If there is a saying that offends and stirs the human heart more than anything else, it is to tell him or her “You are not good.” Whether it is towards someone’s ability, profession, expertise, or morality, the way in which one takes such a comment varies. The power of this saying often depends on whom it is coming from. For example, if a beginner musician hears “You are not good” from another novice, such a statement is commonly brushed off. However, when the remark comes from an advanced or professional musician, it bears considerably more weight. Hearing the words “You are not good” from someone of high esteem and credibility feels like a dagger to the heart. Like a tornado, it tears down the house of pride and brings one sojourning down the road of humility. If these words have not yet fallen on your ears or eyes concerning you, look no further because the One of the highest of all esteem, credibility, and creator of all things speaks from His throne “You man are not good.”
From Genesis to Revelation, God makes known that no one lives righteously before Him (Psalms 143:2; Romans 3:23;). “None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one”(Romans 3:9-12). Heed the words “none”, “not one”, “no one”, “all”, and “not even one” from this passage. God makes no wiggle room; He is clear. From the pastor preaching in the pulpit, President of the United States, middle-class parent, beggars on the street, to the child running on the playground, “no one does good, no not even one.” And if the point is not made clear yet, let God make it crystal, for His Word says, “Behold, even the moon is not bright, and the stars are not pure in His eyes; how much less man, who is a maggot, and the son of man, who is a worm!” (Job 25:5-6). Some churches dare not speak this truth because it will certainly cause man to become uncomfortable in their seat. I pray that ministers such as these would be purged from the pulpit. God’s Word is The Sword (Ephesians 6:17) and is The Truth (John 17:17). Ministers must stand firm and confident with The Sword of Truth; ready to use it as Peter did when he stood up and spoke before man, swinging a “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37).
What makes us “not good”? Our Sin and its effect! In reformed theology, there is a doctrine known as total depravity, which states that every aspect of man is corrupt and sinful as a consequence of the Fall (Genesis 3; Romans 5: 12, 18, 19; Psalms 51:5). The doctrine of total depravity is not saying we are the worst humans we can be but says we indeed have the potential to be. For instance, not all of us are mass murders but we do have the potential to become one. In addition, total depravity says that sin permeates our entire being. From our desires (Romans 1:24-27), heart (Jeremiah 17:9), mind (Titus 1:15-16), and body (Romans 8:3), we are totally depraved and there is no aspect of the human nature that is pure. No one is excluded from the effects of sin. Everyone will feel the consequence and suffer from sin to some sort of degree- some, unfortunately, more than others. Sin does not only permeate all our being but through us also brings destruction to all of creation. It is sin and the desires of the human heart that creates the chaos that we see in ourselves and around the world.
Many of us fail to understand the beautiful truth and bottomless meaning of the word “good” and who encapsulates it. The reason is due to the daily use of the word in our conversations to describe an event, item, feeling, or a person, when in fact we have failed to realize that not only does the word become watered down through our usage but also that we forget our perspective of what we deem “good” is merely human, which is totally depraved. As someone who has struggled with severe depression to the point of contemplating suicide, I find the daily use of the word “good” and “depression” similar. I find it almost insulting when people loosely throw around the word “depressed” or “depression”. When I hear someone say, “I feel depressed” when they are only describing the feeling of sadness or frustration, I think to myself “Are you really ‘depressed?’” or “You are blessed to not feel the true depths of depression.” The Prince of Preachers, Charles H. Spurgeon, struggled his entire life with depression until his death. If sentences can describe to the person who has no understanding of what true depression is, it would be found in Spurgeon’s book Honey in the Mouth when he wrote on depression: “The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.”1 To be clear, I am not advocating that we burn these words from our vocabulary, never to be spoken of again unless it is in its true context. However, what I am saying is that we fail miserably to recognized and understand the ultimate standard of what is “good” and the wide chasm between God and us. It does strike fear in my soul to image the emotion God feels by our view of what is good if my distaste and frustration is stirred up by the mere use of the word “depression.” Christian, remember that God is good; we are not nor understand it.
We are indeed like The Rich Ruler found in Luke Chapter 18, who came to Jesus and asked: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18). In clever response, Jesus said “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone”(Luke 18:19). Now, before we hit the pause button and say “Look, Jesus claims here not to be God, therefore He isn’t good”, let us recognize the vast amount of Scripture where Jesus clearly claims to be God (John 5:18; 8:58; 10:30, 37-38; 12:44-46; 14:10-11; Mark 14:60-64;Titus 1:3-4) and see that Jesus is clearly getting down to a far greater issue, which is The Rich Rulers heart and understanding of God. Christ states right after “You know the commandments: ‘do not commit adultery’, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother’ ”(Luke 18:20). When The Rich Ruler heard these words he professed “All of these I have kept from my youth” (Luke 18:21). And like the dagger to the heart, Jesus calls The Rich Rulers bluff in an instant when He said “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22). It is written that The Rich Ruler became sad after Jesus’ request because the ruler was extremely rich (Luke 18:23). Like The Rich Ruler, we fail daily in our hearts and understanding that 1) Jesus is God 2) only God is good and 3) we view our idols and riches as a greater good over the source and encapsulation of goodness -God.
God is Holy, which is to be distinct, separate, and truly good. In His Christian classic The Holiness of God, R.C Sproul writes, “The primary meaning of holy is ‘separate.’ It comes from an ancient word that meant, ‘to cut,’ or ‘to separate.’ Perhaps even more accurate would be the phrase ‘a cut above something.’ When we find a garment or another piece of merchandise that is outstanding, that has a superior excellence; we use the expression that it is ‘a cut above the rest.’2 This means that God has no rival in Holiness, which is purely good. Sproul continues “When the Bible calls God holy it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be ‘other,’ to be different in a special way. ”3 I pray that God would pull the scales back from our eyes and that we would fall to our knees in repentance for the utter absence of comprehending who is truly good and come to hallow His name and holy Triune nature. We must recognize The opposite of being who is holy is a being who is a sinner. That is all mankind. There is only one who encapsulates holiness and that is God. He is “good.”
For further reading and material to understand God’s holiness, here are my recommendations:
Video Series: The Holiness of God
Further Scripture on the doctrine of Total Depravity: Travis Carden
1. Eswine, Zack. Spurgeon’s Sorrows (Scotland, United Kingdom: Christian Focus Publication Ltd., 2014.) pg. 25
2. Sproul, Dr. R.C. The Holiness of God. (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1985.) pg. 54
3. Ibid., pg. 55