In his recent release of “The Atheist Delusion,” Ray Comfort interviewed several people who professed to be atheists. When he asked them if they were good people, each one said yes. Then Comfort asked them if they had ever lied, or stolen, or committed adultery or fornication. They all admitted that they had. So liars, fornicators, and thieves consider themselves to be good people.
“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts” (Pr. 21:2). This proverb makes it clear that there are two different ways of looking at us. One is how we view ourselves. We give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. We make excuses for our weaknesses. We allow ourselves to indulge in what is wrong because we have a reason for it. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Pr. 12:15a).
But we are foolish for doing so for the Lord “pondereth the hearts.” God sees what we really are and what He sees is not good. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). When fornicators, thieves, and liars consider themselves to be good people it proves the truth of the prophet. People are very poor judges of themselves.
Who knows who is a good person or who is a bad person? The Lord is the only one who really knows. But He does know. “ I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jer. 17:10). We may try to excuse ourselves and talk ourselves into thinking we are good. But it does not change reality. God knows the truth.
One problem with the present generation is the belief that people can make up their own reality. From the time they are infants, people are told that they are awesome, they are wonderful, they can do or be whatever they dream, and they are good. In contrast, the Bible tells us that all have sinned. “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies” (Ps. 58:3). A great lie of this generation is the belief that people are basically good. The opposite is the case.
A woman approached her pastor and appealed for help. A male member of the congregation was verbally abusing her. The pastor and two others brought the man to account. He vigorously denied that he had ever spoken in an abusive way. They asked him again and again he said he never spoke like that. Then they brought out the recording that the woman had given them. They played the audio of his loud and abusive rant. Only then did this man own up to the truth. He had hoped that he could re-invent past reality by denying what had happened. But the truth came out.
Jesus said that there is none good but God. However, “most men will proclaim every one his own goodness” (Pr. 20:6a). When Ray Comfort asked those atheists that if there was a heaven did they believe they would go there, they all said yes. In my own experience as a pastor for decades, I have seen how that people in our society generally believe that virtually everyone who dies goes to heaven. “He’s in a better place now,” they say of a person who had been a scoundrel.
We would all go to heaven if it were up to us. But if liars, thieves, and adulterers went to heaven, it wouldn’t be heaven. Rest assured, they will not be there. “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9, 10). No amount of denying or re-defining can change the Biblical bottom line that people who are living like sinners are not going to heaven. You can claim that you once made a decision for Christ, or you once repented, or you were once saved, but if you are doing those things you are lying to yourself if you think you are on your way to the city of God.
But what about the thief on the cross? Didn’t he go to heaven? Yes. But remember there were two thieves crucified with Jesus. In those several hours of agony one of them exhibited anger, unbelief, and animosity toward God. There is no record of his having any hope of heaven. The other acknowledged his sin and asked for mercy. God is merciful to all who call upon him. “For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee” (Ps. 86:5). To the repentant thief, Jesus said, “This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
After going through the catalog of sins to the Corinthians, the Apostle made this declaration. “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). When a repentant person comes to Christ believing that He died for all sin, that person becomes new. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2 Cor. 5:17). He is no longer who he was. He has been buried with Christ. “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).
Are you a good person? Only if you are in Christ. Since only God is good we can have no goodness of our own. We must die to our old sinful selves and allow Christ to live His life in us. The fruits of righteousness are by Jesus Christ (see Phil. 1:11).
The words of the hymn by Edward Mote capture the truth of our dependence on Christ for our righteousness.
“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
When He shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.”