Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Good and Good

Did you know that the word “good” in English has two meanings? (Well, maybe more if you look at one of those huge dictionaries with etymology and all that.) But in our everyday language we use “good” in two different ways without realizing it. Here they are:

  1. Good—Righteous, holy, decent, morally right.
  2. Good—Valuable, desirable, worthy.
When we lose our wallet at the supermarket and someone we don’t know returns it to us without stealing the money inside, we say they are good. That is Good #1—decent, morally right. If they stole the money they wouldn’t be good. If they didn’t do anything, they still wouldn’t be so good. But because they did the right thing when they didn’t have to, they are good.

When we are looking for shells on the beach and we find one that is big, beautiful and unbroken we say we found a good one. That is Good #2—valuable, desirable, worthy. We could sell it and get a better price for it than if it were small, broken or ugly. But it is not a moral judgment at all—the shell is neither morally right nor wrong. It is not something that is holy or righteous. In fact, when we talk about things we buy and sell we call them goods. They are things with value.

A basketball player makes 80% of his shots from the field and never misses a free-throw. He can run around anyone, jump higher and shut down the opposing team’s offense. We say he is a good player. The team may pay him millions of dollars more than less talented players. If they trade him, they might get two or three other players in return. This is Good #2. The player is valuable to a team wanting to win basketball games.

So, here is the million-dollar question: Are we good? Does the Bible teach us that man is good or bad? What view of man does Christianity hold? If we say man is basically good then are we somehow justifying sin or lessening the need for repentance? If we say that man is basically bad are we then saying that God doesn’t like people very much unless they shape up? So, what are we? Good or bad?

Jesus said that no one is good but God. (Mark 10:18 ) But he also said that we are worth more in God’s sight than many sparrows. (Luke 12:7 )

So, I think the answer is that we are not Good #1 but that we are Good #2. We are not naturally righteous but have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But we are very valuable in the eyes of God. So much so that Jesus died on the cross to save us from being Bad #1.

The problem is that we often send a mixed message. We confuse people because of the duplicity of the word good. We subconsciously feel that the message, “God loves you,” and, “You’re a sinner and need to repent,” are contradictory. One says I am good, the other says I am bad and need to change. So, until I’ve changed, I’m no good! How could God love me?

But here’s the secret: God wants us to change, for sure. But changing by itself doesn’t make up for not being good as in righteous and holy. God loves us because we are valuable to him, even when we haven’t yet changed. God’s love isn’t based upon our holiness but upon our being.

But then here’s the other question… What if I’m like that small, broken and ugly shell on the beach? Then I am not worthy because I am ugly and my heart is broken? What if I can’t play basketball very well and miss 80% of my shots? Well, it may sound harsh, but to an unredeemed world—that’s right—you are not valuable to them. They don’t want to talk with you if you are not pretty, if you are not smart, if you are not talented, if you are not rich. It is true. But that is NOT how God counts value.

So how does God count value? Basically, he loves those he has created. You know this has to be true. If you have children do you only love the ones who are more talented than the others? No, you’re going to love all your children as different as they are. But even if you did have a favorite child, God does not. He loves everyone he created.

What does this have to do with missions or ministry?

I think one of the first steps we must take in reaching out to others is to look at them how God looks at them. We may see a wicked person, and they are certainly not good in terms of righteousness or holiness, but they are good in terms of value to God. We tend to see wickedness, ugliness, brokenness and think “bad.” God sees his child and someone he wants to come back home.

So how do you see them?


  1. Koffijah - that was Good!
    (Okay. You saw that one coming, I'm sure.)

    I'm a sucker for a good object lesson, and yours is quite effective in clarifying the difference between good and good. As far as seeing people as God sees them, that is SO MUCH easier said than done! For me, anyway.

    Thanks for this post. This should definitely go into the book.


    Your Pretend Editor

  2. I think we have to separate the person from the sin. God loves the person but not the sin. That is where we have a hard time. We relate the person to the sin. For instance.... Your sister's husband is a verbally abusive drunk. Human nature is to build the wedge between yourself and God by hating everything about the drunken brother in law. But God wants us to still love him. It doesn't mean to condone the behavior, but we have to love the brother in law but not the abususe cause by the alcoholism. It's tough. And not human nature at all. But if we can love the person as Christ would, I think we move that much closer to Christ.