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November 10, 2006




My experience in evangelism with college students confirms your thoughts on the separation of goodness and God. After our worship meeting this week, I was confronted by a student who was struggling with the fact she has seen more "goodness" outside of the confessing church than within it. Her experience has led her to believe following Jesus leads one to judge and condemn. While I think her current situation is causing her to make sweeping generalizations about Christians, I had to aggree with her to some extent. I have seen the lack of goodness in the Church and too often in myself.

You hit the nail on the head when you said, "If I persuade someone to profess faith in Christ, and I haven’t learnt anything from that person, then all I have done is gotten someone to say something. No conversion has happened. For if we can’t see the goodness in people’s lives now, we can’t envision any path from their current life to one of greater Godliness." Too often we have tried to squeeze the whole of the gospel into one experience or statement when it is a way of life.

Pursuing God is chasing after the truest form of goodness, or justice, or beauty. Forming a relationship with God through identifying with the sacrifice of His Son begins to open our eyes to that true form, but there are echoes of God's nature everywhere. Being good ourselves and encouraging goodness is evangelism. This is a visible display of the gospel's "good news" and produces a desire to go deeper in goodness in us and those we're affirming. This is a path to God.

When this is done in relationship with other goodness seekers, we will have many opportunities to discuss the Source of all goodness. These conversations, coupled with our good deeds, will encourage many to join us as disciples of Christ, where we discover that we have been saved for the "good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:10


Thank you for your reflection on evangelism. To evangelize is to help another open themselves to the prompting of God's grace.

Our practical work is to make distinctions. We move from what is good in someone's heart, mind, and actions and distinguish from what is wrong. We encourage the truth to display itself by removing confusions do to the vagueness of misunderstanding and sinfulness.

I am not sure if I totally agree with your connection to friendship. True friendship for Aristotle can only be shared by virtuous people -- equals. On a practical level, we cannot be friends in Aristotle's sense with many people -- and certainly not with everyone we help to see the Lord.

Perhaps the truth of your words points to the need to focus on the truth and goodness of the person and not merely on the message. To evangelize in the fullest sense is to learn the other person. I mean this literally -- not learn from the other person so much as learning the person him or her self. Only then through God's grace can we make the kinds of distinctions of heart, truth, and action that the person requires to become present to God's truth.

Of course, this is a path we all share together. My own movement in God's grace is strengthened through friendships which continue this path for me. In this sense, the truest evangelization occurs once one already makes his or her turn toward Christ.

Our hearts much continuously be pierced by a sword, confessing always even our best is never a sufficient offering for God's goodness, but that our offering is perfected in Jesus' gift of himself. Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it.


"If I persuade someone to profess faith in Christ, and I haven’t learnt anything from that person, then all I have done is gotten someone to say something. No conversion has happened."

I want to highlight this particular phrase, because it is mentioned twice here. I can appreciate the concern with people coxed into saying a "sinner's prayer" and there being no true conversion that takes place. I believe in Godly sorrow that leads to repentance and true conversion of the heart. Conversion happens in a day. It's not a process that occurs over time. You may or may not agree, I'm not sure from reading this blog. That is how I see it in scripture and how I experienced it personally. I can look back at a DAY that I was born into the kingdom. We MUST compell people to be born again. The lost must be saved. I'm not saying that you would not agree. I'm simply trying to clear the air on that matter in case there in any ambiguity in the conversation.

"...if we can’t see the goodness in people’s lives now, we can’t envision any path from their current life to one of greater Godliness."

As an unregenerate human we do not posess any amount of Godliness, so we can never move into "greater Godliness". Maybe this is not what you were intending to say, or whomever you were quoting. I like the idea of appreciating the good moral decisions and lifestyles of others and encouraging that, but we cannot loose sight of the condition of the unregenrated person that needs to be birthed into the kingdom.


It seems at the heart of your argument is the assertion that since God is good, doing good must be one if not the ultimate path to God. However, the conclusion reached in your argument is flawed in that it demonstrates a great lack of biblical understanding as it relates to God who is good and therefore demonstrates goodness and man who, in spite of a heart blackened with sin, does good things. This is largely demonstrated by the lack of biblical support for the arguments made and reliance upon feelings and the lives modeled by others who call themselves Christian. It must be noted that calling oneself Christian does not equate to a reality of being so.

It is no great surprise that many believe the possibility if not the eventual probability that man, either unredeemed or redeemed, has the capacity for good. Nor is it particularly surprising to hear that some would think of the redeemed as producing good works but the unredeemed is somewhat of a mystery. At the heart of the debate is the necessity for a clear understanding of depravity and its origin. There are many views of the origin of sin and this offering will, without apology, have the Calvinist position (although limited) in view and will explore the total depravity of man and how he became so.

