christians build whole theologies to minimize the seriousness of sin – makes it very, very obvious people want desperately to think of themselves as good people who are capable of handling their problems on their own, apart from any help.
All of which combine to make understanding the gospel pretty difficult for most people.
Because the gospel pulls the rug out from under the one self-concept people cherish most – the self-concept most of us probably cherish –it smashes into smithereens this image of ourselves that we are so wholeheartedly committed to maintaining no matter what the facts tell us – it tells us that we are not basically good and we are not capable of solving our spiritual problems on our own, or even with a little help– far from it.
The Bible tells us because of Adam’s sin, every one of us is born with a sinful nature, and that sinful nature affects every one of us completely – rendering us 100 percent unable and incapable of doing any spiritual good on our own apart from God’s grace.
To put it very bluntly, if God only helped those who helped themselves, we’d all be damned.
We lost all our ability to help ourselves a long, long time ago.
Almost at the beginning, actually.
When God created this world, he created man with the ability to help themselves – to choose between good and evil.
He created Adam just right – he was perfect.
And He gave Adam clear instructions – a command – if Adam obeyed he would be blessed with life and so would we and if Adam disobeyed – he’d be punished with death, and so would we.
Genesis 2:16 and 17 puts it like this: “And the Lord God commanded the man saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it, you shall surely die…”
A clear warning, not too hard to understand.
Ye Adam didn’t listen. When God created Adam, Adam had the ability to obey God. But Adam chose to sin. Satan used a serpent to lie to Eve, and then Eve to lie to Adam, and Adam by his own free choice, chose to break God’s law. And this sin had consequences. Just like God said it would. For Adam, and for us.
By their sin, Adam and Eve, they fell from their original righteousness and their communion with God was broken, and so was ours.
Look at how the apostle Paul explains what happened in Romans 5:12 “Therefore just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread through all men because all sinned…” Again down in verse 18,19 “…as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
Now I want you to think about how Paul says what Adam did affected us. Sin came into the world through one man – v.12. It brought death into the world, verse 12. It led to condemnation for all of us, verse 18. And we were made sinners, verse 19.
Think about each of those consequences in turn. Sin came into the world. It doesn’t say sins entered the world, but sin. Paul’s not talking about all the other sins we’ve all done after this first sin, rather he’s talking about the inherent propensity we all have to unrighteousness. Because of what Adam did – we’re all born with a sin nature.
Next, death – Paul says death entered the world through sin. Three kinds of death to be specific: physical, spiritual and eternal. We die physically and we’re born spiritually dead and unless something changes we’ll endure an eternal death – separation from God forever.
Third, guilt – “condemnation.” Adam and Eve, by God’s decision, stood in our place and because they sinned it led to condemnation for all of us.
A group of Christians once wrote a confession of faith that describes what happened like this:
Adam, standing in the room and stead of all mankind, the guilt of the sin was imputed to us.
In other words because of Adam’s sin we’re born guilty – his sin was like a debt – and that debt was credited to our account. Now someone might say that’s not fair – I have to pay for what Adam did – to which I would just respond, that’s the way it works in life – your wife runs up a credit card debt – you are bound to pay it if you are her husband, why because of your relationship with her. Adam’s debt is our debt, because of the relationship we have with him.
Finally, we were made sinners. Another consequence of Adam’s sin is that we’re born with a sinful nature. Every single person descended from Adam and conceived and born in the normal way, is conceived in sin and by nature children of wrath, the servants of sin, the subjects of death, and all sorts of other miseries, spiritual, temporal, and eternal unless the Lord Jesus set them free. We’re not born in a state of innocence, we’re not born partially good, we’re born bad and completely incapable of solving our problems by ourselves.
To get very specific we are born with a complete disposition to sin. We are born disabled for doing spiritual good. We are born wholly inclined to all evil, and it’s out of this sinful nature that all our sinful choices and actions spring forth. Our will and our affections have been so corrupted by sin, that left to ourselves, we will absolutely never, not once, choose what is spiritually good.
If you think I’m overdoing it, listen to the apostle Paul.
He puts it like this, Ephesians 2.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
Spiritually dead – servant to Satan – children of wrath – just like everybody else.
Even better listen to the way Paul puts it in Romans 3:9-20.
“What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:
‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.
Now we know that whatever the law says it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
1.) It doesn’t matter what family we grew up in, how spiritually privileged we’ve been, we’re all sinners.
“None, not one, no one, no one, all, together, no one, no one is righteous, no not one…”
2.) Sin has not only affected every one of us, it has corrupted every part of us.
*We’re born with minds that twist and distort the truths of God. “No one understands,” Paul writes.. In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul expands on that and says the wisdom of God is foolishness to the unconverted person.
*There’s not a person out there, who by himself, on his own, is looking for the one true God. Paul says, “No one seeks for God.” In fact Paul explained back in Romans 1, that “what can be know about God is plain for everyone to see because God has shown it to them…” but people because they love their sin, take that truth and suppress it. They are doing the exact opposite of seeking for God, they are doing everything within their power not to find God.
*Instead of seeking God and doing His will, every person is born wanting to do his thing. “All have turned aside, together they have become worthless, no one does good, not even one.”
*Sin contaminates every part of our conversation. “Their throat is an open grave, they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
*Sin defiles our conduct. “Their feet are swift to shed blood, in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
3.) Bottom line, we have a major problem, one that we can’t fix by being really, really good.
“Now we know that whatever the law says it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
At the very foundation of all the Bible has to say is this one sad truth, that mankind is lost in sin.
We are not basically good and we certainly aren’t capable.
There are a lot of people who don’t like hearing that.
“Sin, sin, sin…”
“Aren’t we terrible, awful people.”
But my response to what the Scripture teaches about my sin is a little different.
I suppose message’s about sin like this one would be burdensome, if God hadn’t provided a solution. But God has provided a solution – and that solution is Jesus Christ! As someone has said we are so much worse than we think we are and we are loved by God more than we could possibly imagine.
God has provided all the perfection and righteousness we need. He has provided all the forgiveness we need. We don’t have to go around doomed, helpless, condemned, awful sinners. We can be clothed in the very righteousness of Christ. We can have the perfection of God. We can be heirs along with Christ. We can have all of our sins cleansed and be purified.
If we’ll just stop looking to ourselves to do it, turn from our self-worship and run to Jesus Christ.