Is she a good person? Is he a bad person? The world wants to determine if a person is a Christian by whether they are “good” or “bad”. Like using a ruler to measure a pound of flour, it is an insufficient unit of comparison.
Ask people whether they are Christian and you will hear responses like “I try to be” or “I am a good person” or “I hope so”. According to the Bible, these are not going to be satisfactory answers on the day of judgment.
Humans tend to assess ourselves and others based on actions, words and attitudes; things we can observe. God measures us by our hearts, our motives. These are not easy for us to see, even in ourselves.
From the time we are small children we are encouraged, rewarded, coaxed to “be good”. Our outward actions are rewarded, our inward motives often unquestioned. If you tell me there’s a reward (ice cream) if I will be “nice” for an hour, I will try very hard to be nice. Not because my motive is pure… I’ve got my mind set on ice cream! That is not complying out of obedience; that’s a transaction, tit-for-tat. Make mine chocolate ice cream, please.
In Luke 23 we have the story of the criminal hanging on the cross next to Jesus, whom Jesus assures will be in heaven. Was this man “good” or was he “bad”? In Matthew 5 Jesus explains there is no difference between lust and adultery, between murder and hatred. And in Romans 3 (Psalm 14, Psalm 53), we are told, “there is none who does good, there is not even one”. God weighs our motives, our hearts.
It is interesting that we use motive as one of the criteria for suspecting a person committed a crime but we rarely investigate motive in matters of the heart. Why do I attend church? Why does she like him? Why does he work such long hours? Why do you believe in Jesus? Why do I continue to sin?
It is probable that we have all been “good” and we have all been “bad” at different times in our lives, at least by human standards… but no one is getting into heaven based on those credentials. Even if our “good” is a million times better than our “bad”, we’re not getting graded on a curve.
Jesus was very clear in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8
In an act of amazing grace, God gives the believer a new heart, and we begin to live with new motives. From our new heart come actions that are “good”.