I want you to focus on your relationships. I particularly ask you to focus on your best relationships. Would you please call to mind your three best, most successful relationships? By name and by face, focus on the three people with whom you have your finest relationships. Do you have them pictured? Now answer this question: Are those three people good people?

Let's use three relationships as examples. "One of the greatest relationships is my relationship with my wife (or my husband)." If I asked, "Is your wife (or husband) a good person?" you would say, "Oh, yes!" and then you would tell me about her or his good qualities. To you, one of the reasons it is such a wonderful relationship is found in the fact that she or he is a good person.

"One of my greatest relationships is with my father (or my mother). Again, if I asked, "Is your father (or your mother) a good person?" you would respond, "Oh, yes!" and then tell me about your father or mother's good qualities. To you, one of the reasons that it is a wonderful relationship is because your father or mother is such a good person.

"One of my greatest relationships is with my best friend. She (or he) is incredible! You cannot believe how close we are!" If I asked, "Is your best friend a good person?" you would promptly tell me, "Oh, yes!" and tell me about her or him. To you, one of the reasons you two share an exceptional relationship is found in the fact that she or he is such a good person."

Question: How many exceptional relationships do you have with individuals that you do not consider to be good persons? Certainly, some of us have exceptional relationships with persons who are not considered "good." That is definitely possible. While it is possible, it is unusual.

That fact clearly distinguishes God from us. We are most likely to have exceptional relationships with good people. God can and does have exceptional relationships with anyone. The prerequisite for a quality relationship with God is not personal goodness. The prerequisites for a quality relationship with God are a heart that will repent and confidence in God's promises.


  1. When you and I measure human goodness, we base our measurements on human-to-human comparisons.
    1. When we determine a person's goodness, we do not use an absolute standard; instead, we make relative comparisons.
      1. How good the person looks depends on the context of the comparison.
        1. To whom or to what is he or she being compared? Or, he or she is good as compared to what or to whom?
        2. It is possible to look very good in one comparative context, quite average in another, and bad in still another.
      2. "I don't understand that. Can you help me understand?"
        1. This is the description of the person: He uses a lot of curse words and vulgar expressions when he talks and those words have no significance to him; he does not have much patience with people; and he possess poor relationship skills. So it is easy for him to argue, easy for him to be offensive, and easy for him to hurt other people's feelings.
        2. If you compare this person to a group of godly people, he does not look like a good person.
        3. If you compare him with a group of non-religious people in the community, he is no worse than average and may even be better than most.
        4. If you compare him with a group of violent criminals in prison, he looks like and sounds like a really good person.
      3. I think that illustrates relative or comparative goodness.
    2. When most of us rate the goodness or the badness of a person:
      1. We typically rate the person's goodness by the way his or her life and deeds impact other people.
        1. "These are the good ways that his or her life influences other people's lives."
        2. "This is the good that is produced through his or her deeds."
      2. We typically rate the evil of another person's life in the same way.
        1. "This is the bad influence he or she has on others."
        2. "These are the bad deeds he has done and their consequences."
      3. In our human view, it is the good or bad impact of a person's life on other people that determines if the person is good or bad.
    3. What we seldom consider is the impact of a person's life on God.
      1. We seem to think that humans have impact on humans, but humans do not have impact on God.
      2. A lot of testimony from scripture declares that is not true.
        1. Humans totally corrupted God's creation--God made it very good, but now the creation is in such ruin that it waits for its destruction (2 Peter 3:10). That had an enormous impact on God
        2. Humans destroyed the ideal, unrestricted relationship between God and people (Genesis 3). That had an enormous impact on God.
        3. Humans have caused God centuries of grief (Genesis 6:1-8). That has enormous impact on God.
        4. Humans placed God in internal conflict by placing God's justice and God's love in conflict (Hosea 11). That had enormous impact on God.
        5. If you want to see the reality of the impact human evil has had on God just remember that it was necessary for God to allow His Son to die because of human failure.
      3. And these are just the obvious ways that human evil impacted God.
    4. This is the way that we tend to evaluate evil in human life:
      1. Position one: Attitudes and emotions are not evil if they do not physically harm someone else.
      2. Position two: If your deeds do not immediately, visibly hurt someone else, your deeds should not be called evil.
      3. Position three: If the people involved in an activity are involved by personal choice, it is their business and that should not be called evil.
      4. Why? Because we evaluate good or evil by evaluating the impact that one person has on other persons.

