Today I was asked a very good question.
Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). Therefore, should Christians refrain from calling anyone “good,” as in “So-and-so is a good person”?
The Greek word translated in English as “good” in Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler is agathos, which is defined as “of good constitution or nature,” “useful, salutary,” “good, pleasant, agreeable, joyful, happy,” “excellent, distinguished,” and “upright, honourable.”
Jesus used this same Greek word when he talked of how his Father made his sun to rise on the evil “and on the good” (Matt. 5:45). He used it when he said, “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good things” (Matt. 12:35). He used it in a parable when he talked of servants who “gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good” (Matt. 22:10), and in another parable when he told of the master who said to his servant, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21, 23).
In like manner, Luke was inspired by the Holy Spirit of God (2 Pet. 1:19-21) to use this same Greek word to describe Joseph and Barnabas (Luke 23:50; Acts 11:24). Paul also was inspired to use this same word when he wrote, “…though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die” (Rom. 5:7).
Therefore, it’s clear from how “good” is used repeatedly throughout Scripture to describe imperfect human beings that it is not sinful or erroneous to refer to certain of our fellow man as “good.” So why did Jesus say to the rich young ruler, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18)?
First, remember that God is the ultimate epitome of goodness due to his sinless perfection and boundless love, patience, grace, and compassion. While we imperfect human beings can justifiably and biblically be called “good” in certain ways and by various degrees as shown above, none of us can ever attain the degree of goodness possessed by Jehovah due to our sin (Rom. 3:23).
Secondly, Jesus IS God (John 1:1, 14; 10:30; 17:11, 22; 14:9; Phil. 2:6; 2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15, 19). This fact was brought up repeatedly by him during his preaching and by the miracles he wrought throughout his earthly ministry (cf. Mark 2:5-12). Because of this, it is clear that when the rich young ruler initially addressed him as “Good Teacher” (Mark 10:17), Jesus immediately saw another opportunity to proclaim himself as Deity. Thus, he replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (v. 18), a subtle but definite hint to the ruler, anyone else who was listening, and to us as readers today that the ruler was addressing Deity when he spoke to Jesus.
Thus, one should take “No one is good except God alone” not as an indictment of sin by Christ against referring to anyone other than God as “good.” If that was the case, Christ himself as well as his inspired apostles and prophets would have violated his own edict by referring both generally and specifically to imperfect human beings as “good.” Rather, one should interpret Jesus’ statement to the rich young ruler primarily as an implication of his Deity and secondarily as an indication that our own goodness can never compare to the goodness of God.
Topics: Muslims, boycotting, Jesus’ body after ascension, communication in the afterlife, Jewish racism in the Bible, saying “going to church,” Satan’s sin in heaven, Christians’ punishment compared to the punishment of unbelievers
With this coming Sunday being the next scheduled Bible Question & Answers session at Duncan, I thought I’d post the questions and answers from our last session in April. Apologies for taking so long to get them out. I’ll do better with this coming Sunday’s batch of questions and answers.
Can a true Muslim be a good American? How should we interact with Muslims since they are called to convert us or kill us?
The Quran (Islam’s holy book, their “Bible”) contains verses which promote jihad, a holy war which requires Muslims to act violently toward unrepentant non-Muslims. One of many passages which does so is this one: “Now when ye MEET IN BATTLE those who disbelieve, then it is SMITING OF THE NECKS until, when ye have routed them, then making fast of bonds; and afterward either grace or ransom till the WAR lay down its burdens. That (is the ordinance). And if Allah willed He could have punished them (without you) but (thus it is ordained) that He may try some of you by means of others. And THOSE WHO ARE SLAIN in the way of Allah, He rendereth not their actions vain.” (Surah 47:4, emphasis mine). Muslim scholar Abdulla Yusuf Ali wrote a commentary on this passage in which he stated, “When once the fight (Jihad) is entered upon, carry it out with the utmost vigour, and strike home your blows at the most vital points (smite at their necks), both literally and figuratively. You cannot wage war with kid gloves.”
