A Revolutionary Phrase

“People are good and intend to do good.”

The phrase felt like it had punctured my chest, deep to my soul. I’d heard things like it before, but never in the context that it should actually be believed. Actually, it sounded more along the lines of heresy, and if nothing else, just plain ignorant. But it came off the lips of our guest speaker, Eric Johnson. He was quoting a theologian, Harold Eberle, the only theologian Pastor Johnson had mentioned that morning: one for whom he had just given the highest of recommendations. And this phrase–it was the focal point of his sermon. He said it must be believed, for this reason: to empower our effective evangelism.

Anyway, the phrase sounded either ignorant or deceptive to me at first. A thousand different questions started forming in my mind. After all, Pastor Johnson is the lead pastor of Bethel Church, a group that we honor greatly, a local church in California that’s really influential around the world. And here I was in Virginia, listening to this. What in the world was it supposed to mean? The questions kept heaping, one upon another. Doesn’t he know about sin? Is he purposefully ignoring it? If we’re all “good,” then why does he think we need Jesus? Is he a Universalist? If everyone intends to do good, then why do we not do good? Is he trying to confuse people? Is he in denial? Why is this happening? Why does someone in such authority here have to say something so controversial, something I disagree with so strongly? What am I going to do now?

My heart was alert through the close of the service and beyond. The phrase didn’t offend me; it just troubled me. It made think hard about what I believed. That kind of phrase—the kind that makes you think hard—is the most revolutionary of all. As I prayed in the hall after service, I felt the Lord whisper this to my heart: “You don’t have to believe him.” As that word sank into my heart, I felt fear leave and peace enter. Then I just started thinking about Him and His Word, and I started searching for truth.

I looked at the first half of the phrase: “People are good.” In this, what do I really believe to be true? Well, I believe that humanity is fallen, guilty and separated from God. It may have been created good in the beginning, but it fell from that position. In the dimension of purity and holiness, it is so very far from the term good.

“See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.”–Ecclesiastes 7:29

“All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;”–Isaiah 53:6a

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”–Romans 3:23

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.’“–Mark 10:18

I also know that God is merciful and that we are loved by Him. He has extended His hand of mercy, to forgive us of every sin, to cleanse us of every stain.

and the Lord has laid on him (Jesus)
    the iniquity of us all.“–Isaiah 53:6b

“and [all who believe] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”–Romans 3:24

“Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.'”–Mark 10:29-30

“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”–1 John 2:2

Our salvation is undeserved. There is clearly no amount of “goodness” present in humanity that deserves salvation. But… God found something to love. He found some potential, an original design, something valuable in us that goes beyond the realm of time, looking past our present mess, to His future spotless bride. If He didn’t love us when we were still sinners, we would have no hope. But we do have hope. We have the path of salvation, because God did everything in His power to redeem us. In this sense, humanity is “good,” for we are valuable to God.

I looked at the second half of the phrase: “[People] intend to do good.” Now, that wasn’t too hard to believe, but I struggled to find a reason why it mattered. Good intentions never accomplish anything unless they are lived out in perfect truth. Good intentions can be twisted by anything, held back because of fear, or placed on something sinful or pointless. In fact, the Bible says many times that people do what is “right in their own eyes,” whether it actually be good or evil in reality.

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”–Judges 21:25

This verse in Judges isn’t talking about righteousness. It’s talking about anarchy. Someone could look at that verse from a morally relativistic view and say, “That’s good! Everyone had the freedom to do the right thing, and they were all empowered to do it!” But the people in that day were not only exempt from external authority and control; their hearts were also far from God. Their “good” intentions (and actions) were, in reality, largely adding to the cycle of moral degradation in their society.

In the end, this was the key for me: people really do intend to follow their own moral code. This might not seem like much on first glance, but it ties directly into the concept of evangelism. If we as Christians carry the message of hope and salvation, we should expect to find an alternate view in the hearts of unsaved people. A conflict is to be expected, but we have the upper hand in any argument. We may carry the moral Truth of God (which is offensive to many), but we also hold their true identity. The true identity of all humanity is “valuable to God.” When people encounter this truth, it doesn’t matter what sin they still have in them. It doesn’t matter what lies they’re still believing. If the reality of His love strips away the barriers of relationship with Him, the power of that relationship will continue to sanctify their morality over time. When Faith enters the picture, when new birth occurs, sin no longer has dominion.

So, I am left with this interpretation of the phrase, which I really do agree with: “People are valuable to God and intend to follow their own moral code.” As we pursue the heart of God, we will value people just as much as He does (which is a lot!). We will love and pursue the lost just as much as He does. As relationship with God grows stronger, our values and morals align with His and become our own. There is no need to fear people or hate anyone, not for what they’ve done or ever will do, and not because of anything they may believe. God does love with an everlasting love. As we love with that same love, people’s hearts are radically transformed. That is revolution.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people”–Titus 2:11

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