“I don’t need to be a Christian to be a good person,” said the man. “I have a solid marriage. I treat other people fairly. I work hard. I participate in charities. Jesus doesn’t have anything to do with it. Furthermore, lots of other religions teach many of the same truths that Christianity teaches.”
Have you heard this sort of assertion? Have you made it yourself? It’s not uncommon, and on one level it makes sense. I myself know some wonderful people who do not claim to be Christians. On the other hand, I know others with obvious flaws who call themselves believers.
I want to speak today to you who, although you don’t claim Christ, still live lives which most of us would respect and even admire. I applaud you. It’s better to be honest than dishonest, kind than unkind, hard-working rather than lazy, and so on. You’ve made good choices. You create a better society for all of us. In fact, I’m sure you could teach me a thing or two (or three or four).
Having said that, and meant it, let me challenge you to consider another perspective. Is it possible that you’re cherry-picking God? What do I mean by that? What does God have to do with cherries? Here’s what I’m asking: is it possible that you’re using the benefits given to you by God while still keeping Him at a distance? That you’re taking advantage of His gifts without being willing to acknowledge or follow the Giver?
Some of you may instantly react to these questions by retorting: “No. It’s just the opposite. The good things I do come from within me. I’m creating them myself. It’s silly to turn around and give credit to some imaginary God for my own achievements. I’m the one putting in the effort to make these things happen, not some mythical being.”
Lots of decent people basically believe this although they might not state it so baldly. They may even believe in some sort of God, but see Him as a remote Being, or Force, who threw together the universe and then walked away leaving us on our own. In the end, we’re still the ones who get credit for our virtues, and who run our own lives.
These are both plausible scenarios, but today I want you to consider a third possibility. This one comes from the Bible, and if it’s true, its makes a significant difference in how our lives turn out when all is said and done. So it’s worth at least thinking about. This leads to the first question:
What does the Bible teach about our goodness?
1. The Bible teaches that we’re all significantly flawed
In the creation story, Adam and Eve were created good; perfect, in fact. They had a strong, friendly relationship with God and His pure ways. But they chose, at one point, to rebel against God’s command for complete obedience and eat from the forbidden tree. This one, apparently tiny act of disobedience, created a massive spiritual shift. They’d now put themselves in opposition to God and His ways. They hid from God in fear. In the end, though He still cared for them, He cursed them as part of the natural consequences of placing themselves in opposition to Him. This opposition is called “sin” and their action, unfortunately, has universally affected all of us. Exactly how this happens, theologians struggle to explain, but the Bible makes it clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This doesn’t mean that everyone is as terrible as they could be or that everyone’s a monster, it just means that, by God’s standards we all fall short of the “good” label. For Him, “good” means perfection. None of us fit that standard.
2. The Bible teaches that the good that remains in us is a gift from God
Although Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, God did not allow it to eradicate all their original goodness. Genesis 1:27 tells us that humans were made in “God’s image”. Exactly what this means, we don’t know, but a moral awareness of right and wrong is certainly a part of it. And that image hasn’t been revoked, even though sin has sullied it (James 3:9).
So we still carry some good instincts and often resonate with what is virtuous. Furthermore, God’s front-man, the Holy Spirit, is currently active in our world, working to draw all of us back in God’s direction, encouraging good instincts and acts, convicting us for bad ones and, ultimately, seeking to give us a new nature. Finally, God gave His commands for a reason. They work. We reap what we sow. Good actions bring benefits. So why not cherry-pick God – keep the rules but ditch the Rule-giver?
What are the problems with cherry-picking God?
1. Cherry-picking allows us to be selective in our obedience
All of God’s designs for our life are necessary. When we cherry-pick, we selectively choose what appeals to us or makes sense to us. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work very well, since they come designed to work as a package. Each godly virtue reinforces the others. Each godly virtue ignored, undermines the rest. Think for example of a person who’s generous, but who also is dishonest.
2. Cherry-picking creates an illusion
We miss the big picture. Yes, we are doing some things well, but that can keep us from seeing the big picture. Others may be impressed with us. We may be impressed with ourselves. But the truth is that, from God’s point of view, we’re still all serious sinners. This leads to the next point:
3. Cherry picking makes us foolishly independent of God
Because we obey some of God’s laws, without acknowledging the source of our strength, we can become pridefully independent, cutting ourselves off from acknowledging or submitting to God. We use God’s stuff, but leave Him out of the picture. This is short-sighted, because we’re not as good as we think we are and actually need His help big time.
4. Cherry-picking can cause us to seek answers in the wrong places
Even the most prideful of us will usually admit we have at least some short-comings. Cherry-picking allows us to garner wisdom from any number of places – from psychology, from friends, from books, from thinking, and from other religions. These will, to some degree, help us. But can they do enough? This leads to the final observation.
5. Cherry-picking may help us, but it will not satisfy God’s judgment
God, not us, is the final judge of our lives. In the end, He is the one whose evaluation of our lives will stand. And, please don’t miss this: in the end, God determines the consequences we will face for how we have lived. Not us. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in Him or not. He still exists and functions as God and refuses be used and ignored.
The solution to this is to take the whole package instead of cherry-picking. The whole package, ironically, doesn’t just include obeying all of God’s laws perfectly. That’s impossible. The whole package includes giving up our attempts to save ourselves by our own goodness and turning to Jesus Christ, who died for our sins, and receiving the free gift of salvation. If you haven’t done that, will you do it today?