Challenge: I’m a Good Person

Posted: October 19, 2010 by Amy Hall in Jesus Changes Everything, Weekly Challenge

On the same mission trip to Berkeley I mentioned last week, I spoke to a very sweet woman on campus who said she didn’t need to know which (if any) religion is true because you only need to know about religion if you need help being a good person. She was very happy with her life, was confident in her moral instruction, and thought that introducing a new element like religion into the balance of her life would change things–whether for better or worse, she didn’t know, but she didn’t want to risk it. So she concluded that she wouldn’t want to know the truth about the spiritual world, even if it could be known. This conclusion makes perfect sense if religion is about becoming a good person and you’re already a good person.

This objection to Christianity comes up a lot, usually sounding something like this:

I’m really happy for you that you found Jesus, but I’m a good person, so I don’t need religion. But thanks!

What are the hidden assumptions in that statement? What are the essential areas of Christianity that are in conflict with it? What are the specific ideas you need to eventually communicate in your response? How would you lead her to those ideas? What questions would you ask? What would your game plan be?

Let’s hear what you have to say! Brett’s response, as usual, will be up on Thursday.

  1. Sam Harper says:

    This statement is a flat out denial of Christianity’s claim that everybody is sinful. Nobody is good but God alone. Everybody seems to agree that “Nobody is perfect,” so I would phrase my question like this: “So you probably disagree with the saying that nobody is perfect, huh?”

    If she says, “Why do you say that?” I’d say, “Because you seem to think you’re good enough not to need Jesus. In my religion Jesus died for all of our moral shortcomings. The only way Jesus would be of no use to you is if you have absolutely no moral shortcomings.”

    If she says, “No,” then I’d say, “If you’re not perfect, then it seems to me that the Christian religion could do you some good. According to our point of view, Jesus was the only perfect person who ever existed. When you put your faith in him God counts his perfection as if it were your own, and your imperfections were paid for when Jesus died on the cross. If you are anything less than perfect, then you’ve broken God’s moral law, which makes you subject to punishment. Jesus can help you with that.”

    If she says, “Yes,” then I’d probably do the ten commandments thing: “You mean you’ve never done any of these things? Ever???”

    I might also point out to her that if Christianity is true, then we are all obliged to confess Jesus as Lord. We are obliged to render our worship to God. So it’s impossible for anybody to be good enough not to need religion. The one thing we’d lack, if Christianity were true, is worship. So really, the thing that ought to determine whether we should become Christians is whether we have good reasons to think Christianity is true. Then I’d tell her that I am a Christian because I have what seem to me to be good reasons to think Christianity is true. Maybe she’d take the bait and ask, “What reasons?”

  2. While I’m not sure how to convince the woman in an unoffensive way that she’s not as “good” as she thinks she is, it goes against much of Christian teaching. David says, “there is none who does good.” (Psalm 14). A young ruler comes up to Jesus and asks how he can inherit eternal life, so Jesus says to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:18-19) It’s like Jesus is saying “let go of your ‘goodness,’ you don’t measure up to God’s standards, which is perfection.” So she assumes she’s “good enough.” She assumes she doesn’t need God. But we ALL need God because we don’t measure up to his perfection.

    Many people use the example of a tape recorder recording all of your thoughts and everything you say, even the things you say to yourself. If you were being recorded for just one day, or even half of a day, would you want anyone to hear it?

    Another example that STR uses is calculating how many times we’ve broken the law. Let’s say I’ve broken the law 10 times a day since I was five. I’m 22 now. So that means I’ve broken the law….. Well I don’t want to do the calculations, but it’s obviously a lot, which means I’m in trouble! I wouldn’t want to trust my own goodness after that many transgressions!

    These are some thoughts. This isn’t exactly my best subject, but hopefully other posters will give good responses. I could certainly use the advice!

  3. I might try also to put a stone in her shoe by asking her to play with the idea that God is perfectly holy and good. His standards are his own perfect goodness. Can she measure up to that? Is she perfect? Few people are self-righteous enough to say they’re perfect, so I’m guessing she’d say no. I’d as her how she’s going to make up for that imperfection. “I don’t know,” she may say, “But maybe God will be merciful.” Hey! He was! He sent his Son, Jesus, to die for our sins so we can be reconciled to Him! Wanna join?

    Hopefully it can as least get her thinking about it.

  4. Jane Clark says:

    I like The Way of the Master’s approach to this problem. “You say you’re a good person. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions to see if that’s true?” Proceed with the 10 Commandments… the Law a tutor that leads us to Christ.

