For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:7-8
I once witnessed a live panel discussion in Minneapolis where the theologian, John Piper, was asked, “Is it possible for an unbeliever to do anything that pleases God?” John thought a minute and started enumerating wonderful things that people can often do; people even outside of Christ. Charitable acts of compassion and kindness, sacrifices a parent makes for his children, and generous philanthropic outreaches. Many are given with an open heart, are not self-serving, and are even costly to the person who gave them.
So, does God see any of them as good? Is He moved by them? Does He acknowledge that we were created in His image and, therefore, we are capable of genuinely demonstrating love for others? And finally, isn’t there really such a thing as a good person and would God let someone like this really go to hell?
There are two inherent problems in this kind of thinking. 1.) The only thing that matters to God is what we do for His glory, with Him at the center of our motivation. 2.) And, a life comprised of many stellar gestures towards humankind does not fix the sinful nature that person inherited from Adam at his birth. The curse must be reversed. His sins must be forgiven at the cross. He must acknowledge God as his personal Lamb, the One who takes His sins and promises to give back undeserved righteousness. What ushers in this event? Repentance and an admission of sinfulness, not goodness.
The best of people still sin and fall short of the glory of God. Consider the nicest unbeliever you know. Put his wonderful deeds for others aside for a moment. Try to picture how he might handle the rest of God’s precepts. Would the ways of the kingdom even appeal to him? Would living by the Spirit make sense to him? Would he find joy in submitting to what is, to him, upside down? To live, I must die to self. To lead, I must first be a servant. To get back at my enemy, I must love him and pray for him. This is why Paul says that those who live by the flesh can not submit to God’s law. That person is repelled by what his sinful nature cannot understand. The nicest person will still live by his flesh and will perish eternally because of it.
The cause for such blindness is revealed by Paul. 2 Corinthians 4:4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Give us all eyes to see what’s behind Satan’s clever arguments, the ones that make us see you as one not worthy of our trust. Amen