“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone.” Luke 18:1
As children our small minds continually divide the world up into simple “good” and “bad”. If you were like me ice cream was always good, and vegetables like lima beans and broccoli are most often categorized as “bad”. We continue this trend however with people, and often by Jr. High we may have become cliquish and in frequent conflict and drama. The Jews of Jesus age utterly childish in many specific areas but their entire world view was completely flawed. They gave enormous spiritual value to physical and temporal things. An example is it was a crime to travel over a certain distance on the Sabbath. The Pharisees had determined that people were limited to traveling 2000 cubits on the Sabbath (about 1km, or 5/8 of a mile, based on overly broad extrapolation of Num 35:5). To their childish and spiritually immature minds walking less than 1km on the Sabbath was deceptively “good” there by making them “feel” more righteous, but it’s a false sense of righteousness.
Worse, the Jews transferred this childish thinking into judging people based on their external circumstances, “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?” Luke 13:4. The Jews held the false world view that good things happen to good people, and bad things to bad people, and wealth and health were a sign of “righteousness” before God (for similar lessons see also: Matt 19:23-25 on money, John 9:14-3 health).
There is a mind field of dangers in holding this false thinking. From the view of salvation, people who are successful and comfortable may fail to understand fully their need of God, and pride sets in as with false confidence of own efforts. For Christians this is the damaging effect of the “thorns” Jesus mentions in the parable of the sower “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” Matt 13:22. The “deceitfulness” of riches points to their its to affect our thoughts into seeing the world as a false and overly simple “good” and “bad”, and our tireless ability to falsely put ourselves into the “good” camp.
Relationally it also becomes poison, and this is why we are warned not to judge non-Christians “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” Matt 7:1-2. Judging others improperly, or seeing the world and people through the lens of a childish “good” and “bad” embitters our hearts and utterly destroys our ability to minister.
It also opens the door to idolatry and legalism, because we begin to falsely rally around those things we call “good” like the Pharisees of old, deceiving ourselves that we possess some righteousness on our own. Along these lines as a church we cannot add spiritual value to anything not expressly allowed in Scripture without crossing into the twin sins of idolatry and legalism. There is nothing good or nothing righteousness apart from God himself. Legalism and idolatry are at their core a failure on our part to find goodness from God alone.
This is a tough lesson, because it essentially means everything we think and feel is distorted. This goes painfully deep past our actions and into our thoughts, attitudes and emotions. But seeing that God himself is the only source of “good” and righteousness in the world is crucial to our spiritual maturity and effective ministry, and crucial that our daily walk with him is close and thriving.
We can see more how relational this is in the fine wording, its not enough to hold the distant opinion that God is good, when we read “…No one is good, except God alone”. The phrase “…God alone” can also be interpreted as requiring us to be alone with God”. We cannot find true goodness in any intellectual or detached way, it must be in only close and thriving relationship through abiding in him alone, putting aside all earthly things and the spiritually immature thinking that distract us..
Holding to a false and childish view of what is “good” and “bad” destroys both or ministry and our fellowship with Christ. Jesus in contrast is warning and us stop viewing the world, our actions, events and especially people in childish overly simple and shallow ways. By keeping our focus on God alone we will see true goodness because all goodness on earth emanates from Him, and can only be found through him, by remembering “…No one is good, except God alone”.