One of the most difficult things for me, as a Christian, to process is that there seem to be “good things” that people do apart from Christianity. Why is this a problem? Because the Bible states quite clearly that only those that are in Christ can do good.
Rationally, this poses a problem. If the Bible states that we can’t do anything good, that all our goodness is as filthy rags, and yet people around us are doing the same good deeds that we’re supposed to do to show our Father in Heaven, what’s the deal here?
Perhaps Humans are Good?
One option would be that humans are really inherently good—just that we’ve wandered away. This option seems to have a plausible basis, in that we were created in the image of God, and it seems to make sense that we would, on occasion, still manifest that image by doing good things.
This wouldn’t prevent Jesus from needing to die, because we’re not saying that people are all good—it only takes one sin for a person to require a Savior—and would solve the problem of moral equivalency: We’re certainly not all as bad as Hitler or some other mass murderer, so why accept the idea that we might be?
Position vs. Practice
The problem is that we really need to separate this discussion into position vs. practice.
Positionally, all of us stand in the same spot. We’re all born into sin. We all have a sinful nature, that apart from the grace of God could do any sin in the book. We all stand condemned before a righteous God.
In practice, few of us get to the point that Hitler and the like get to—at least on the outside. In our hearts, that’s a far different story, in that many would (apart from Christ) lust, murder, hate, etc. and we are compelled by society to refrain from that. But that’s not really the point.
I think John 3 is really instructive. When Jesus was explaining to Nicodemus why He was there, He uttered a famous verse and a less famous follow-up. He stated that God loved the world so much that He sent His only Son. That love was not because we were inherently lovely, or that we deserved love, because in the very next verse Jesus states that He didn’t come into the world to condemn the world, because the world stood condemned already.
That last part is the key. It’s not that every person in the world was as bad a sinner as they could be. It’s not that they were inherently good either. Each and every human stood in the position of condemnation, and Jesus came so we didn’t have to be there any more.
This is The Good News
The Gospel isn’t about who we were, it’s about who we now are. Our nature changes in salvation—the old is gone and the new is come. Those that have accepted Christ get a new nature. The old one has been defeated.
So those that would tell the Christian that they are still vile sinners—they’re wrong. They may have a sinful nature that wars with them, but they no longer stand condemned, because God looks on that sinner and sees Christ!
Beating ourselves up about how sinful we are or when we fail is the exact opposite of the love and the grace that God gives.
It’s like Cinderella, spending every day in the palace with the Prince, talking about how bad it was to be the slave to her step sisters, and how she feels the need to clean up around the house and that she should be told she has to sleep in the cinders because she’s been bad. All the while the prince is telling of his love for her and wanting her to live in the life she now has.
It’s not that we’re inherently good—until salvation. But if we’re dwelling on who we are instead of who He is, I think we’re missing the biggest part of the blessing.