Are You Good Without God?

Rev. Mark H. Creech

Executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina

Originally published at Agape Press, but taken offline (archived here).

Are you a good person? Some contend that it's possible to be good without religion. The premise is absurd, but many would agree. People say, "Oh, he was such a good man. He wasn't spiritual. He didn't attend church, read the Bible, or pray. But he had high moral standards."

It is true that some people who are irreligious can live seemingly decent lives, but when they do, they merely borrow from Christian ethics. Moreover, the Bible teaches that the "Lord seeth not as a man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (I Sam. 16:7).

What constitutes genuine goodness? John Stuart Mill's famous definition was "that which does the greatest good to the greatest number." This is called utilitarianism. But then, Hitler was a utilitarian. Certainly he thought Nazism was providing the greatest good to the greatest number. Others say, "Good is whatever is right for me." The problem with this philosophy, however, is whatever may seem good for the individual may not be good for another. Without a point of reference for morality, we are constantly pitted against each other in an effort to determine whose values will ultimately prevail.

There are a couple of ways to determine what is good. The first way is to determine whether the act is sanctioned or commanded by God. Down through the centuries various religions have claimed certain works are pleasing to God. But it doesn't matter how zealous or how sincere a work, if God hasn't commanded it, then it isn't good. All that is good must be conformable to divine law.

God's Holy Word tells us what He expects of us. Of course, someone will respond, "Oh, you Christians -- you're all alike! You're so dogmatic. You think you alone are right and everyone else is wrong. How can you possibly be certain what the Bible says is true?" Well, I could answer that question by discussing the remarkable historical, scientific, and prophetical accuracy of the Scriptures. I could talk about its amazing unity, indestructibility and universal appeal. These factors led the great archaeologist, W.F. Albright, to conclude: "The Bible towers in content above all earlier religious literature; and it towers just as impressively over all subsequent literature in the direct simplicity of its message and the catholicity of its appeal to men of all lands and times." No other book has such credentials. The Bible is God's Word and it contains the only transcript of the immutable will of God. Without it, we cannot know or do what is good.

The second way to determine what is good is to check the motive. You see it is possible to do much of what God commands without ever performing one good work because what was done was not properly motivated.

I'm going to say something striking. It's not possible for the human heart in its natural, depraved, sinful condition to produce anything good in the sight of God. The apostle Paul affirms this point concerning the unregenerate when he says, "They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Rom. 3:12).

The human heart must first be purified by faith in Christ. Dr. D. James Kennedy says it this way: "Faith is that which lays hold of the justifying and sanctifying grace of God. Faith brings the Holy Spirit into the heart to cleanse, wash, purify, and work within us those holy inclinations and dispositions to do those things which are truly pleasing to a Holy God."

In other words, a good work must proceed from a purified source -- a heart cleansed by faith in Jesus Christ and transformed with a genuine love for God.

People perform a number of so-called "good works" for all sorts of reasons. But unless the act is done out of a heart purified by faith and solely for the glory of God, it doesn't pass the test for what is good. This is why the great cry of the Protestant Reformation was soli deo gloria -- solely for the glory of God. The motive makes all the difference, and the non-Christian doesn't have the spiritual capacity to meet this standard.

Therefore, the reason unsaved people can't get into heaven by their good works is not because they don't have enough, but because they don't have any!!! They are spiritually and morally bankrupt!!!

Let me illustrate the point in this manner. My son, Matthew, is in the United States Coast Guard and is assigned to the United States Coast Guard Cutter the "Eagle". The Eagle is a three-masted sailing ship with 21,350 square feet of sail. This magnificent vessel is 295 feet long and has five miles of rigging. Her hull is built of steel, four tenths of an inch thick, and has two full-length steel decks with a platform deck below and a raised forecastle and quarterdeck. The weather decks are three-inch-thick teak over steel. She sports a crew of 12 officers, 38 enlisted personnel, and 150 cadets from the United States Coast Guard Academy. She is a glorious site to behold.

Nevertheless, it matters not how magnificently equipped, how full her sails, how great her speed, or with what beauty she may travel the seas; unless the rudder properly directs the ship, she will end up on the rocks of disaster.

The same is true for our good works. Beneath the waves of life, unseen by men, is the rudder of the human heart. It either directs our works to the glory of God or turns them back to something else. It doesn't matter how tremendous the work or how seemingly exquisite, we either seek to magnify the Lord or we seek our own advancement and praise. It's the rudder -- the heart's motive -- that makes the difference.

How foolish for people to believe that they can be good without God! How foolish for people to believe that they can be good enough to go to heaven! We are saved by faith in Christ alone -- absolutely nothing else! Until we come to Christ, we don't even possess one good work. But when our hearts are changed by faith in Him, then we are able to perform many good works.

Are you a good person?