The depravity of the human race originated with Adam in the garden in which he held the representative position of the human race. In his discussion of Sin, Merrill F. Unger states:

"Calvinists have held that the sin of Adam was immediately imputed to the whole human family, so that not only is the entire race depraved but also guilty on account of the first transgression. To sustain this opinion it is argued that Adam was not only the natural but also the representative, or federal, head of the human race. His fall involved the whole race in guilt."1

So that when Adam sinned, the entire race was plunged into depravity. That this depravity is total is echoed in the scriptures they declare the condition of man, consider:

Rom 3:10-12 There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. … There is none who does good, no, not one.”2
Isa 64:6 But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags,
Ps 14:1 …There is none who does good,
Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked.

And yet in the face of such confronting passages some cling to their imagined goodness. It should be noted that some may confuse a good deed with the condition of the individual and infer that good deeds come from good people. This however is not the teaching of scripture. In Lk 11:9-13 the Lord is teaching on the dependability of God to give good gifts (the Holy Spirit) to those who ask, and contrasts His good gift with those who being evil give good gifts. Therefore, the scriptures make a distinction between the giver and the gift.

Next, consider how the sin of Adam was passed to the entire human race. That all are born in sin is not a debate at least from Scripture, however that sin is inherited from Adam is. The biblical concept of inheritance is the receipt of something not earned but awarded because of position; this is seen in the parable of the prodigal son who demanded his portion of his father’s estate. It stands to reason that for there to be a receiver of an inheritance there must also be someone who gives the inheritance. Yet the scriptures do not present Adam as the testator of sin only the victim of his own sin. While he was the gate through which sin and death entered, the conclusion is that “all sinned” (Rom 5:12). John McArthur states of “all sinned” in his commentary on Romans:

"Sinned translates a Greek aorist tense, indicating that at one point in time all men sinned. That, of course, was the time that Adam first sinned. His sin became mankind's sin, because all mankind were in his loins. Paul does not attempt to make his explanation wholly understandable to his readers, and he himself did not claim to have full comprehension of the significance of what the Lord revealed to and through him. He simply declared that Adam's sin was transmitted to all his posterity because that truth was revealed to him by God."3

To say that Adam’s sin was imputed to man makes some cry foul for then, they say, someone else’s sin is being credited to man’s account when no such sin personally exists. However, much as Christ’s righteousness is imputed to sinful man so was the sin of Adam and yet as R.C. Sproul states “… God has redeemed me from my sin He has not redeemed me from Adam’s.” The sin which condemns man is their own sin. That they are born under condemnation is clear, how they became this way though, is not so clear.

So it is seen that apart from the indwelling Holy Spirit received by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8), no one has the capacity for good. And even in the redeemed condition just mentioned the good that is done is not a result of the individual’s efforts but of God’s Spirit which dwells within each believer in Christ (Eph 5:9).

1 The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. Originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright © 1988.

2 Unless otherwise noted all scripture references are from THE NEW KING JAMES VERSION Published by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

3 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Copyright © Moody Press and John MacArthur, Jr., 1983-2004.

Ken Archer

Kurt and Jamie,

Thanks for your very helpful comments. I hope that the 2nd part of this post does justice to the questions you raise, as I take them very seriously. I would note that I quote scripture throughout my articles, though I usually don't point it out with a reference. I've found that in evangelism people are pretty impressed with what is in Scripture when they find out after the fact where quotes came from. "In God we live and move and have our being" is from Acts 17, and "every creature of God is good" is from 1 Timothy 4.



It is interesting that the N. T. writers did not share your uneasiness in citing Scripture; on numerous occasions during their evangelism, they state, “it is written,” or “have you not heard” each time indicating an appeal to the written word. Further, your appeal to 1 Tim 4:4 proves the point perfectly in that it was wrenched out of context and placed in the article in such a way as to say that man is good, being a “creature” of God, when in fact this is not what the passage is saying at all. The context is about abstaining from certain foods i.e. “touch not, taste not” (Col 2:21), with the conclusion that all creatures are good for food. Your handling of this passage demonstrates a lack of proper biblical exegesis or a willful attempt to distort the Scriptures.

Your stated “instinctive resistance” to answering yes to the original question is well placed and very proper, but your conclusion “Is trying to be a good person good enough? If goodness is the presence of God and thus the path to greater Godliness, I would be compelled to say yes.” is in serious error.

And while your conclusion is your own, the Scriptures, against which we measure all claims of truth, contradict it. For if being good is the path to greater Godliness, then Christ died in vain. If on the other hand Christ’s death provided the only way to Godliness then those who still cling to their meritorious goodness are still under condemnation, still in their sin, still on the broad road to destruction.

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