“I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16)
The Roman Road – Day 24 “I’m a Good Guy”
“I’m just having a hard time with all of this evil and wickedness stuff,” John said, his eyes fixed on mine. “I just don’t believe it’s true. I’m a good guy.”
We were having our weekly chat after the Alpha Course and John was also following my blog on the book of Romans. He always had a lot of questions and I enjoyed the honesty. He was becoming a good friend.
“I have no doubt that you are a good guy,” I said. “In fact, if getting into heaven was about being a good guy, you would be at the front of the line.” John looked at me as if I was joshing him, but I was serious.
“I didn’t say I was all that good,” he countered.
“No, I’m serious,” I said. “I’m not giving you a hard time. Lots of people are good people. And it is hard for us to connect with this list of evil that Paul gives us. But I think you are missing something.”
“What am I missing?”
“You told me when we were first talking about things that you didn’t have a relationship with God, right?”
“So, you were godless.”
“Well, godless is a strong word.”
“Is it true or not?” I asked. “Did you have a relationship with God? Did you consider what He wanted? Did you let Him have authority over your life or did you do pretty well whatever you wanted?”
“Well, within limits.”
“Maybe. But I wasn’t thinking so much about Him as about my family, and society and the law. Things like that.”
“So you were more or less a moral person but you were still godless.”
“Ok, sure. If you put it that way.”
“That’s the way Paul puts it. And if you are godless, it leads to wickedness. Wickedness is defined as selfishness, anything that isn’t based on love, really.”
“I’m a pretty loving guy.”
“I’m sure Sofi would agree,” I said with a smile. “But if I asked you to be honest and make a list of everything you’ve done wrong in your life, every time you didn’t show much love, or enough love, or any love, would there be anything on your list?”
“Well, sure. But that’s true for all of us.”
“Of course. I never said it wasn’t. My own personal list is very long. One of the problems with becoming a Christian is that you become even more aware of your sin than you did before. It can drive you nuts.”
“If we are all in the same boat, then we are all more or less good.”
“Or, if we are honest, and use God’s standard of love and respect and care for everybody, we are more or less evil.”
“I would rather be positive and look at the glass half full.”
“God would rather be honest and look at things the way they are,” I said. “It isn’t about how much sin or how much we lack love for our neighbor but rather why we are the way we are.”
“What do you mean?”
“Evil isn’t just about morality but about relationships, remember?”
“Let me give you an example. Have you ever fought with Sofi?”
“Yeah. Remember? We had a bad fight just a couple of weeks ago. I almost left her and she almost got an abortion.” John’s face looked a bit haunted. “Are you going to tell me that all of that is an example of evil?”
“What do you think?”
I waited for him to continue but he didn’t say anything.
“Well, I wasn’t really trying to bring up those bad memories. I was just talking about a normal fight you might have had. Lots of couples fight over money, over which movie to see, over their in-laws. You know….”
“Yeah, ok. Sofi and I fight like that sometimes.”
“Well, have you ever noticed that sometimes the fight is over something really important and sometimes it’s over something really not important at all?”
“Yeah, like what movie to watch on TV. We do that all the time…..” Now John was smiling again.
“Exactly,” I said. “The thing you need to realize is that it isn’t about the “thing” you’re fighting about, it’s about the relationship. It’s not the what but the why.”
“I hadn’t thought about it that way before.”
“Women are especially sensitive to that kind of thing. And everybody has their own standards of what love looks like. God too. Although God has the right standards and He includes everybody. We love each other in a messy, half-hearted way and are pretty exclusive with our love.”
“Ok, I can see that.”
“So, the issue isn’t morality but rather what the lack of morality says about our relationship with God. The fact that we are willing to hurt him just to get our own way, says something. The fact that we don’t even consult him when we should, says something. Try doing that with Sofi and see what happens.” I was looking hard at John, willing him to understand.
John was thoughtful for a moment. “So it isn’t that much different from our human relationships, you’re saying.”
“In some ways yes and in some ways no. But you get the point. If you ignore Sofi and you live your life as if she doesn’t exist, or worse, doesn’t matter, what do you expect. She isn’t going to like it.”
“Especially if I’m married to her,” John said. “I would never treat her that way. I love her.”
“Exactly,” I agreed. “Marriage makes it a “necessary” relationship which you can’t ignore and you treat your wife badly at your own peril.” I paused. “But I know a lot of guys who do exactly that. They treat their wives badly. They ignore them. They don’t ask for their opinions. They treat them like trash. Sometimes they are even abused by their husbands.”
“They should all be shot.”
“I agree,” I said. “But the truth is that we all do it sooner or later, once in a while, when we aren’t paying attention like we should.”
“So you are saying that God is also a necessary relationship and that we don’t have a right to ignore Him either?”
“Exactly. Because if we do, there are consequences. Just like in marriage. But because it is God we are talking about, the consequences are eternal and are a matter of life and death.”
“So, you are saying there is nothing God can do to stop these consequences from happening to me?”
“No, what I am saying is that there are natural consequences for ignoring God and if you continue to do so until your death, then there is nothing anyone can do to save you, even God. You won’t be able to stand being with Him in heaven so you will end up in hell, and you won’t like it, not one bit.”
“So what if I don’t continue to ignore God?”
I got up from my chair and walked over to the fridge. I needed to think for a moment. John seemed very open and I wanted to say the right thing.
“Look, John,” I said. “If you ignore Sofi and treat her badly for a long time, would you be surprised that there are consequences? Maybe she leaves you or you get a divorce or something?”
“That makes sense.”
“Well, with God it is the same thing. But if you came to me in the middle of the process and asked me for help, could I potentially get you and Sofi back together?”
“Maybe. Depends if Sofi wanted to get back together.”
“Right. In this case, God is saying that He wants to get back together with you but it has to be done in the right way and for the right reasons and your heart has to be in it. Does that make sense?”
“Is that what God is saying?”
“Yes. That’s why it is called good news. God wants to get back together with us. He loves us and he wants to forgive us and start fresh again. But it has to be done his way.”
John was nodding his head. It looked like he was finally getting it. The conviction of the Holy Spirit was doing its work in his heart and he had fresh eyes to see what was really going on. I was excited and relieved at the same time.
The Desert Warrior
Lord, I also think that I’m a good guy. When I look at all of the moral lists, I can see that I fail at some of them but not the worst ones. I generally try to do the right things and care for the people around me. But it is true that I ignore you a lot and that is not right. It isn’t just about the morality, or how good or how bad I am but rather about the relationship. Forgive me, Lord. I want to reconcile with you and become your child once again. Please show me how. In your name I pray. Amen.