The religion of Islam is similar to Christianity in that its followers each exhibit varying degrees of faithfulness to its commandments. Just as there are “liberal” Christians who hold to a relaxed view of biblical teaching, there are “liberal” Muslims, those who hold a relaxed view of the many teachings of the Quran concerning violence towards non-Muslims and thus are peaceful and kind. Just as there are “conservative” Christians who simply take the Bible for what it says and try to obey all of it, there are also “conservative” Muslims who take the Quran for what it says and try to obey it all, including the passages about violence towards non-Muslims. The “conservative” Muslims are currently represented by ISIS, the 9/11 hijackers, etc. The “liberal” Muslims, generally speaking, are far more likely to be “good Americans” (i.e., abiding by the laws of this country; living peacefully with their fellow Americans.)
Scripture gives several guidelines on how Christians are to interact with Muslims:
- Remember that their souls are precious in the sight of God, so reach out to them with the gospel (John 3:16; Luke 19:10; Mark 16:15).
- Help them see us and our Christ as a loving people who represent a loving God by loving our neighbors and our enemies (1 Cor. 13:4-7; 1 John 4:8; Matt. 22:39; 5:44).
- Our love is primarily shown by sharing the truth with them in love (Eph. 4:15).
- Rather than writing off all Muslims you know as among the “conservative,” violent type, judge each individual Muslim righteously (John 7:24).
- Upon evidence that you’re dealing with a Muslim who is very “conservative” in doctrine (i.e., a violent jihadist), act wisely to protect yourself (Matt. 10:14); cf. Acts 23:12-35).
Should Christians boycott businesses which promote sins like homosexuality?
Conscientous Christians are always concerned about their affiliations and the causes they support (Prov. 4:14-15; 1 Thess. 5:22; etc.) We all want to avoid giving evil the upper hand. In our society, this means we are often faced with questions of which businesses we ought to support as consumers.
First of all, it must be said that we must never do anything to violate our own consciences (Rom. 14:23). Yet, it must also be pointed out that God authorized Christians to do business in markets which sold meat that was offered to idols, even though eating meat offered to idols is sinful (1 Cor. 10:25-31; cf. Acts 15:28-29). Thus, God allows us to purchase products or services from a business that sells things which contribute to the sins of others.
God also commands us not to research everyone through whom we purchase products or services to determine if they’re good (1 Cor. 10:25, 27). This is because of another fact we must no longer overlook. Boycotting breeds inconsistent hypocrisy, something God wishes Christians to overcome (Rom. 2:1, 17-24).
In recent years Disney, Ford Motor Company, McDonald’s, Sears, Wal-Mart, NBC, IBM, Subaru of America, Volvo, Chase Bank, Baby Magazine, Procter & Gamble, and more have all to some degree sponsored or promoted pro-homosexual organizations or causes.
If you boycott them all, what about businesses which hire and support liars, alcoholics, and the unscripturally divorced? What about the businesses which sell alcohol and immodest clothing? What about utility companies which serve businesses that sell or offer sinful services and products?
Every gas station I’ve ever seen sells alcohol, porn, lottery tickets, and tobacco products…so don’t worry about boycotting Ford, Volvo, or Subaru for supporting homosexual causes, because you won’t be able to buy a car to begin with!
If you boycott Procter & Gamble because they sponsor homosexual causes, forget about buying Duracell batteries, Febreze, Charmin, Ivory, Olay, Zest, Cover Girl, Max Factor, Crest, Scope, Gillette, Folgers, Always, Pringles, and a host of other products which they produce.
Friends, can you name even one business which is completely free from some association with sin? Are we going to boycott them all for consistencies’ sake? It can’t be done.
This is why we who hate to think we’re supporting sin need to remember how the New Testament says that purchasing a product or service which is innocent in itself is not a vote for that company or business’s immoral policies.
Don’t violate your conscience if it demands you boycott a business (Rom. 14:23), but also follow Romans 14:22 by not advertising your boycotting to others. By doing so you will avoid advertising your inconsistency also.
Instead, let’s boycott sin itself!
When Jesus ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9), was he still in his earthly body?
