Can a Sinner Be Good without God?

Has the reader ever attempted to present the Gospel, only to be met with the following rhetorical question?

“But, I consider myself to be a good person. Why wouldn’t God let me into heaven?”

Here’s another variant of the question:

“What about atheists, agnostics and non-religious folk? Can’t a person be good without being religious or believing in God?”

Lately, I’ve noticed that when many Christians are confronted with this pathetic objection, they’ll panic and respond in the following manner:

“Well, yes. However, I’m simply communicating my experience with the hope to help others find Jesus.”

Although the sinner’s retort gives the impression that it is a valid response, upon closer examination it can be ascertained that it is nothing more than a clever ruse (not to mention a vilification of God’s character). I’ll explain.

The Bible communicates that no one is “good”. (Psalms 14:1, 3) This fact is evidenced by humanity itself. Although mankind demonstrates flashes of goodness (proving that we are in created in Almighty God’s image and likeness), in the end, everyone, including the “best” person, has sinned. (Ecclesiastes 7:20) Why then does humanity insist on classifying itself as generally virtuous and deserving of salvation?

Part of the problem lies in that we are prone to be much more lenient towards our own misdeeds than towards others and their sins. Added to this twisted attitude is how pervading the Catholic dogma of venial and mortal sins is in our society. This is why many individuals compare themselves to others, “grading” their level goodness on a false scale and then presenting themselves as angels in contrast to those that do “worse things”.

Lastly, man believes he can dictate to God what the parameters should be in order to gain entrance into Heaven. If left to our own devices, even the most immoral and unrepentant among us will somehow force his way into God’s Kingdom. (Let us not forget that many men speciously believe that if they refuse to acknowledge God’s existence that such a thing will liberate them from accountability before their Creator. Hence, the idea which states “I can be good apart from God”.)

The simplest way to demonstrate to sinners how fallacious these ideas are, is to ask them what their definition of “good” or “goodness” is.

The median response will be as follows:

“I think that being good is not doing harm to others. Live and let live, you know?”

As altruistic and libertarian as the idea may sound, those that utter the aforementioned phrase don’t believe what their own mouths are spewing. To demonstrate that they don’t apply the principle they purport to live by, it is important to probe whether or not they’ve committed the following sins:

“Have you lied? Have you done so in order to evade responsibility or to condemn an innocent person? Have you stolen? Have you coveted/lusted after what isn’t yours, including people and material goods? Have you ever demonstrated conceitedness? Have you slandered others? Have you ever hated?”

These questions will corner the sinner into acknowledging that their own definition of “good” is severely lacking and that they aren’t as blameless as they portray themselves.

In other words, if a Christian doesn’t initially rebuff the sinner’s contention that men (and himself, by extension) are inherently good, they’ll be in agreement with a flawed sentiment that contradicts what God’s Word demonstrates is our reality – namely, that we are all corrupted by sin. (Psalms 51:5) This is why it is imperative to disagree with the unbeliever’s rhetorical questioning and show them through proper questions that their notions are flawed.

The Christian must highlight the fact that apart from God no one could be good. This is because man wouldn’t be able to know what moral behavior is unless God reveals it to him. Since God Himself is perfect and hardwires the definition into man, it is only by these facts that man can even know what goodness is. (Matthew 5:48; Romans 1:18-19)

As we’ve demonstrated, it is vitally important to reject the notion which romanticizes the goodness of any individual – much less, those who are enemies of God. If humanity is generally good, then Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was superfluous. Stated differently, if Christians allow for the argument which advances the idea that a person can be good apart from God, then salvation is irrelevant.

Furthermore, the case must be made that, as believers, we do not seek to justify ourselves as being better than anyone else when we preach the Gospel. On the contrary, the reason we share the Good News is due to the fact that we know about our unworthiness of so great a gift and wish for others to partake of God’s munificent mercies and grace. (Mark 2:17)

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