I recently engaged with someone on a comment thread under one of my articles for The Conservative Woman, on a point which is — in my experience — a very common response to Christianity. The commenter said that Christians seem to claim a monopoly on doing good deeds, and he then went on to mention that although he is not religious, he both believes in doing good and actually does it.
Since this is such a common response to Christianity, I thought I’d give you my thoughts on why I believe it to be a big misconception. Actually, that’s not quite the case. It is several misconceptions, as I will do my best to explain.
The first misconception is the idea that Christians claim a monopoly on doing good deeds. I have also heard this expressed as something like, “You Christians think you’re so good”. Yet this is the very opposite of what Christianity claims. The fundamental basis for the faith is not that we are “very good”, but that we are “very sinful”. Why else would we claim the need for someone to save us from our sins?
The second misconception is that Christians say unbelievers are incapable of doing good deeds. Again, this is not true. What the Bible teaches is that we are marred by sin, and that this effects every part of us — our souls, our minds, our hearts, our wills and our bodies. Yet, that same Bible also teaches that all humans are made in the Image of God. Think of humans — yourself included — like this: we are like a beautiful painting that has had graffiti daubed all over it. The graffiti has utterly spoiled the picture, but underneath it all you can still see something of its beauty. When we “do good”, this is the Image of God underneath the mess shining through the graffiti. And so we are all capable of “doing good”, but that does not make us fundamentally good. Quite the opposite, and so we are all in need of a proper work of restoration to make us into what we should be. Not creatures where — in the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn — the line of evil runs through our hearts, but ones who have been thoroughly purged of all evil.
Which brings me onto the third and final misconception. What do you call a person who talks about being good and of doing good deeds? The answer to that is someone who is not good. Note, I’m not saying it’s a person that is incapable of “doing good”, but rather one who is not “good” in his or her very essence.
Think of it this way. The Bible starts with a man who it says is created Very Good. He is holy, he is righteous, he is blameless. Picture such a man, and now ask yourself this: would he go around talking about how good he is, and telling people about how much good he does? Of course not. It’s utterly impossible. Why? Because he is good. Not just capable of doing good, but entirely good in his very being. And since he doesn’t have anything else to contrast his innate goodness with, he would never go around telling people that he is good.
In other words, when people talk about being good, or that they do good, what you have is not a person who is good, but rather a sinner who is able to do good. Nothing more; nothing less.
I suppose where the confusion lies is probably because Christians have a standard which is far higher than anything any other religion or philosophy ever came up with. It is Very Good. In fact it is perfect. Yet the point is that we fail every day to match up to it. We sin every day. We do things from wrong motives every day. We gratify ourselves when we should be looking out for others. Well at least I do. Do you?
But thanks be to God, he pardons my sin, my wrong motives and my selfishness, each and every day. And yours hopefully too.