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Human Goodness: How Good is it?

Author : Tom Graneau


You may or may not realize it, but there are two types of standards by which people’s goodness is measured—human ideals and God’s criteria. The one you choose to model will determine your overall success in this life and the next.

Man’s perspective on human goodness

Worldwide, people are placed into one of two basic categories: A good group or a bad group. The segregation evolves naturally through a system of laws established by governing agents within each culture to regulate human civilizations. These rules influence behavior in politics, economics, and other functional segments in the society, including relationships among people. Essentially, they provide a margin by which to measure changes in human behavior and for authorities to take appropriate action when people cross the line.

Those of us who obey the rules are generally referred to as law-abiding citizens or good people. We understand the need for a regulated society; we stay out of trouble by practicing what is courteous, responsible, and decent; and we expect others to do the same.

The people who violate the rules are considered troublemakers or bad people. Depending on the nature of their violation, they are classified as thieves, criminals, murderers, child molesters, rapists, etc. These individuals are usually arrested, put on trial, and if convicted, are sent to prison. Some are executed immediately, depending on the nature of their crime and the area of the world in which the offense was committed.

The issue about whether society needs laws to regulate the public is a moot point. Though some people would rather not be kept in check about anything, history has shown that when human beings are left to their own devices mayhem becomes the order of the day and cultures eventually disintegrate. How else could we evaluate a person’s conduct without some type of standard to classify him or her as either good or bad? Thus, an enforceable set of rules is not only helpful in weeding out bad human elements in society, but also protecting those who appear to be good.

Even so, laws that are designed to regulate human conduct is not entirely flawless. The main drawback is that people’s characters are being determined by rules that are established by others—people who are less than perfect. While it may be easy to determine badness by a set of guidelines, it is much harder to determine goodness by the same standard. In other words, if the laws that we create were the only arbiters of right and wrong, there would be no hesitation about their conclusion. The rendered verdict would be final. But realistically, man cannot arbitrarily bestow goodness upon himself by a set of rules that he creates. Such a motion would be considered bias and hypocritical at best.

For this reason, there has to be another set of unbiased criteria in the universe by which to measure human goodness, and thankfully, there is. It is God. He is the only one who can determine who is good and bad based on his own decrees and indisputable justice.

God’s perspective on human goodness

Realistically, the subject of human goodness may remain a disputable issue for man for as long as he lives on the earth, but not for God. When laws sanction the condition of one person over another based on certain human qualities, God looks within the heart for spiritual value. More specifically, he evaluates people based on the condition of their soul in relationship to sin, which is the tie-breaker between goodness and badness. For him, no human being is truly qualified to be considered good. His initial premise says it best: “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). Another verse in the Bible echoes the same thing: “For all has sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This means that all the goodness that you and I can claim as a result of good behavior, including acts of philanthropy and benevolent services, do not warrant God’s approval. In other words, he remains unimpressed by our great deeds, regardless of how remarkable they might be to fellow human beings.

Jesus made the following comment in response to an individual who referred to him as a good teacher: “Why do you call me good?” he said. “No one is good but one, that is God (Matthew 19:17). Even Christ refused to accept the designation of a good person while in human form. As far as he was concerned God is the only one who is worthy enough to bear that title.

This does not mean that God is heartless about the laws of the land, as decreed by various governments around the world and the people who obey them. The Bible is loaded with references in obedience to these laws, specifically in relationship to government, neighbors, friends, and family.

By themselves, however, these obligations do little to win God’s favor in reference to human goodness. Consider the following verse: “Therefore, by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in his sight…” (Romans 3:20). In this case, what we consider as “good personal conduct” is not enough to satisfy God’s criteria in reference to human goodness. Rather, only by the forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ can a person cautiously presume to be “good,” a state of being which is barely worthy to gain God’s favor in this life.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

Do you see yourself as a “good person?” What premise have you used to come to this conclusion? Do you believe that all Christians should automatically comply with the law of the land?



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