In our family, my wife Ruth drives more than I do. It’s not because I’m a bad driver, or because Ruth is a better driver than me. I actually find driving quite boring, and my mind races off with all sorts of other thoughts. I’d rather engage those thoughts than be a distracted driver and cause accidents on the road. Ruth enjoys driving, and I’m happy for her to have that enjoyment. On long trips she puts on her music and sings along, while I contemplate the world, God, and whatever other things weave around that. If I get tired, which I often do out of boredom when I travel, Ruth drives on, and I fall fast asleep. We act this way because we are conscious of how what we do affects others.
I find it an interesting proposition when people try and tell me they are fundamentally good people, who live a good life, and who try and do good things. I have no doubt that is all true. But I wonder why they are telling me that, and what the motive behind it actually is. The truth is none of us are always good. We get cranky and say things in ways we shouldn’t. We demand things be done our way, and get angry with others who don’t share the same outlook. We become more focussed on our own wants, than the needs of others. Sure we try to live a good life, but more often than not it is for our benefit rather than the benefit of others.
The parable of the sheep and the goats is quite confronting. It asks the fundamental question, not what did you do, but why did you do it? Why care for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the prisoner? Do you do that because you want others to see how good a person you are? In fact why do anything good in life? Who are you trying to impress with such activity? Jesus spells out the harsh and simple reality, if we are doing these things for our own sake, we are doing it wrongly. The real heart of the Christian life is to do these things knowing that in doing them, you are being Christ to them. The Father rewards us not on the basis of our good deeds, but on the relationship we live out under the banner of grace. It is a life of service lived in an active relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Christian faith is not some passive, I’ll get involved if I want to, sort of thing. Faith is worked out in practice. It is lived, engaged, and shared. It is the thing which reminds us that our good works are never adequate; only a relationship with Jesus makes the difference. Working out this relationship through prayer, reading the Bible, and regular worship, leads to a life of generosity in service, friendships, giving, and witnessing. Our good life becomes a natural reflection of the one who we are walking with. Unless that person is Jesus, than nothing you do really counts for much in the end.
We have a very clear message to present to the world. Only Jesus makes us good. Only Jesus makes things right. Only Jesus offers us hope for this life, and the life to come. All the good people do, while great, is meaningless without Jesus. The life you live, the service you offer, the people you connect with, the faith you share, open amazing opportunities for others to discover the hope we have in Jesus. These things occur, not with eternity in view, but with grace and hope and love. The three things that only Jesus can truly offer and transform our good into something really amazing, we get to offer to others so they too can share in the wonder of a life in partnership with Jesus.