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The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord (Acts 11:22-24).
Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Matt 12:33-37).
With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:6-8).
We all know being a good person isn’t what it is to be Christian. It’s a major lie our culture believes—that God just wants good people, and that as long as you’re a good person, God will take you into heaven. By now, you should know that it’s not how it works.
I’d go so far as to say that the Bible doesn’t really support the idea of a “good person” at all. There have, in Biblical history, been three good people: Adam, Eve, and Jesus. Adam and Eve were made as good people and then corrupted themselves, and subsequently all of humanity. Jesus, the New Adam (and whose human nature is, as per the Confession of the Council of Chalcedon, the perfect pre-Fall human nature), is also God, who is also the only one who is good (Luke 18:19). Out of the billions of humans who have ever lived, that’s a very short list of good people, and they all shared in the perfect, pre-Fall human nature.
Their human natures were what humans are supposed to be.
And that is, I think, the culture gap between the Christian concept of a “good person” and that same concept in our modern, secular culture.
In modern culture, we describe a good person as someone who is not malicious, who seeks to do no harm, and who does good to those they know and love. Exceptionally good people do good to those they do not even know and love. And all these people are not expected to uphold these values at all times—a good person may act maliciously under extreme circumstances, even deliberately harm on rare occasions, but it is not their norm and therefore not considered their nature. They are still good people; they’ve just done bad things.
But the Biblical concept of a good person goes much beyond that. A good person does good things and doesn’t do bad things—but that is not what makes them good, but is instead the fruit of their good nature (as in Matt 12 above). And they never do bad things: of the three, only two of them did something bad, and that was when they ruined it and destroyed their good nature in the first place.
“But,” you protest, “Acts 11 described Barnabas as a good man, and Micah 6 said ‘what is good’ is ‘to do justice and to love kindness!’“
Absolutely! And let’s get into that.
First, Micah 6 absolutely does describe what is good, and then elaborates it is ‘to do justice and to love kindness.’ It also says it is ‘to walk humbly with your God.’
So often, people cherry pick Bible passages and even individual verses to shape their narrative. An atheist friend of mine recently posted something on Facebook saying the central claim of all religions is the same, featuring different quotes from the scriptures of many religions. All of these were just different wordings of Jesus’ quote, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12).
There are a couple of problems with this: first, it’s not a claim but a command, and second: Jesus says later in the same book it is not the central commandment, but the secondary commandment. When asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus’ response is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:37-40). Jesus—the founder of our religion—Himself said “do to others as you would have them do to you” isn’t the central command, but the secondary.
Likewise with Micah 6 above: you can’t say doing justice and loving kindness are the sum of all that is good, because it also says “walk humbly with your God.”
What is the point of all that? In both cases, people are claiming “what is good” has everything to do with how you treat other people and nothing to do with your relationship with God. But on the contrary, Jesus Himself said your relationship with God is the first and foremost requirement of being a good person. You literally cannot be good without God because being good requires a relationship with God!
Which brings us to Barnabas. When Luke, inspired by the Holy Spirit, calls Barnabas good, he also describes what was good about Barnabas: he was “full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” That is, Barnabas had a close relationship with God and trusted God. Out of that relationship flowed all of Barnabas’ good works.
And let’s think back to our three good people in the Bible: what did all three have in common? They were in communion with God. When Adam and Eve sinned, the first thing they did was hide from God: they broke their communion with God. And Jesus, aside from being God, was also in constant communion with the rest of the Trinity, saying in John 5, “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.”
So let’s bring this to a close, because I’ve gone on too long. There’s so much more to all this, but I’m over my space for now. Here is your challenge:
You want to be a good person? Pursue your relationship with God. Schedule time daily—preferably before you do anything else because it will distract you—to spend with God. Your relationship with God is the foundation of everything else in your life. Your will be as good as that foundation is.