I call this the PG effect. I’m pretty good, I don’t need God. But even when I hear it with emphatic vigor, I still hear a question behind it. The speaker is seeking affirmation from themselves and perhaps also from others. They have to seek it from others, because it is a statement of comparison. As long as I can find someone else who is “worse” than me, my self-righteousness is intact. This kind of living may be fun for a while but it seems to me to be tedious, and ultimately leads to a callous heart; the PG effect depends on denial.
When people do good things, live well, or demonstrate good character it does not invalidate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Jesus–that faith in Jesus ushers us into the love of God and empowers us to live responsive and obedient to our Creator–does not operate ultimately in the realm of our goodness. The Gospel operates in the realm of God’s goodness and our response to Him. People doing good is part of the common grace of God. James says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17) In the letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul identifies those who might be called good among both the Jews and the Gentiles. He seeks to establish that God is just when He judges anyone–whether they had the testimony of the Law of Moses or not.
Perfect goodness, Paul argues eludes every person. The Jews who had the tradition of the Law might claim goodness or righteousness because they had it and the Gentiles did not. But goodness could only be established by obeying the Law perfectly. The Gentiles who did not have the Law might claim goodness because they “obeyed” the Law without having it around to guide them. And here it gets really interesting to me. In fact Paul argues that the Gentiles do have a “law;” they have their conscience. “When Gentiles, who do not have the law do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (Romans 2:14-15) So I have to ask, “Have you ever violated your conscience?” “Did you go against your internal compass of what was right or wrong?” And the honest answer is that we have each felt the pain one time or another of going against our conscience.
I have met some very principled people, who rejected God, but lived close to their conscience. Yet the PG effect is still in place. To establish their own goodness they have to look around and compare. God is comparing too, but not to other people; He is comparing, examening through Jesus Christ. The Scripture says, “This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ” (Romans 2:16). The PG effect is established only through self-righteousness. And against the goodness of Jesus Christ I am seriously lacking.
The good news is that I can change plans through faith in Christ. I can get off the plan of my own goodness and accept the plan of faith in Jesus’ goodness, grace, and power. This capitulation to Jesus as Savour and Lord as the only One who is good may seem costly. (See the story of this young man who came to Jesus with a questions about goodness and eternal life in Luke 18:18-30) But what good is it to gain the world and yet forfeit your soul?
Heavenly Father, I reject my pride that rests on my efforts to be pretty good and the examination of the failings of others. Forgive me for rejecting you. You alone are good. I receive Jesus as the only One who can establish me in your grace and set me into a new life of knowing You and responding to You. Fill me with your Holy Spirit and empower me to live by faith. I am so thankful to be freed from the aweful paradigm of “good enough.” I rest in the acceptance of Jesus Christ. Help me to extend this grace to others, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.