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  • Grace Church Wakefield

Christianity is not about being good!



We commonly find that when we try to explain Christianity to our neighbours and friends in Wakefield they think we are suggesting that they should ‘try to be a good person’.


Someone who recently bought some second hand bookcases from me told me, “you don’t need to be Christian to be good.”


And he is right. The majority of people I meet seem to be nicer, more considerate and more generous people than me!


Someone recently bought some second hand bookcases from me told me, “you don’t need to be Christian to be good.” And he is right.

The Bible itself commends being good. And Christians ought to be good. But that is not, at heart, what Christianity is saying.

Christianity is not telling you to be good.

The New Testament book of Acts records the conversion of a man called Cornelius to belief in Jesus Christ. (Acts chapter 10:1-48). It’s a very significant conversion, because he is the first truly Gentile (non culturally Jewish) person to become a Christian. In other words he could eat pork sausages (nice ones - he was Italian) and he wasn’t circumcised. To Jewish eyes this normally signified how far away someone was from God.

But here’s the thing: Cornelius was a very good man. He deeply respected the Jewish religion and ‘feared’ their God. He gave generously to the poor (so he'd have filled the shelves of the local food bank). He was a man of prayer (Acts 10:2). And all the Jewish people respected him, which was really saying something bearing in mind Cornelius was also an officer in the despised Roman army (Acts 10:22) but … none of this good behaviour - religious behaviour even - made Cornelius a Christian.


none of this good behaviour - religious behaviour even - made Cornelius a Christian.

Neither did it make him a good candidate to be a Christian, as if he were somehow nearer God because he was so religious.

And we know this because we are told that Cornelius - of all people! - still needed to ‘repent’ (Acts 11:18).

‘Repent’ is an old fashioned sounding word that very simply means to turn around. The Bible uses it to talk about someone turning from going their own way, trusting themselves as the ruler and saviour of their lives (which is the very heart of ‘sin’, which deserves God’s fair judgement) and instead going the way of the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting in him as Saviour and ruler of their lives.

This shows us in a very clear way something that surprises and even shocks most people I speak to: Here is Cornelius, a really good man who even has a personal sense of God - he would probably attend church services religiously today - but who still fundamentally is separate from God. He was yet to realise that even the good things he did not make him right with God, and that he was still attempting a ‘self salvation’ project through his good, moral and generous life.


Christianity is not saying 'be good'. It is saying 'even the good that you do is at root wrong'.


Christianity is not saying 'be good'. It is saying 'even the good that you do is at root wrong'.

So, if it's not about being good, what is Christianity about?

Christianity is not at heart an invitation or encouragement to be good (though regrettably that is so often how Christianity has been presented in our schools, media and other institutions over the decades).

Rather, it is a shocking claim that we are all attempting, vainly, to ‘rescue’ ourselves and make ourselves acceptable either to God, or to others, or perhaps just to ourselves. And very often the way we are attempting that is through living ‘good’ lives.

But the astonishing and usually very offensive claim of Christianity is that you can’t be good enough, because even the good that you do is, at root, ‘wrong’ since it was not done in response to God’s love.


Christianity claims that through faith in Jesus Christ we can be declared truly 'good' in God's judgement as a gift from God.

Instead Christianity claims that through faith in Jesus Christ (who was crucified to bear the punishment we deserve for our sin) we can be declared truly 'good' in God'd judgement as a gift from God.

This is an incredibly good thing, because it means I can be good - really good - but without any fear or anxiety that I may not be good enough. It gives me a composure in life that radically affects me day-to-day.


It means I can be good - really good - but without any fear or anxiety that I may not be good enough.

And of course it is saying something much bigger on top of that - it is saying that while my own self-salvation plans will ultimately let me down, God's true salvation plan through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ will work, and guarantees us the forgiveness we need in order to be right with God and enter his presence for ever.

Which is what good old, hard working, family-man, generous, religious Cornelius, his family, and many millions of other sausage-eaters down the centuries, have discovered too.