Are You a Pretty Good Person?
Most people probably see themselves as a good person. Even those people you consider to be pretty petty, mean and selfish, they probably consider themselves to be a pretty good person. And even those people who do demonstrably evil things tend to excuse themselves by say, "Yes, but basically, I'm a pretty good person." My point is that we generally set the bar pretty low on what it takes to be a good person. I remember Bob Clark reviewing of Lewis Smedes' book, A Pretty Good Person. I seem to remember him saying that it was a pretty good book, but I don't remember anything about it-- I was bummed that the guy reviewing the Max Lucado book didn't show up.
I ran across the following video while looking for something to use with my Middle School students in our small group study on the Ten Commandments. Warning: There is a commercial at the end; feel free to hit the You Tube stop button when you get there.
This little clip reminds us that maybe we're not really the pretty good person we want to think we are. We think we're a pretty good person, but that's because we're comparing ourselves with other people. That won't fly. Paul reminds us "There is no one righteous, not even one" (Rom 3:10). That is the first of a series of Old Testament quotations that leads Paul to conclude "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin" (Rom 3:20) and "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). As long as we keep the bar low and compare ourselves with others (and are pretty selective about the others to whom we compare ourselves), we can convince ourselves that we are pretty good people. But our only real hope at goodness is through an act of God, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." We'll never be good on our own, but in Christ we have a righteousness granted from above.
But that is really not my point. When a many people "out there" in our increasingly secular world think of "Christians," what comes to their mind is not those who are "a pretty good person." The three words that most come to mind when they hear the word "Christian" are "anti-homosexual, judgmental, and hypocritical." According to David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons in UnChristian (Barna, 2007), many (particularly younger) non-Christians view the church through the lens of what we're against. There are six negative themes that sum up the perceptions and attitudes of younger non-Christian people of Christians-- hypocrisy, treatment of outsiders as conversion targets, hatred of homosexuals, seclusion from the real world, over-politicization, and condemnation. Their perception of us is that we don't come across as pretty good people. In fact, sometimes we can come across as pretty mean-spirited, harsh and condemning in the name of Jesus.
Sure, many of those people have formed opinions based on perceptions gleaned from the media. If by "Christian," they think Pat Robertson or even Fred Phelps, it is no wonder that they have negative views about us. But most of the people surveyed in the Barna study knew Christians personally, and thus some of their opinions were formed by first hand experience.
So here's my point... finally. While it is not enough for us to be "pretty good people," our Christian faith must lead us to live in the world of non-believers in a that "will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life" (Phil 2:15-16). It is not enough for us to be a pretty good person, but if we don't live so that the people around us see us as a pretty good person, then we more or less invalidate our belief that Jesus makes a difference.