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Can an Unbeliever be Good? (3 of 4)Feb-11-2012

(see the posts below for previous posts in this thread)

This is an interesting question to ask, and the answer is more challenging than just a “yes” or “no.” Let me begin by asking the question, “Whose definition of good are we using?” I think that if we can answer that question we can quickly come to basic and accurate answers.

1) A generic, societal good is well within the grasp of all people. I think that this aspect of goodness is easily answered by Paul’s assertion in Romans 2:14 “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires…” In essence, the unbeliever follows his own conscience and does what is good or he rejects his conscience and does what is wrong. This conscience is reflected in the almost universal human ideals against murder, theft, rape, etc. It is also the basis for much societal good like a son obeying his father or a husband loving his wife. Is this good? Yes.

2) A Godward good is not within the grasp of any unsaved person. Here the standard is much higher. The standard bearer and judge is God. I am presuming that this good is will result in God approving with eternal reward those people whose thoughts, emotions, and actions that have resulted in his glory. I think that this type of “good” is solely within the domain of those who have the Holy Spirit’s aid in the performance of such activity. Let my give a litany of scripture verses that may attest to such a limitation of good works away from the unbeliever.

a) Romans 3:12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.

b) Ecclesiastes 7:20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.

c) Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

d) Isaiah 64:6 We are all like one who is unclean, all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight. We all wither like a leaf; our sins carry us away like the wind. (NET Bible)

e) Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins

f) Colossians 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh…

g) Romans 8:8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

There are two closely related reasons for this lack of ‘goodness’ in the unbeliever. 1) The unbeliever has a heart that is tainted by their own sin and rejection of God. Everything has been corrupted by sinner’s own heart. This seems to be the explicit reference in Isaiah 64 where even those religious activities that Israel would offer to God were consider polluted and unacceptable to God. Their hearts were offering to God unacceptable worship so that while the activity itself was good the person and the activity are ultimately condemned before God because the hearts offering this ‘righteousness’ were evil. Romans 8 suggests in a similar fashion that the unbeliever is unable to please God. This helps us to see the second aspect of the problem of an unbeliever doing good. 2) The unbeliever does not have the ability to do good because his heart is corrupted by sin and is unaided by God’s Spirit (even the unbeliever cannot do good without God’s Spirit, but we have the Spirit!). This is the meaning of the term flesh in Romans 8, it means the person who does not have the Spirit of God. So that the person without the Spirit is “unable to please God.” Ephesians and Colossians say that all men are born in a state of spiritual death. All of us are unable to please God except by his gracious Spirit’s work. Romans 3:12 simply says, “There is none who does good, not one” and so the answer to this side of our question must agree with the Scripture. “No” an unbeliever cannot do good in the sight God.

A profound gratitude to God for his work in us who believe should be the response of every believer to this thought. I am able to serve and please God by grace alone! (Philippians 2:13) ~ Thank You, God!

Posted by - Pastor Mark



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