  2. Let's use an illustration that grabs our minds and shakes our thinking.
    1. If you made your own list of the ten worst evils, what would be on your list?
      1. How many of these things would be on your list?
        1. Homosexuality.
        2. Adultery.
        3. Prostitution.
        4. Rape.
        5. Murder.
        6. Abortion.
        7. Child abuse.
        8. Child abduction.
        9. Random violence.
        10. Criminal injustice (when innocent people are victimized by deliberate criminal injustice).
      2. 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, and Revelation 21:8 give lists of evils that will prevent a person from inheriting the kingdom of heaven.
        1. The list in 1 Corinthians 5:10, 11 includes six things, and two of them are verbal abusive and swindling.
        2. The list in Galatians 5:19-21 includes fifteen things and three of them are greed, swindling, and verbal abuse.
        3. The list in Revelation 21:8 includes eight things and one of them is lying.
      3. Would your list of the ten worst evils include verbal abuse, swindling, greed, and lying?
    2. It is obvious that we do not define evil as God does--we are certain that there are much worse evils than verbal abuse, swindling, greed, and lying.
      1. We do not determine evil as God does because we do not determine good as God does.
      2. This is the difference:
        1. God is absolute goodness.
          1. He is pure good.
          2. There is a total absence of evil in God.
        2. We have never seen or experienced absolute good.
          1. If we saw absolute good, I doubt that we would recognize it.
          2. You and I are so far removed from absolute good that we cannot recognize all the evil in our own lives.
        3. When God determines good or evil, He compares a person's heart, mind, and actions to absolute good.
        4. When you and I determine good or evil, we compare imperfect people to imperfect people.
    3. "Is it important that we understand that difference?" It is not only important; it is critical.
      1. Let me illustrate the importance by using something I taught in the past.
      2. Question: How much divine grace does it take to save a person?
        1. Here is a devout Christian; he is 65% good; God adds 35% grace.
        2. Here is a struggling Christian; he is 40% good; God adds 60% grace.
        3. Here is a weak Christian; he is only 10% good; God adds 90% grace.
        4. Here is a Christian who has entered Christ, but is completely without goodness; if he can be saved, God must add 100% grace.
        5. Conclusion: if you, with genuine faith and repentance, are as good as you can be, by whatever % you miss the mark, God will add that much grace.
      3. I pray that I did not do serious damage to anyone's life with that teaching.
        1. I was sincere, but I was sincerely wrong.
        2. That whole concept is a personal insult to the goodness of God.
        3. How much grace does it take to save us?
          1. It takes the same amount for each and every one of us; 100%.
          2. It takes all of everything God did when He let Jesus die and when He raised Jesus from the dead.
          3. It takes all of His forgiveness and all of His mercy.

  3. Please let Jesus emphasize that point in Luke 15:11-32.
    1. A wealthy man had two sons, and the younger son was rebellious and unhappy.
      1. He told his father, "I want my inheritance right now."
        1. Within days of receiving his inheritance, he was out of there--went as far as he could get from father and older brother.
        2. He went so far away from home that absolutely nothing reminded him of home--no synagogue, no Sabbath day, no prayers, no readings, and no reminders of any kind that he was a Jew or a part of God's nation.
        3. Whatever he felt like doing, whatever he wanted to do, he did, and he wasted every bit of his money--he had nothing.
        4. He spent it all having fun in any way he wanted to pleasure himself.
        5. When he was broke, hard times hit the country he was in; everyone was having hard times.
        6. He had no place to stay, no food, no friends, and the only job he could get was slopping hogs.
        7. He was so hungry that he would have eaten the hogs' food had it been digestible.
        8. One day, in the hog pen, dirty, tired, and hungry, he came to his senses--with real courage, he decided to go home, confess to his father what an evil fool he had been, admit that he had sinned against his father and God, and just maybe his father would let him work as a servant.
      2. Every day his father looked down the road, hoping his son would return.
        1. He never gave up.
        2. And one day he saw his skinny, ragged, dirty son in the distance and recognized him.
        3. He ran to him, hugged and kissed him, and welcomed him home.
        4. In honor of his return, the father immediately threw a big party for the neighborhood because a son who was dead to him had come home.
      3. The older brother was working out in the field when he heard the celebration.
        1. He asked someone, "What is going on?" and was told that it was a celebration because his brother had returned home.
        2. He was angry! Angry that a wonderful greeting was given his worthless brother! Angry that he had always stayed home and worked hard and never received such attention!.
        3. He was so angry that he refused his own father's pleading to come join the celebration.
    2. This parable makes a powerful statement about God's love and a powerful statement about God's goodness.
      1. We often have discussed God's love to be seen in the father's forgiveness of his wayward son.
      2. But I want you to consider the statement about God's goodness to be seen in the angry son.
        1. The older brother was so impressed with his own goodness that he could not see his father's goodness.
        2. The older brother's concept of goodness was comparative or relative goodness.
          1. He was good because his brother was bad.
          2. He was good because his brother left home but he stayed.
          3. He was good because his brother behaved wickedly and he behaved responsibly.
        3. But his father was good because he loved his son, loved beyond failure, loved because he valued his son.
          1. He did not value his lost son more than his son that stayed home.
          2. Nor did he love one more than the other.
          3. The truth is simple: in his goodness, he loved both completely.
          4. When you compare the goodness of the oldest brother to the goodness of the father, the oldest brother looks mean and heartless.
          5. It is only when you compare the older brother to the failure of the younger brother that the older brother looks good.
        4. This is the tragedy: the older brother was so concerned about being rewarded for his own goodness that he forfeited his relationship with his father who loved him.
    3. The tragic irony is this: it is very common for the goodness of God to "turn off" and "leave cold" those Christians who are impressed with their own goodness.
      1. We don't like to remember what Jesus said in Luke 17:10:
        When you do all the things which are commanded you, say, "We are unworthy slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done."
      2. We find it painful when we realize that every one of us is saved by the goodness of God.
      3. We find it painful to understand that when we are compared to the absolute goodness of God, all of us are without true goodness.

Will it make you mad if our sovereign God, our father who loves all people completely, saves someone you think should not be saved? Or will you rejoice in the goodness of God, knowing that it is His goodness that makes your salvation possible?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 16 March 1997

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