It's Not Goodness, but Godliness We Are Aiming For
A ruler asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
And Jesus said to him, “Why to do you call Me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’”
And he said, “All these I have observed from my youth.”
And when Jesus heard it, He said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
The Bible doesn’t tell us all of the settings where Jesus’ conversations took place. Nor does it always tell us His tone of voice. I’ve always imagined that this conversation with the ruler took place under the shade of a tree and that the tone of voice Jesus used was very calm and soothing, not animated. Many people “hear” this conversation between Jesus and the ruler as Jesus being somewhat harsh with the man; telling him that all the things he had done were not enough and that he needed to sell everything he had. On face value, this might have seemed like an unreasonable request. After all, who reading this message, is willing to sell everything they have to follow Jesus? I know I’m not.
Each of us has something that keeps us from being the best version of ourselves — the whole person that God created us to be. For this man, it was his riches. I imagine Jesus looking into the man’s heart and speaking to him with encouragement. Like, “You’ve got so much going for you. Tweak this one thing, and you will be where you and God want you to be.” What is the one thing that keeps you from being the best version of yourself — the whole person that God created you to be? Each of us will answer that question differently.
One thing we will all struggle with is the difference between goodness and Godliness. For example, I would say that I am a “good” driver. I don’t have many tickets or accidents, I drive at a safe speed, etc. However, I would not classify myself as a “godly” driver. I often get irritated that people around me are driving too fast or too slow, or there are too many people on the road. My motivation in being a “good” driver has nothing to do with the other drivers on the road. I want to avoid paying a ticket or wrecking my car; that’s why I drive well. To be a godly driver means to actually care about the people in the cars around you, to care about their well-being, to hope that they get home safely, not to see them as people who are just clogging the road and slowing us down. I confess, that’s the way I see them most of the time.
Jesus told the man in the story that the good things he had done were indeed good things. However, these things mostly benefited him. They were not godly things. If he was to truly glorify God in his life, he would need to take a godly approach, which for this man was to get rid of his riches because he was more concerned with them than he was concerned about his relationship with God. His riches were his stumbling block. For some of us, our stumbling block might be anger, it may be that we can’t get off of our phones, it may be that we gossip too much, or any number of things. Most of us like to see ourselves as good, to think of ourselves as good. Jesus is telling us that good is good, but good is not enough. Godly is where we should be setting our sights. Because the usual beneficiary of our goodness is ourselves, which can make goodness by itself into something that isn’t good—narcissism. Godliness is what leads to salvation.
As we wrap up our study on encouragement, the message here is to not have goodness as the highest goal, but godliness. And in order to do that, we have to see Christ in those around us; to not see the people around us as a bother, as in the example of how most of us relate to other drivers on the road. We have to care about the well-being of those around us, it’s not enough merely to be nice to them. Whether this is being a more patient driver, or thanking the person at the register at the store rather than just having a silent transaction, or offering encouragement to someone in addition to paying them for a service, etc.
Jesus told the man in the story, “You are good, and that is good, but the goal is to be godly. If you want to be godly, you have to remove the thing that keeps you from God—in this case, riches.” What is the thing that keep you from going all-in on God? What is the one thing you still lack? I encourage you to go after that!
Lord, thank You for the many things that I do well (list them).
Help me use my time and my talents to not only be good with what I have but to use my talents in a Godly manner. Help me to see You in those who are around me. Help me to understand that goodness is not the ultimate goal, but that the ultimate goal is Godliness, to walk in step with You, to see You in others and to bring You into everything that I do. Amen.
It’s Godliness, not goodness, that should be our goal each day.