Have you ever stopped to consider what it takes to qualify as a “bad person” these days?
‘Good girl’ teen cheerleader accused of killing, burying newborn pleads not guilty. That headline caught my eye. The young woman in question is alleged to have killed her newborn, burned the body, and then buried it in her garden. Despite all of that, the young girl’s lawyer describes her as a “good person who hopes to begin university in the fall.”
But if she’s a good person, then you have never met a bad one. And that’s just it. We tend to think of ourselves as basically good people, regardless of the bad things that we do. We justify our badness by saying things like “Nobody’s perfect; sure I’ve made my share of mistakes, but overall I’m a good person.”
Almost everyone justifies themselves in this way. We try to paint over our badness with perceived goodness. You could walk into any prison and spend time speaking with the inmates, and most if not all of them will tell you that they are basically good people. I know this to be true because I’ve done it.
If you don’t believe me try it out for yourself. What you’ll find is that to a man or woman, each one thinks of themselves as basically good people, even the ones who admit to horrible crimes. Without blushing they will say things like, “Yeah, I killed my brother, but you’ve got to understand the situation. See in my heart I’m a good person. Once you know what he did to me you’ll see that I didn’t have any other choice.”
And we all do this. The only difference is the degree. We set the “badness bar” just above our own heads. For those who have never cheated on their spouse, the “bad people” are the ones who have done that. For those who have cheated on their spouse the “bad people” are the ones who have committed murder. For those who have committed murder the “bad people” are the child rapists. The “bad people” are always one or two steps removed from where we are at any given moment.
The truth is that no one is a “good person.” We all say that we are good people. Or we can point to others who are good people. People like Mother Theresa or Pope Francis. Surely they are good people right? Personally, it’s hard for me to imagine either of my grandmas a bad person. But that’s just because I don’t know them, not really anyway.
I wonder how quickly our perception of those “good people” would change if just by looking at them you could see every single time they were cruel to someone, or lied or deceived a friend or loved one, or had an evil thought, or mistreated a person who didn’t deserve it. What if you could see every secret they keep hidden from the world? I think you would find that even the most innocent-appearing person would come out looking rather bad.
And that is just what we find God telling us. No one is good on their own. Jesus was once confronted by a young man who said, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. (Mark 10:17-18)” The apostle Paul, quoting Psalm 53:1-3 says, “None is righteous, no, not one;…no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)
At the end of the day we are far more comfortable believing that we’re basically good people who occasionally do bad things than what God says, which is apart from Him we’re basically bad people who occasionally do things that look good.
But God does say that we can become “good people” in His sight. Paul continues in Romans 3 by saying, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:23-25)”
Now perhaps you don’t believe that bit about God making us “good” through Jesus’ death on the cross. I know many people don’t. But you can’t argue with the fact that we are not all good people. You don’t need the Bible to prove that. And you can’t argue with the fact that by and large we are all terrified to admit the fact, even to ourselves, that we are “bad people.”
True freedom from this endless cycle of doing wrong, and trying to hide the fact that you have done wrong lest anyone find out, comes in one way and one way only. It comes when you stop trying to hide who you are, pretending all the while that you are a “good person.” God, in Jesus, bore the penalty for your wrong on the cross. There is no more need to hide behind the veneer of “goodness.”
“This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”
– 1 John 1:5-10