Many centuries ago, a wealthy young leader approached Jesus with a question burning in his heart: what must I do to gain eternal life?
Good by whose standards?
This leader was an honest man who had never committed adultery, murdered, lied, stolen, or cheated someone in a business deal. He had always respected his parents. He was a model citizen and was most likely admired by many. When the young man came to Jesus, he honoured Him with the greeting “Good Teacher.”
Assess your benchmark
The man’s question was one Jesus could certainly answer. However, before Jesus acknowledged his inquiry, He countered, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God” Mark 10:18.
Wait a minute. Why would Jesus correct a man who called Him good? Was Jesus not good? Of course He was! So why did He say this? I’d like to propose an answer to that question, one that has the potential to transform our perspective on every aspect of our lives. Could it have been that “good” was the wrong standard of judgement? In other words, is it possible that man’s standard of what is good is different from God’s standard?
That’s an unfamiliar idea to many of us. These days, the terms good and God are seemingly synonymous. We believe that what is generally accepted as good must be aligned with God’s Will. Generosity, humility, and justice are good. Selfishness, arrogance, and cruelty are evil. The distinction seems pretty straightforward.
But is that all there is to it? And if good is so obvious, why does Hebrews 5:14 teach that we must have discernment to recognise it? Why, at the dawn of his reign, does King Solomon passionately pray, “Give to Your servant an understanding heart...that I may discern between good and evil”? 1 Kings 3:9.
The standard of good
Years ago, I was puzzling over this very issue when the Spirit of God said to me, “Son, it wasn’t the evil side of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that Eve was drawn to. It was the good side.”
I opened my Bible to Genesis 3 to confirm what I’d just heard. Sure enough, I read: “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” Gen 3:6. I saw the words good, pleasant and desirable, and my jaw dropped. Then I heard the Spirit of God say, “There is a good that is not of Me. It is not submitted to Me.” I sat there and contemplated what I had heard and read. My standard of good was apparently different from the Divine standard of good.
God proceeded to speak to my heart. He showed me how most “good” people, and especially Christian people, are not drawn to lewd sexual orgies, dark music with blatantly rebellious lyrics, rock stars who flaunt satanism in their concerts, mass murder, grand larceny, or any such blatantly evil behaviour. Most are deceived by and drawn to behaviour and things that seem right, good, and wise, but are contrary to His wisdom.
We have been deceived
We are told: “There is a way that seems right [good] to a man, but its end is the way of death” Prov 14:12. There is so much to unpack in this verse! Let’s first discuss the latter half: “but its end is the way of death.”
Many Christians don’t pay close attention to these words because they think, “I’m saved, headed for Heaven, and will not see death.” In their minds, the statement only applies to nonbelievers, but there’s more to it. Look at the words “the way of death.” Scripture speaks with some frequency of the way of life and the way of death. For example, God declares to His people (not to those who don’t belong to Him), “Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death’” Jer 21:8.
“Way” here means the wisdom we live by. You’ll see this word often throughout Scripture. Jesus frames it as follows: “The way is broad that leads to destruction [death], and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life...” Matt 7:13–14. We might interpret this statement as being about our destiny in the afterlife, but is Jesus only addressing eternity here?
The way of death
Think back to the Garden of Eden. In the centre of this garden, the Lord placed the tree of life. It represented God’s way of life, His wisdom. The other central tree in the garden was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree represented the way of death; it stood for man’s wisdom apart from Him.
Partaking of the second tree’s fruit didn’t just impact Adam and Eve in the afterlife, it affected them immediately. Before their foolish act, they had been unrestrained, productive, healthy and successful at whatever they set their hearts to do. But once they partook of the forbidden tree, life became difficult. They were plagued with sickness, lack, stressful toil, and difficulties they’d never known. They had entered into the way of death.
However, God is a Redeemer. He’d already planned to recover what man had lost. He made a Covenant in order to restore the way of life. His wisdom would once again produce true happiness, pleasant living, abundance, and other great benefits:
“Happy is the man who finds wisdom...all the things you desire cannot compare with her. Length of days is in her right hand, in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are those who retain her” Prov 3:13-18.
The way of life
When we apply God’s wisdom to our lives, it results in fruitful living, success, a long life, peace of mind, and honour - the way of life. This way of life involves more than eternity in Heaven. It encompasses our existence on earth as well. Because of this, we can see that the issue of understanding what is good - rather than what seems good - is relevant to everyone.
Returning to Proverbs 14:12, we read, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” When we examine the first part of this verse, we now know it can easily apply to Christian and nonbeliever alike. There is a way that seems right - it seems good, wise, beneficial, strategic, acceptable, profitable, and so forth. Yet the warning is clear: what seems good may actually be detrimental, harmful, and non-productive - the way of death.
A counterfeit good
Here’s a powerful truth: before the foundation of the world, God designed a plan for your life, one that is overflowing with fulfilled purpose, immense joy and great satisfaction. His will and plan for you are perfectly and completely good. As the apostle Paul writes: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” Rom 12:2.
God’s plans for you are good! The danger, however, is that a counterfeit good can keep you from embracing God’s best.
Pray for wisdom
Could we ever fall into the delusional state of calling what’s right wrong or what’s wrong right? The simple answer is, Yes! Eve was deceived while living in a perfect environment, free from sin or mistreatment. Peter thought he was giving Jesus good counsel when he told the Saviour he wouldn’t be killed, but his thinking was the exact opposite of God’s wisdom. And if we think back over our lives, we can probably remember times when we made a decision that seemed good only to discover it wasn’t the best, and sometimes that it wasn’t good at all.
Be guided by the Holy Spirit
Jesus Himself warned that deception would be so cleverly concealed in our time that many, even the elect (believers), could fall prey to it. The good news is that God is not trying to hide His best from us. He’s not in the business of pulling the shades over our eyes. He promises that those who seek will find.
The key is found in Romans 12:2. We cannot discern what is truly good for our lives without first having our minds renewed. If we commit to the journey of seeking truth, we will not be duped by its counterfeit. The question is, will we look to the Source of truth, or will we settle for a superficial knowledge of God and His good will?
A Godly perspective
Where are you with this issue? Are you judging things to be good from a human point of view or from God’s? Is there an area - or areas - in which you default to what seems good without seeking Heaven’s wisdom? I encourage you to pursue a new perspective. Get in God’s presence and His Word, and ask His Spirit to guide you along the way of life!
JOHN BEVERE is the founder of Messenger International. This article was adapted from his new book, Good or God? Why Good Without God Isn’t Enough. For more info: www.GoodOrGod.com.