“And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God.’”
These words are Jesus’ response to a man who addressed him as “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (10:17). Verse 18 appears like a passing shot, which Jesus does not amplify upon before moving quickly to answer his question. It apparently was noticed by the man because his subsequent address leaves out the word, “good” (10:20). This adjective and Jesus’ response to its use, though missed by the questioner, have ramifications that are eternal in nature. For it is in Christ, who is indeed God, that divine goodness or righteousness is imputed or credited to every human being willing to admit his or her inability to do what is necessary to inherit eternal life. The rich young man is incapable of being good enough to save his own soul, as are we.
A person is only good in Christ. Though, as creatures made in the image of God, we are able to and often do good things, we are not good by nature. We are lawbreakers: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10-11). Centuries of recorded human history and an honest evaluation of one’s own personal attitudes and actions combine to substantiate humanity’s selfish or unrighteous leanings. The Apostle Paul, echoing Psalm 14:1-3, depicts humanity’s real “state of mind,” in spite of voices to the contrary: “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).
The fact is that God alone is good, just as Jesus claims, and from Him emanates every sort of goodness known to angels and man. It is instructive to note God’s initial response to Moses’ desire for God to show him His glory. The quality, which Moses will see only partially, yet demonstrates God’s glory preeminently, is the goodness of God (Exodus 33:18-19). Only in relationship to God can the character of goodness be attributed to us. Apart from Him, we are but filthy rags in a perpetual state of spiritual death, unable to be perfectly good because we are unable to see God perfectly (Isaiah 64:5-7).
Neither the rich young man nor any one of us has the quality within himself to do what is required of God to receive eternal life, which is to obey every statute in the law. Therefore, Christ’s goodness—his perfection—must be obtained by those who lack it. This is done through individual faith in Christ’s substitutionary death—his willingness to accept upon himself the guilt of others and to die in their place. By accepting his death as ours, we acquire his state of goodness and remove ourselves from the condemnation of the law (Romans 5:17-19; 8:1). The reward of such faith is eternal life, which the Lord’s resurrection guarantees.
If we must boast, let us boast in the goodness that we have in Christ, for he alone is the “Good Teacher”. We are his apprentices whose goodness is not of our own making, but is our mentor’s gift to us (Jeremiah 9:27; 1 Corinthians 1:30-31).
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