A Good Person

Jan 24, 2024 by Colleen C Orchanian

We read Psalm 44 at Mass the other day and I was struck by the last line: Deliver us for the sake of your merciful love. Another translation says, Redeem us because of your love. I thought about the reason given for God to hear the prayer of the psalmist. It's because of God's merciful love, not because the psalmist deserves it. And that made me wonder how often we think God will hear our prayers because of our own actions – our own goodness.

Taken a little further, it's like saying or thinking, God loves me because I am a good person. There are two major flaws in that kind of thought. First, it diminishes God's greatness. Second, it sets an impossible goal for me to reach.

Let's first consider how it diminishes God's greatness. Remember the parable of the unforgiving servant. The master forgave a debt that the servant could never repay, not because the servant deserved it but because of the master's mercy. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father welcomes back his son with great joy, not because the son deserved it, but because of the father's love. The Apostle John wrote, We love because He first loved us. God's love always comes first. God doesn't love me because I'm good. He doesn't forgive me because I'm good. He doesn't heal me because I'm good. He does it because He is love.

When Jesus healed, He didn't first demand a list of the good works of the sick person. The woman caught in adultery would not be considered a good person, yet Jesus, in His mercy, saved her life. The paralytic who was lowered through the roof by his friends didn't give a list of reasons he deserved healing. Jesus said the faith of his friends saved him. The lepers who were cleansed didn't give a litany of their good works; they asked for healing because they believed Jesus could do it. And He did. Jesus called Matthew, the tax collector, not because of his good works, but because God desired him. Jesus acts out of His compassion, not because anyone deserves it.

Bottom line is that, when I say God blesses me because I am a good person, I'm taking too much credit. It's not about me and what I've done. It's about who God is.

The second flaw when thinking I am a good person is that it not true. In Mark 10:18 Jesus says, Why do you call me good? God alone is good. If God alone is good, how can I consider myself good? There are many problems with this belief.

  1. Pride. I judge myself and this is rarely an objective judgement. St. Francis of Assisi said about himself: "God could not have chosen anyone less qualified or more of a sinner than myself." This holy man who rebuilt God's church when it was in ruins considered himself the worst of all sinners. When I compare myself to the evil leaders of the world throughout history, I'm looking pretty good. That's the problem with self-judgement. It's flawed because we use the wrong comparison. The reality is that I will never be good enough to deserve God's mercy and love. It takes humility to acknowledge our own lack of goodness – our own poverty of spirit.

  2. It can lead to spiritual laziness. If I think I have done enough good deeds, I can ignore my spiriitual life. I go to church. I live my life. I think I'm good with God and don't need to do anything else. This is sad because there is so much more that God has for us. He promises an abundant life. He calls me to greatness spiritually but I might be willing to settle for mediocrity. Another word for that is lukewarmness, which is really bad if you read the book of Revelation and the letter to the Laodiceans.

  3. I may be less likely to love those I don't consider good people. If I have to earn God's love, others have to earn my love. I might think they don't deserve it. That's clearly contradicted in Scripture when Jesus says to love our enemies.

  4. It can lead to presumption – the idea that God has to accept me because of my good works. God owes me, in a sense. But I can never do enough for God to owe me anything. I will always be the servant indebted to the master for an impossible amount of money – more than I can repay in ten lifetimes.

  5. Sinners have no hope. If God loves you because you're a good person, and I don't think I am a good person, I will conclude that God cannot love me. He has a reason to love you, but no reason to love me. The Bible corrects this mistaken idea in Romans chapter 5. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

  6. It can lead to a works-based faith where we do things out of duty and not out of love, like the older brother of the prodigal son. Every day he did his duty as a good son, but he didn't work out of love for his father. Our Father God does not want us to do good works out of obligation. He wants us to act out of love. Love for Him and love for our neighbor. Another way of saying that is I don't do something so that God will love me. I do it because I love God. It's the same idea as doing something nice for our spouse. Every day I make coffee for my husband. I don't drink coffee, but for 43 years I have made him a pot of coffee each morning. I don't do this so he will love me. I do it because I love him.

So where do our good works fit into this picture? The apostle James wrote, Faith without works is a dead faith. The more we are filled with the Holy Spirit, the easier it is to work for the Lord. Our works flow from the love we have for God and the grace we have received. We love Him and want to please Him, to delight Him.

When I believe that God loves me because I am a good person, it affects how I see God – as transactional rather than merciful; how I see myself – worthy or unworthy of God's love; and how I see others – as worthy or unworthy of my love and God's love.

Grace is a free gift of God. No matter how many good things I do, I cannot earn grace. I cannot earn His love. And I don't need to earn His love because I already have it. He loves me now and He loved me when I was lost. It's all about God, about who He is and not about me and what I do. There is no God like our God.

Questions for prayer:

  1. Do you recognize any of the problems that flow from the idea that God loves me because I'm good? How do these problems affect your spiritual life?

  2. What can you do to become more certain of God's perfect love for you?