In counseling with a woman in relapse to drugs she said, “I’m a good person.” That is an attempt to excuse and justify her addiction. Every time I hear that statement the thought occurs, “Compared to whom?” The only standard of comparison for a believer is Christ. Just because you have no felonies, your family still speaks to you, you have avoided jail and have no severe medical consequences from your addiction does not constitute good.
Jesus asked the rich young ruler who called him “good teacher”, “Why do you call me of ‘good’? Only God is good.” Jesus is in essence saying to him, for the benefit of his disciples, “Is this young man able to know who I am? Jesus would ask his disciples at another point, “who do people say I am? Who do you say I am? Peter answered, “You are Messiah, Christ.” Jesus replies, “You could only know that as revealed by the Spirit of God.”
For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Anyone who exalts herself above others and believes herself to be a good person does not know the true condition of her own heart or the requirements to live in the Kingdom of God now or the true goodness defined by God Himself, incarnate in Jesus Christ.
I believe that Jesus was testing the rich young ruler when he said “Why do you call me ‘good’? Only God is good.” (Hint, hint.) Since “goodness” is defined by and arises from the character of God, in calling Jesus ‘good’, could it be that the rich young ruler was indicating that he recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, and wanted to know what he needed to do to be saved? But Jesus knew what was in the young man’s heart…..pridefulness over his status, over his good deeds, and the view of himself as a righteous person. It almost seems that he expected Jesus to commend him and tell him he was doing everything and all things required for heaven. He was looking for a confirming opinion of his opinion of himself. But Jesus knew his heart and asked everything of him….to sacrifice his wealth and follow Jesus. If he truly knew who Jesus was, he would have done so. The rich young man went away sad. It was not what he wanted to hear. And Jesus looked after him with compassion.
Jesus set out to test the woman at the well, too. Could she be led to understand who he was? She was immediately suspicious and testy when she encountered him at the well. Jesus tested her (and engaged her curiosity) saying, “If you knew who it is who asks you for a drink of water you would ask for the living water that I give.” He drew her into a gradual unveiling of himself through allowing her to test him through the lenses of her tradition, reason, experience, and finally, through her knowledge of and trust in the Scripture, at which point he revealed the truth of his identity to her. There were other “tests” that Jesus put before his disciplies and those who would become believers….His style of teaching was engaging and transformative for those with “eyes to see and ears to hear.” .