He looked into my eyes, this person I loved, and said with conviction, “I don’t need God. I’m a good person.”
My heart sank. How could I help him understand? Yes, he’d behaved admirably the whole of his life. He was kind to strangers, generous in his giving, and always tried to do the right thing.
But was he good? Not according to Jesus, who said, “No one is good—except God alone” (Luke 18:19).
How do you tell someone you care about, “Your good isn’t good enough.” Anyway, aren’t we supposed to be good? Matthew 12:35 tells us, “Good people bring out good things from their good treasure” (CEB). So goodness must be possible, right?
Oh, it’s entirely possible—but not without God. David confessed to the Lord, “Apart from you I have no good thing” (Psalm 16:2).
So, if we’re not good, are we bad? Yes, we are. “There is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3). No room for mostly good or fairly good. With God, only all good counts.
The time comes when we have to accept that we’re sinners, comparing ourselves not to each other—“Hey, he’s worse than me!”—but to the goodness of God. Only when we accept the reality of our sin can we embrace the forgiveness we desperately need.
That’s where my loved one got stuck: he couldn’t see his own badness, so he saw no need for God’s goodness.
For all of us who’ve been there, are there, or know someone who’s there, this true story offers real hope:
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. Mark 10:17
Matthew calls him a “young man”—not much older than thirty, scholars say. And Luke calls him “a certain ruler,” indicating he’s a man of influence and means. Even so, he sought out Jesus and “got down on his knees” (NLV).
Promising start, right? Let’s see what he has to say.
“Good teacher,” he asked,… Mark 10:17
This man calls Jesus “essentially good and morally perfect” (AMP)—words reserved for God alone, as Jesus is about to remind him.
Then the man poses a question most of us have thought about.
…“what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Mark 10:17
Uh-oh. He thinks this is all on him, that he has to do something to deserve “the life that never ends” (ERV).
In good rabbinical fashion, Jesus responds to the man’s query with another question.
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. Mark 10:18
Jesus doesn’t pause, waiting for an answer. He already has the answer. In fact, He is the answer.
“No one is good—except God alone.” Mark 10:18
Right. Second verse, same as the first. We definitely believe God is good. But we still cling to the idea that, at least some of the time, we’re pretty good too.
There’s no better way to undo that kind of thinking than to take a gander at the Law, like Jesus does here.
“You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” Mark 10:19
Right, we know all these. Some biggies from Exodus 20, plus one from Leviticus 19. This young man is quick to say that he has obeyed the whole list.
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Mark 10:20
Look how hard this guy works at being good! He not only knows the Ten Commandments, he also has followed every one of them. “I have—from my youth—kept them all!” (MSG).
Now, watch how the Lord responds.
Jesus looked at him and loved him. Mark 10:21
Oh, Jesus. You see right through him, don’t you? Just like you see through us. Our desire to please, our need to impress, our deep-seated longing to be good on our own is not hidden from You. You see it all.
Knowing everything about this man, “Jesus felt genuine love for him” (NLT). Compassion floods the Lord’s soul like that of the father of the prodigal son who started for home fresh from the pig pen: “his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him” (Luke 15:20).
The young man has asked what he must do. Jesus tells him and blows the guy’s idea of righteousness clean out of the water.
“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” Mark 10:21
Jesus is gently revealing the young man’s sin and ours as well: the sin of thinking, “I can do this myself.” He knows we cannot manage goodness on our own, just like He knows this rich young ruler cannot bear to sell everything he has. So, Jesus offers him—and us—an invitation.
“Then come, follow me.” Mark 10:21
Then means after the young man sells all he owns and gives it to the poor. A huge sacrifice. Seemingly impossible.
At this the man’s face fell. Mark 10:22
The downward curve of his mouth and the tight knot in his brow tell us he’s genuinely “upset” (ERV). Even more, he’s “dismayed” (CEB), “shocked” (CJB), “disheartened” (ESV), and “stunned” (HCSB).
He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Mark 10:22
Even more descriptive, “He walked off with a heavy heart” (MSG). Our hearts are heavy too. Even if we don’t have great wealth, we have stuff we’d rather not sell, habits we’re rather not give up, and sins we’d rather not confess. Yet we’re reminded, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:25).
Is there any hope? Keep reading.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” Mark 10:23
The young man didn’t only have a boatload of stuff; he also had a boatload of self-righteousness. He didn’t come to Jesus the way the tax collector did, beating his breast and saying “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). No, the rich guy came confessing his goodness, not his sins.
Painful as it may be, when we come face to face with our sin, we’re finally looking in the right direction.
“Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up” (James 4:10).
When Jesus elaborates on the difficulty of entering the kingdom of God, the disciples are taken aback, and say to one another…
“Who then can be saved?” Mark 10:26
That’s really the question, isn’t it? Clearly we can’t be good enough. Who can hope to be humble enough?
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27
At last. The good news we’ve been hoping for.
What is impossible for us is not impossible for God. What we can’t do, He can do. What we long to do, He has already done, is doing now, and will continue to do.
HE GAVE US HIS SON, HIS SPIRIT, AND HIS WORD. FRIENDS, WE ARE GOOD TO GO.
Copyright ©2016 Liz Curtis Higgs. All Rights Reserved.
Liz Curtis Higgs is the author of 33 books with 4.6 million copies in print, including Bad Girls of the Bible and her latest, It’s Good to Be Queen. Follow her online Bible study at LizCurtisHiggs.com.