“Good” People

There is no such thing as good people. There are only people who think they are good and people who know that goodness only comes from God.

Philippians 3:1-11

“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—

In the first two chapters of Philippians the apostle Paul majors on the primary importance of the gospel in the lives of those who follow Jesus. One of the major themes in Paul’s writings was to clarify that the gospel message did not require people to follow the customs of the Jewish law. This is what he is getting at in these first three verses of chapter 3. The Jews of his time wrestled with this because their priorities were out of whack. They had placed the importance of the law of God above a relationship with God. Many of the Jews rejected the gospel message because of this. They were focused on the keeping of the law which by definition was dependent on human activity and ability whereas the gospel message is clear that salvation is gift from God.

Now this mindset was so strong that even among the Jews who believed in Jesus it carried over. These Jewish Christians felt that in order to be saved by Jesus, a man needed to be circumcised. Circumcision itself as a practice started with Abraham and was initiated by God. God commanded that all male Jews be circumcised. It was required by the law of God. Yet when Jesus was resurrection, a change happened. God made it clear that circumcision was not necessary in order to know the Lord and be a part of his covenant family. That is because God’s gift of salvation is to be received by faith and not by works required by the law.

Although this was a change because of the new covenant through Jesus death and resurrection, the issue was an old one. The Jews for hundreds and hundreds of years had missed the fact that a relationship with God was based on faith not on keeping the requirements of the law. Paul makes this crystal clear in the letter to the Galatians, “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Galatians 3:11) Because they had misunderstood the role of faith, they placed their confidence spiritually in the various religious customs and traditions rather than in God. As Paul writes, they put confidence in the flesh.

They placed their trust in their own human actions, and they looked down on everyone who didn’t. Not only that, they worked hard to get others to think and act like they did. This is why Paul was so harsh. He called them dogs, evildoers, mutilators of the flesh. They were like the Pharisees which Jesus condemned, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.” (Matthew 23:13) Paul didn’t want anyone to be deceived by this false gospel. He wanted everyone to know that they didn’t have to do human religious rituals, like circumcision, and do good deeds in order to receive salvation.

In fact, this is what people of all time have struggled to understand. Humans have a history of doing various religious rituals in order to appease the gods. People have a default setting in their brains that wants to believe that they are “good people.” But Jesus said that’s not the case. One man came to Jesus and said, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:17-18)

There are lot of “good people” who follow religious rituals faithfully. There are lots of “good people” who do good deeds. But when we talk about God’s definition of goodness, no human being is good. If we take Jesus at his word, anything good that originates in humans is so far away from God’s goodness that you can’t call it good. It is a lie from the devil to trust in human goodness when it comes to our standing before God. Only Jesus’ goodness was good enough. Only Jesus’ life made the cut. If we place our confidence in the religious rituals we do, or in the good deeds we have done, we are making the same mistake that Paul said these Jews were making.

But some people still do. In fact, a lot of people do. If anyone had the right to trust in his own goodness, it would have been Paul.

 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

When it came to goodness, among the Jews Paul’s life made a case for greatest of all time. He was a Jew that had all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed. He was a teacher of the law, and according to the tenants of the law he was blameless. However, all of the rituals and good deeds that he had done were completely worthless in light of the faith by which he had come to know Jesus. More than that, the things that among the Jews would have been counted in the “win” column, those things were actually in the “loss” column in Paul’s mind. Every human “good” thing was so far inferior to God’s goodness that he considered it to be a negative rather than a positive.

God had shown Paul something that so often we humans don’t get. The value of knowing Jesus personally cannot even be compared to anything else considered valuable on earth. If there was a choice between anything and Jesus, Paul was saying that the choice is a no-brainer. Nothing else is even in God’s league. It’s all garbage. Worthless. Throw it away. Don’t sell it at the rummage sale. It’s not even worth it.

This past week after Aaron Rodgers supremely awesome game against Dallas there has been a lot of talk about how he is the most gifted quarterback to play the game. People are always talking about who’s the greatest. We like to argue about whether Michael Jordan or LeBron James is the greatest basketball player of all time. But here’s the truth according to the Bible: the absolute greatest thing on earth is completely and utterly worthless when placed side by side with knowing Jesus. Really take in these words of Paul’s.

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Anything that was good at one time in Paul’s mind, anything that he had done, anything that he had received, anything he had achieved, he viewed as garbage. Not only that all that he had was taken away from him, and he willingly let it go. He had found true goodness in Jesus. Nothing else mattered.

What did Paul see in his relationship with Jesus? He saw that Jesus Christ is life and the source of life. To know Jesus is to know life, satisfaction, purpose, fulfillment, reason for living.

He saw that even to suffer for the sake of the gospel was more valuable than a life of self-centered fulfillment. That to live in obedience to God was greater riches than all the money on earth.

He saw that faith in Christ alone, not the religious rituals and works, was the key to eternal life. Paul was not “good people.” He was good because Jesus gave Paul his goodness when Paul trusted Christ.

Here’s the problem with “good people.” Good people value themselves and their own goodness infinitely more than they should compared to God. They believe that they can do good things, but that’s not what God says. He says that anything good that happens is because of Him, not people. But when people see the light, that God’s goodness that comes from placing your complete trust in the Lord, when people see this then they begin to realize how great God is, He awesome far superior in every way greatness, and then they want to know more.

It is so easy to forget about how much greater in value our personal relationship with the Lord is than anything else in life. Can you identify those relationships or possessions or opportunities in your life which from time to time take up all the spiritual oxygen in your world? These are the things that sidetrack us from knowing and being with Jesus. From a human point of view, many times these things are really good. But when you compare them to the surpassing worth of knowing and having a dynamic relationship with the Lord, they really are just trash.

It’s not a matter of “if” that happens to us; it’s a matter of “when” and “how often.” The first step is just to be honest with yourself and admit to yourself what things cause you to forget how awesome and worthy the Lord is. The next step is to realize that you can’t do this Christian life thing without help from your friends. No one can. The Lord knows this, and this is why He has placed us in spiritual families. But just like so many families, our spiritual family can be dysfunctional. Instead of being a place where the ups and downs of life can be shared and real fellowship in the Lord happens, all too often what the Lord intended for the spiritual family to be for each other doesn’t happen.

What are we missing that the Lord desires us to have? Let me explain it this way. Because we are prone to wander, we need to both encourage each other in the Lord and to be encouraged in the Lord. We need the church family to help us remember how incredibly worthy God is compared to everything else in life.  For that to happen it requires trust to be built, and trust can only be built when you share what’s in your heart and you hear what’s on other’s hearts. One of the best ways to do this is what is called the “highs and lows.” When we share the good things that God is doing in our lives and when we share the struggles of life we are going through and when we can do that in a safe environment where the expectation is that we point each other to the Lord, then our church family begins to function as the Lord designed us.

This is what the Lord has led our MOFIA men’s group to do on Wednesday mornings. We study the scriptures first and then we bring into groups of 4 or 5 and take 20 minutes to share the highs and lows. How has it been going for us? It’s not been good, it’s been very good.

It’s so easy for us to settle for what is good according to human understanding instead of what is good in the mind of God. The Lord is working to reset our minds so that we can see what is truly good according to him. And as we get clarity on what is truly good, it brings us a desire that comes from deep within our spirit where the Holy Spirit is leading us into all the truth.