Are you a Good Person? Don’t Ask a High School Grad

Graduation season is upon us, and with schools closed, ceremonies cancelled, and celebrations postponed, we’re seeing a lot of talk about the Class of 2020 online. This includes many celebrities and political figures pulling out their video cameras to deliver virtual graduation addresses. The thing that all compelling graduation speeches contain is an emphasis on what you (the student) are capable of accomplishing in this world. We are all foundationally good people with the ability to do amazing things if we put our minds to it. But, are we?

A recent statistic shows that 52% of Americans with evangelical beliefs think that most people are basically good (Weber, Jeremy. “Christian, What Do You Believe? Probably a Heresy About Jesus, Says Survey”, Christianity Today, 16 October 2018). Well, what is “good”? That’s what Rev. James Hopkins, recent guest on Ringside, asked, “Do they think it means what Jesus thinks? Or, do they think that most people walking down the street wouldn’t want to punch them in the face? For us, being good is perfectly keeping the Decalogue.” In fact, Jesus spent a lot of his ministry telling people that they weren’t good. As much as we all want to and are encouraged to see the best in people, if we are really honest in our view of ourselves and the world around us, that façade begins to crumble, and we see that people are selfish and seek their own self-interests over those of others most of the time.

Yet, don’t despair! There is a great freedom and blessing in this realization. When we talk to others about the brokenness of the world, we don’t have to waste time guiding their goodness. We can go straight to the Gospel which provides the solution to our wickedness in the death and resurrection of Christ, apart from you and me. You see, we think we’re being kind when we tell someone they’re good and try to sugar-coat the depravity of the world, but in fact, you actually place the burden back upon them to be better in order to please God. You are not good. So, rather than worrying about being good, worry about Jesus who was good for you!

This is all vital to the Christian faith because it leads us to a proper understanding of the mode of salvation. Rev. Ross Engel makes it very clear in last week’s episode of Ringside, “All Scripture says that salvation is found in Jesus. If you have salvation in some way outside of Jesus Christ, then you don’t have the Christian faith. If you have mankind as good people who have merit in and of themselves, then you don’t have the Christian faith.” Your complete lack of goodness is why Jesus came, and through him alone you are saved.

Congratulations to the graduating class of 2020! Go forth into the world comforted by the knowledge that the goodness of Jesus saves you. But remember, “If you’re going to a church, and the pastor sounds like he’s giving a graduation speech, you’re in a bad church” – Rev. Joel Hess, on Ringside with the Preacher Men.

This article is a brief synopsis of one of several topics discussed on last week’s episode of Ringside with the Preacher Men. To hear Rev. Paul Koch, Rev. Joel Hess, Rev. Ross Engel, and guest Rev. James Hopkins duke it out over whether people are essentially good and the Smalcald Articles, whether smoking pot is a sin, and the ELCA’s disturbing use of “Mother God” in prayer, listen to the latest full Ringside with the Preacher Men episode, “Smoking Pot a Sin? and Other Topics.”

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