Being nice is not the same as being Christian

Being nice is not the same as being Christian

Most parents have a certain dream for their children. They hope that they grow up to be nice, well-adjusted people. They hope that their children are respectable and, ideally, wealthy. The parents want them to be good to other people. If someone had a child who grew up into a nice, middle-class, friendly person, they would usually consider their parenting to be a success.

Jesus met a person just like that in Matthew 19. This young man was a lovely guy, someone who took his faith seriously, someone who was moral and respectable. Yet, according to Jesus, he was as completely lost as a career criminal. He was outside the kingdom of heaven.

How can this possibly be? It is easy to criticise this young man, but really, he was a more moral person than any of us. When asked if he kept the commandments Jesus listed, he really had tried his best. In Luke’s account of this episode, Jesus looked at the young man and loved him. He took his religion seriously. But it was not enough.

Notice that this young man knew what he had done was not enough. He came to Jesus and asked him what good deed he had to do to enter eternal life. After a lifetime spent being moral and religious, he was unsure. He thought there must be more he had to do. That’s the problem with relying on your own morality or religion. Even if you’re better than anyone else you can think of, are you good enough? How would you know? Trying to enter the kingdom of heaven through your own efforts will never bring peace. All you get is anxiety, a push to do more, and dissatisfaction.

Jesus told the man to sell all he had and to give it to the poor, and the man could not do this. Jesus then expanded this to say that it was impossible for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Impossible. Not difficult, but impossible. You could expand this to mean impossible for anyone to enter the kingdom of heaven if they rely on themselves. It cannot be done. We cannot meet God’s perfect standard, however good we might be.

The disciples asked, “who then could be saved”? It’s a good question. The answer was earlier in Matthew 18 and 19; those who come to Jesus humbly like small children. Those who know they cannot earn their way in through morality or religion but need Jesus’ death and resurrection in their place to be saved. It is a different way of thinking altogether. Instead of asking, “What do I need to do?”, we can exclaim in wonder, “Look at what Jesus has done for me!”

Let’s make sure we get the main idea here: being nice is not the same as being Christian. It is perfectly possible to be a nice, well-adjusted, church-going, middle-class person and be outside the kingdom of heaven. Many people fit into that category. Don’t strive to be nice, or even to be religious. Come to Jesus, knowing that He can do what you cannot.

And if you do that, you will feel the burden lifted off your shoulders. Your entry into the kingdom is not due to your efforts. It’s not sheer will or a sense of duty that drives you, with no assurance you will be OK in the end. No, it is love for Jesus that drives you. You can serve God with joy, as one who knows they are saved, free from the doubts if what you have done might be enough. What Jesus has done is certainly enough. We can go on our way rejoicing.