When I was a child, my parents would sometimes watch the television game show “Family Feud.” Contestants had to name the most popular responses to a question posed to 100 people in order to win cash and prizes. The host would say something like, “The top 7 answers are on the board. We asked 100 people…” Does that ring a bell?
If 100 people were asked to name the one word most often used to describe the deceased person at a funeral, what would it be? My guess would be “good.” — He was a “good” man. He was a “good” neighbor. He was a “good” father. He was a “good” friend. — The one word that you hear over and over is that the deceased person was “good.” And most of the time, there is a lot of truth to that assessment.
The world is full of good people. They work hard, help others, and behave properly. They make an honest living, donate to charities, coach little league baseball teams, cut their elderly-neighbor’s lawn, and tip generously at restaurants. They are dependable and trustworthy. They are good people.
- A woman found 30 abandoned Chinese babies on the roadside. She gathered up those babies and cared for them, even though her only means of support was recycling rubbish.
- A kid was shopping with his mother and asked her to buy him a new bike, for his had recently been stolen. His mother told him that she could not afford to purchase a new bike. Then a large man covered in tattoos walked over and handed the boy $350. He said, “No child should ever be without a bike in the summer.”
- During WWII, a lady named Irena received permission to work as a plumbing specialist in the Warsaw Ghetto. However, she had an ulterior motive. Irena used her tool box and a sack to smuggle out Jewish infants. She even trained her dog to bark around Nazi soldiers to drown out any noises the infants might make. Irena smuggled out 2,500 children, though she was eventually caught and had her arms and legs broken.
- A 15-year-old boy chased a car on his bike for 15 minutes to save a little girl who had been kidnapped from her front yard in Pennsylvania. Because of his relentlessness, the kidnapper eventually pulled over and let her out.
These four examples, along with countless others that could be mentioned, demonstrate that there are good people in the world. They look out for others, go the extra mile, and act in ways that are praiseworthy. But is being good, good enough?
Before we answer that question, let me clarify my use of the word “good.” I recognize that no one is “good” in an absolute sense (Romans 3:23). However, the Bible does speak of “good” people. Paul wrote, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die” (Romans 5:7). You may recall that Joseph of Arimathea was described as a “good” man in Luke 23:50 and Barnabas was called a “good” man in Acts 11:24. Furthermore, older women are to teach younger women to be “good” (Titus 2:5, YLT). Now back to our question.
Is Being Good, Good Enough?
Many people answer that question in the affirmative. They think that all good people go to heaven. Regardless of a person’s religious convictions, so long as they have some sense of decency and morality about them, they will be saved. However, the Scriptural answer to the question is “no.”
Before we look at biblical examples of “good” people who were not saved, let me impress upon you the consequences of this idea. If being good is good enough, then we don’t need God’s grace, Christ’s sacrifice, the church’s existence, or the gospel’s power. If good is good enough, those things are unnecessary. Now let’s look at some examples.
(1) Cornelius. He was described by the Holy Spirit as “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” (Acts 10:2). Even his men spoke highly of him. They said that Cornelius was “an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation” (v. 22). Here was a man who was pious, charitable, prayerful, and highly regarded. Yet he still needed to be saved (Acts 11:14).
(2) Eunuch. He was described as “a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure” (Acts 8:27). That implies the eunuch was a man of great integrity, for the queen would never appoint an untrustworthy person to such an important position. If he had a shady reputation or was sneaky and sly, the eunuch would never have been made treasurer. Moreover, he had “come to Jerusalem to worship” and was on his way home “reading the prophet Isaiah” (vv. 27-28). Hence, he was very religious person who traveled a great distance to serve God and was still reading his Bible! The eunuch was also a humble person, for no prideful person would ask a stranger to help him understand the Scriptures. Yet he still needed to be saved (vv. 35-39).
(3) Rich young man. He was a zealous keeper of the Law who was interested in eternal life. When Jesus said, “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honor your father and mother, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:18-19), the rich young man replied, “All these I have kept” (v. 20). Obviously, he was a good person. Yet he went away sorrowful when Jesus pointed out his weakness (v. 22).
There are other examples we could consider. For instance, Jesus said that some at Judgment will stand before Him having done many good things. Yet they will be lost (Matt. 7:21-23). Furthermore, the Jews on Pentecost were described as “devout men” (Acts 2:5). That means they were decent, pious people. However, they still needed to be saved (v. 40).
(1) “Good” is a relative term. Our perception of “good” is often subjective. It may vary from one person or group to another. For instance, Saul of Tarsus was considered “good” to the Jews, but he was anything but “good” in the sight of Christians.
(2) Some are too good. There are people who put so much trust in their own perceived goodness that they have no need for the church or the gospel. “I am good enough already,” they think. Hence, they are “too good” to be saved.
(3) Goodness is absolutely necessary. We do not want to diminish the importance of being good. One simply cannot be a good Christian without being a good person (3 John 11).
The world is full of good people. They can be found in every denomination and every world religion. They can even be found among those who have no religious affiliation at all. However, the Scriptures are clear that being good is not good enough. One must obey the gospel and faithfully serve God to have eternal life.