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The Definition of a Good Person

August 18, 2020

I once had a conversation with a friend who was confident that she would spend eternity in heaven. She justified this by saying that she had spent her life “trying to be a good person.”

That got me thinking. What defines a good person? And who decides whether or not each of us is good enough to get into heaven? There are three ways to go about answering these questions, but only one of them will actually result in eternity spent with God.

1. You be the judge (but it won’t be accurate).

A person may try to define for himself whether or not he is a good person. I’ve encountered many people who, after reflecting on their lives, would say, essentially, “I think I did enough good things to warrant the label of a good person and thus deserve to go to heaven.”

The problem with this line of thinking is that Scripture tells us that we are deceived about ourselves. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” We simply cannot be honest with ourselves when it comes to how good or bad we are.  It is natural for us to justify our lives in a positive light. Admitting the wrong things we’ve done does not come easily. Therefore, self-assessment is a faulty way to determine our goodness.

2. Let others be the judge (but it won’t be fair).                                                                 

Most people are quick to decide whether or not they think someone else is a good person, but people do not judge by the same standard. A person’s apparent goodness depends on whom you ask.

My closest friends would say that I am a good person. I’m sure they would acknowledge that I have had some bad moments, but overall, the good times we have had and the connections we’ve made would prevent them from looking at me in a negative light. Conversely, I have hurt many people throughout my life, and if you asked them if I deserve to get into heaven, they might not give a favorable answer. What if you asked the guy I cut off in traffic, or the one who cut me off and I showed him how I felt about it? I doubt either of them would call me a good person. Only God knows what is in a person’s heart (1 Sam. 16:7), and people evaluate each others’ goodness from the outside. The judgment of other people will never be unbiased.

3. Believe God will be the Judge (but rest in Jesus’ perfection).

When we ask questions about heaven (and who deserves to be there), it’s important to look for answers from the one who sits on heaven’s throne. The Bible tells us who God thinks is good enough to enter heaven.

There is none who does good, not even one (Ps. 14:3).
There is none who does good, not even one (Ps. 53:3).
None is righteous, no, not one (Rom. 3:10).

If most people assess themselves as “good enough”, why does God say no one is righteous? If people can observe outward goodness in others, then why does the Bible tell us that there is not even one righteous person? And if no one is righteous, then how can anyone be accepted into heaven when God is the judge?

God’s law is absolute, and he requires perfection before anyone can enter heaven. Allowing anything less would compromise his holiness and purity. However, here is the beautiful part. Here is the part that makes him merciful. Here is the part that brings tears to my eyes. God knows we can’t achieve perfection, and he has made a way for us to be with him. He offers us eternity through a sacrifice that no human parent would ever want to make. He sacrificed his own son, Jesus, to save us from our sin.

Jesus Christ: Perfectly Good

Most people—even those who consider themselves to be “good people”—usually agree that nobody is perfect. This is biblical, as Romans 3:23 reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” While that is true for us, it does not apply to Jesus.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says: “for our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin.” Think about this: Jesus knew no sin. Jesus never slipped up. He never had a sinful thought pass through his mind. He was tempted numerous times and never once gave in to sin. Conversely, I know sin every day. Without exception. Even when I think I’m doing pretty well, and when other people tell me I’m a good person, I am still a sinner by nature.

A holy and pure God allows only perfect people in his presence. He provided Jesus as the perfect substitute for sinners who cannot achieve perfection on their own. For our sake, God took the only person in history who never sinned and allowed him to take on the sin of the entire world. He was brutally punished in our place.

By God’s grace, Jesus’ perfection can be credited to us. All we must do to receive this gift is confess our sin and put our faith in Jesus as our Savior. John 1:12 says that all who receive Jesus and believe in his name will be given “the right to become children of God.” Those who belong to God live with him forever.

If you want to know what it looks like to be a good person with a right to heaven, study the life of Jesus in Scripture. When you read the Bible, you will discover God’s perfect Son, the only one who can make us “good enough” to be accepted by God. You will see Jesus do for others what they could never do for themselves. You will see Jesus lead others to give up their pursuit of “earning” their way into heaven. You will find that Jesus calls sinful people to follow him, and he lovingly invites them to rest in his perfection. This kind of rest can be yours today, too.

Photo: Pixabay

The Author
Ryan Delp

Ryan Delp grew up in southeastern Pennsylvania but now lives in Palatine, Ill., with his wife, Missy, their two kids, and one large dog. He has been a member of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church since 2011 and has served in a number of ministries. He loves playing golf, cheering for the Philadelphia Eagles, and eating Maryland blue crabs.

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