All scriptural indications point to the conclusion that he was still in his earthly, resurrected physical body when he ascended into heaven (Acts 1:1-9; Mark 16:1-19; cf. Luke 24:36-42).
Yet flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of heaven; hence, when we are resurrected on the last day we will be given an imperishable, immortal body (1 Cor. 15:50-54).
Jesus was the very first to be resurrected never to die again. We will experience the same on Judgment Day (1 Cor. 15:20-23; Acts 26:23; cf. Rev. 1:18; Rom. 6:9).
Thus, Jesus must have received a physical, yet imperishable and immortal, body when he was resurrected, in which he also ascended.
How did Abraham speak to the rich man when there is a great gulf between them? Will we be able to communicate with others in Hades? Some say we are in a dormant state.
Abraham in Paradise and the rich man in torment did have a conversation in Hades in which they were able to communicate with each other in spite of the fact that there was a great gulf or chasm between them and they were far away from each other (Luke 16:22-26). The Bible doesn’t explain the mechanics behind this fact, so I will not either (Deut. 29:29).
It is true that death is often referred to as “sleep” in the Bible (Matt. 27:52-53; John 11:11-13; Acts 7:60; 13:36; 1 Cor. 15:6, 18, 20; 1 Thess. 5:13-17; 2 Pet. 3:4). “Sleep” is a euphemistic metaphor for death, and should not be taken to mean that death brings about an end to all consciousness, in which the soul or spirit is “dormant” in the sense of hibernation or unconsciouness. Otherwise, Abraham and the rich man wouldn’t have been able to communicate after death due to being in an unconscious sleep.
Rather, death is like sleep in that it brings about a cessation of activity, a season of rest and repose for the saints in Paradise.
Webster defines racism as the practice of racial discrimination or persecution. The Jews were God’s chosen people, so were they not racist? They called the Samaritans dogs because they were a mixed race, had nothing to do with the Gentiles, and weren’t permitted to marry Gentiles to keep the Jewish nation pure. Maybe I’m wrong; if so help me to understand.
The prohibition against marrying Gentiles was to keep the Jewish nation which would produce the Messiah pure in a religious sense (Ex. 34:13-16; Deut. 7:3-4; Josh. 23:12-13; cf. 1 Kings 11:1-8; Ez. 9-10; Neh. 13:23ff). However, marriage to Gentiles was allowed in some cases (cf. Deut. 21:10-14). Thus, the prohibition was not founded out of racist discrimination, but rather out of a desire to keep the Israelites loyal to God alone.
God has never shown partiality between Jew and Gentile (Rom. 2:9-11). True, he set Abraham’s descendants apart to produce the Messiah because of Abraham’s faith (Gal. 3:6; Rom. 4:9-12). Yet, remember that Abraham was an uncircumcised Gentile at the time God set him apart (Rom. 4:9-12).
God also communicated with and/or blessed in various ways individual Gentiles such as Abel, Noah, Job, Melchizedek, Jethro, Balaam, Rahab, Ruth, etc. He also indirectly and directly reached out to and/or blessed many Gentile nations and their kings, such using Joseph with Pharaoh’s Egypt, Daniel with Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon, Daniel and Esther with Darius’ and Xerxes’ Persia, Jonah and Nahum with Assyria, Obadiah with Edom, Zephaniah with Ethiopia, and Amos and Ezekiel with Ammon, Phoenicia, Egypt, and Edom.
God also offered his Son for the whole world and the gospel to both Jew and Gentile (John 3:16; Rom. 1:16; Tit. 2:11).
Thus, any racist discrimination and prejudice against Gentiles by Jews did not originate with God. Rather, it came about through the inordinate, selfish pride of the Jews who took their divine national sanctification to mean more than it did (Matt. 3:8-9; John 8:37-41). Jesus reached out to and showed kindness to Samaritans and Gentiles, as did his faithful followers (John 4; Mark 7:24-30; Acts 8:5ff; 10-11; 15; etc.) Prideful, racist Jews tried to either prevent or limit compassionate outreach to Gentiles (cf. Gal. 1-5; Col. 2: Rom. 2-11).
