And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Matthew 19:17 KJV
Good is a very subjective word from a human standpoint—it requires a point of reference.
Imagine someone asking you is their cooking "good." If they are serving you a dish you've had before, you will use those experiences to define good. If you've never had that particular dish, you will likely judge it based on your experience with other dishes, but it will become the standard for this dish. It is possible that someone who is more familiar with the dish (in particular when it comes to authenticity), might find the dish to be sub-par while a person experiencing it for the first time may call it "good." It is very possible that some dishes will not receive unanimous descriptions simply because people have different definitions of what constitutes good food.
Why is our definition of good important?
In Matthew 19:17, Jesus tells us that no one is good except the Father. This is definitely in reference to Romans 3:23; we have all sinned and therefore in comparison to God, we are not good. We err when we view ourselves as good or innocent and subsequently decide what we deserve based on our presumption of innocence.
The law is the standard in which we can determine our "goodness"
- Have you ever placed another god before God? This doesn't have to be worshiping a named deity; it can easily be placing people, goals, or objects in a place of more influence/importance than God. If we idolize someone or something our answer to this question is yes.
- Have you ever worshipped/created/accepted an image? If we have ever accepted the image from the renaissance era of the white man with long brown hair as a picture of Jesus, our answer is yes. This also includes worshipping or granting abilities to inanimate things as though they have power: crosses, statutes, "holy" water, church buildings, etc.
- Have you ever taken the Lord's name in vain? This isn't just swear words. When you claim to be representing God (wearing the label of Christian alone does this) and you bear false witness to Him, you use His name in vain.
- Have you ever broken the Sabbath? Sabbath is from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday (the Sabbath day; the 7th day of the week) and is supposed to be set apart for God. We aren't supposed to work or require anyone else to work; subsequently we aren't supposed to buy or sell.
- Have you ever dishonored your mother and father? This can range from the temper tantrum you threw because your mom wouldn't buy you a piece of gum, to the moody one-liners you delivered in your teen years. Also, God is our Heavenly Father, when we don't reflect Him, we dishonor Him.
- Have you ever killed anyone? This doesn't have to be physical murder, you can also kill a person's spirit.
- Have you ever committed adultery? Remember, we are the Bride of Christ; when we are disobedient to God and/or forsake Him, we commit adultery (the Israelites are found guilty of this multiple times—Jeremiah 3:8).
- Have you ever stolen anything? Even if you were a child and didn't quite get the concept, it was stealing. Remember that you can also steal intangible items such as joy, time, recognition, etc.
- Have you ever born false witness? Little "white" lies (*rolls eyes at the inherent bias of this phrase*) are still lies. Note that this also includes gossiping; when you you spread information you have not verified you could be spreading false information and thus unintentionally baring false witness.
- Have you ever coveted? This includes being envious of people on social media/TV/YouTube/etc, desiring another person's gifts and abilities, wanting someone else's life. Note: I do think there's a difference in striving to be like someone (e.g., an athlete or entertainer) and wanting to just be born with their talent. There is also a difference in working toward a goal (e.g., homeownership) and wanting to "keep up with the joneses." Coveting, from a Biblical standpoint, is wanting something that is not rightfully yours. Remember, coveting is more than a passing thought; it is a burning desire that you internalize and feed.
Full disclosure, I answered yes to every single question. I have let people be more influential in my life than God. There was a time when I acknowledged that picture as being Jesus (it's not) and there was a time when I thought there was power in the physical Bible (the power is in the Word, not the object). Although "God" is not His name, many people in the US associate the word "God" with "YHWH", and as such when I say things like "Oh my God," I'm taking the Lord's name in vain, as this is an empty usage. I have also claimed to be a Christian while not reflecting the fruits of His Spirit. I didn't start keeping the Sabbath until five years ago and I've probably broken it accidentally a few times since then. I have disobeyed my parents and said things to them that I probably shouldn't have. I have killed someone's spirit with my words. Because I have broken the first four commandments I have committed adultery against God. I have stolen people's time; I also stole the dog I had growing up (though eventually the owner did consent). I have lied and I have gossiped. I have desired a-many of houses I saw on HGTV.
I am not a good person by God's standard.
I used to think I was a good person because I was comparing myself to other people. The standard in which I determined my "goodness" was based on man's standard of good, not God's. When I thought of myself in this way, it was easy to become arrogant and not realize the gift God gave me by enabling my to enter into His presence despite my inability to live up to His standard. It became easy to not realize that I need the Holy Spirit.
References and Footnotes
- Bob Deffinbaugh. "23. Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Coveting -- and a Whole Lot More! (Exodus 20:17)". Bible.org. May 13. 2004
- The article I mentioned about the disproportionality of racism in white Christians can be found on NBC News
- The Bible verse I was trying to quote is Mark 13:6.