  5. Chad says:

    This is one of the most effective ways I share the gospel with people. Everyone wants to say they’re good, but the problem is their standard of goodness is always relative to people around them (aka, the Hitler card).

    When I ask them if they think “good people” go to heaven, I wholeheartedly agree with them. Then it comes down to figuring out what “good” is defined as… Once you do that, you find out real quickly that Jesus is the only good person that ever lived. From there, you take them to the cross where the only good person that ever lived, chose to take the punishment for all of us bad people.

    Then He put His authoritative seal on it all by rising from the grave…

  6. Joan says:

    What do you mean by GOOD? One needs to find out what she thinks good is and how it is measured. God is the only GOOD and no one can measure to that level. Once you get her to understand that unless she uses God as the measure of good, then everyone is good.

  7. Todd says:

    One of the assumptions seems to be about the nature of religion in general and Christianity in particular. That it’s about doing good deeds in order to earn good standing with God. She may even feel that it’s a straight-jacket. My experience is that lots of people are like this due to numerous misconceptions about what Christianity is and also near complete/total ignorance of the Bible, what is contains, how we got it, who the Author ultimately behind it is, etc. Other assumptions might include: If God exists then he doesn’t care as long as you do your best; or If God exists then He is unknowable. She might be assuming that since she doesn’t feel the need for Him then He surely won’t hold her accountable.

    I would go to the law immediately.

  8. John Andrew says:

    On a scale of Hitler to Mother Teresa, with Hitler being 1 and Mother Teresa being 100, how good are you? Pick a number.

    Now, how good is good enough to get into heaven? Are you sure? What if you are, let’s say an 89, and you needed to be a 90?

    Or look at it this way. Suppose you are on a taking a walk on a warm day, when you see the sun glinting off of something to your left? You stop and investigate, and you find a diamond, bigger than any you’ve ever seen. With joy, you rush off, have it appraised and realize that you have just found a stone worth a small fortune.

    Later, however, you read the account of a child finding a hidden entrance to a cave, which turns out to have been only a few feet from where you found the diamond. In it are discovered incredible riches. But much more than that, the cave is found to contain two secret keys – one to boundless joy and the other to eternal youth. You realize that you settled for a nice nest egg, when you could have looked just a bit more, and found the keys to boundless joy and eternal youth, with incredible wealth thrown in.

    You may be good enough to get into heaven, and you may not. But even if you are, how good will your reward be? Could it be that you are settling for “nice”, when mind-blowingly incredible is just inches away?

  9. Dino says:

    I would ask her what she means when she says she’s a “good person.” I’d then ask her by what standard of morality does she measure this “good” and then lead her to conclude (or at least acknowledge) that there has to be an Objective Law Giver (Morality).

    I would also ask her why she assumes that religion is necessary for becoming a “good person.” Then point out that Christianity doesn’t make you a good person. Rather, Christianity reveals to us what – Who – is the standard of Good, and that even though we are prone to sin (“badness”), this Source of Good – that is, God – because of His Goodness, loves us enough to take on our sin and making the ultimate sacrifice for us which provides The Way for Salvation. We need Jesus because He alone absorbs our sin, grants us Grace. In Christ, we are freed from sin.

    The other assumption she makes is that the Truth of the “spiritual world” cannot be known. But in this statement she gives some knowledge about the spiritual world (that it can’t be known). So Truth can be discovered. A particular religion can be found true or falsified. For her to not want to know and say she doesn’t need religion or that it can be known, and that she is happy with her life (beliefs included) tells me she is her own standard for morality, is her own truth and salvation. Which is sinful (not “good”) in and of itself. She is not a seeker of Truth: she does not ask, nor does she knock. So she stands behind a closed door in a her room that is her “reality.”

  10. Moooo says:

    Another tack might be to focus on her statement that she’s happy with her life. Maybe try to sow some seeds of doubt about whether this happiness is really based on a firm foundation. Such as, what is it that makes you happy? What if you lost some or all of those things? Money, home, health, relationships, etc. are all too easily lost. Would you still be happy? Would there still be a purpose to your life? There’s a danger of getting too morbid and depressing here but for someone who thinks they don’t “need” religion because everything is “perfect” it could be a wake up call. Maybe quote some Ecclesiastes, “I looked on all the works my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and behold, all was vanity.”

    Also maybe get her to think about whether she’s truly happy or just has the outer trappings of success… deep down is she fulfilled or does she find there’s something missing?

    And I agree, get her to think about the foundation of her morality–without God, who decides what’s right and wrong, and how does she know she’s being “good”?