Is it wrong to say that we’re “going to church”? The church is the people, Christians, not the building. So is it a sin to say that we’re “going to church” when we’re talking about going to the building?
The Greek word ekklesia is translated “church” in English Bibles. It literally means “called out” or “assembly,” and is used to refer to those called out universally from sin (cf. Matt. 16:18), local congregations of Christians (cf. Gal. 1:2; Rom. 16:16), and even to secular assemblies like courts (Acts 19:32, 39, 41).
The word “church” originates from the old English word cirice or cyrice, which in turn comes from the Dutch word kerk and the German word kirche, which in turn are based on the medieval Greek term kuriakon doma (“Lord’s house”). I surmise that in medieval times, kuriakon doma (“Lord’s house”) was used synonymously with ekklesia (“called out,” “assembly”) because the ekklesia was referred to as “the house of God” (1 Tim. 3:15).
Therefore, whenever you read the word “church” in your Bibles, know that you’re reading a word that should technically be translated “called out” or “assembly.” However, the reason it’s translated “church” is because “church” originally meant “Lord’s house,” a biblical description of the religious “assembly” of the “called out” from sin (1 Tim. 3:15).
So when you say “Let’s go to church,” you’re technically saying either “Let’s go to the assembly of the called out” or “Let’s go to the Lord’s house,” both of which are biblical and basically mean the same thing.
Remember also that God warns us to avoid “unhealthy cravings for quarrels about words” because they produce “dissension…evil suspicions, and constant friction” and prove that we “understand nothing” and are “deprived of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). The inconsistent policing of the term “church,” the suspicion of error or even apostasy such policing produces among some who hear their brethren say “Let’s go to church,” and the lack of knowledge and understanding about the origins of these terms all combine to show a prime example of what Paul’s talking about here.
How? Several inconsistencies are made by those who tell their brethren that they shouldn’t say, “Go to church”:
- Technically, we should say “called out” or “assembly” instead of “church” because that’s what ekklesia actually means, but we don’t and no one has a problem with it.
- The etymology of “church” shows that it originally meant “Lord’s house,” a biblical description of ekklesia…so why quibble over something that technically is biblical?
- Ekklesia was also biblically used to refer to a secular court (Acts 19). No one has a problem saying “Let’s go to court” or “Court is in session” or “I’m representing myself in court.” So why have a problem saying “Let’s go to church” or “Church has started” or “I’m in church”?
- When Paul said that it’s shameful for a woman to speak “in church” (1 Cor. 14:35), how is that different from saying, “We’re in church”?
Just something to think about.
The Bible repeatedly says that God cannot know sin. So how is it the devil could have sinned against God in a perfect heaven?
The Bible gives little information about the origin of Satan. We know that he was a created being (Col. 1:16), possibly an angel created during creation week (Job 38:7) and thus originally “very good” like the rest of God’s creation (Gen. 1:31). Some believe what is said about Babylon’s king, Lucifer, and about Tyre’s king figuratively applies to the origin of Satan (Is. 14:1-15; Ezek. 28:11-19). All we know for certain is that he was condemned because of pride (1 Tim. 3:6).
We also know God gave the human beings he created free will to choose to disobey him or obey him (Josh 24:15; 1 Kings 18:21). Since God tempts no one to do evil (James 1:13), the only logical conclusion based on the little information we have is that Satan also had free will to choose to obey or disobey God. Due to pride, he chose to sin against God and was cast down.
Who knows if there is more to this story which hasn’t been revealed to us? (Deut. 29:29)
Why are we punished worse than the unbeliever if we commit the same sins as they, even if we pray about it?
God does imply a degree of worse punishment for the apostate Christian than the unbeliever who had never known the way of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:20-22; Luke 12:47-48). This is because the believer who willfully, unrepentantly sins is “crucifying once again the Son of God…and holding him up to contempt” (Heb. 6:4-6), and has “spurned the Son of God…profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:26-29).
Yet, the Christian who penitently prays about his sins to God, confessing them and asking for forgiveness and strength to overcome them, will receive no eternal punishment, but rather forgiveness and eternal life (1 John 1:7-9; Acts 8:22).