Can bad people do good things? Can non-Christians do anything good?
In a recent sermon, I argued that non-Christians are unable to do any good.
This is what I said:
All of Paul’s warring against Jesus flowed from this one source, unbelief.
There can be no sin where there is no unbelief, for unbelief births all other sins. It is sin’s foundation and core.
This is why Paul writes in Romans 14:23, “Whatever is not from faith is sin.”
Man was made to trust and so obey God. And in the Garden of Eden, Satan the Deceiver assaulted this very core of our purpose in life. Adam and Eve agreed with Satan and called God a liar, and disbelieved his Word.
All mankind has been doing so ever since, to his destruction.
The implication of this is startling, very much against how we’re taught to think. Everyone who does not trust Jesus lacks the ability to do anything good.
They certainly may do things that have good effects. Think of the number of non-Christians who worked to build the Forth Road Bridge. Their work had good effect—it produced a bridge for us.
But no matter the good effects of man’s actions, unbelieving man does no good, because he does nothing from faith in Jesus. Those men didn’t build the bridge in order to honor Christ. They built it as a monument to themselves.
Done faithlessly, all of man’s efforts are done rebelliously.
Christian, before you were saved, you had no good to your name. If you’re here and you’re not a Christian, you have never done anything good.
Will you spend your whole life never having done anything good?
Because of time constraints, I did not spend much time unpacking this point. A result of moving so quickly through it was a good number of people being confused and/or unconvinced.
This is a truth that is worth defending; and I hope that I can be more convincing with a little bit more explanation.
Let me start with making a point about God.
God is good. God is righteous. When I make those statements, I’m not saying the same thing I’d say about another man. I’m saying that God is goodness itself, righteousness itself. His nature is goodness, is righteousness. His very being defines goodness and righteousness. And, therefore, he cannot do anything but that which is good and righteous. Because he is good, all he does is good.
But man is different. Made in the image of God, he was made good, reflecting God’s goodness. He was made to trust and obey God. Ever since the fall of man into sin, though, all men are born evil. All men are evil to the core, right from conception. This is not to say that all men are as evil as possible. Rather, all men are evil in all faculties. Every single part of man is twisted and perverted and ruined by sin.
Sinful man, in his totally depraved state, is bad in all parts, with no good parts. And so everything done by sinful man, in his totally depraved state, is done badly, done wickedly, done faithlessly. He does not do good, for he cannot do good.
Good is defined as that which accords with the character of Goodness, God himself. Totally depraved man, living in opposition to God, do all in opposition to God, do all in opposition to goodness, do all in wickedness—even if not all do as bad as bad can be, even if many do many things with good results, effects, impacts.
Those who are not Christians do not do any good. Those who are not in Christ cannot do any good.
And the Bible agrees with these two assertions.
Does totally depraved man do any good?
Romans 3:12 reads, “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
No one does good, not even one.
Can totally depraved man do any good?
Jeremiah 13:23 reads, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.”
As soon as the leopard is able to change his spots into stripes, the totally depraved man will be able to good things. Until, he is unable to do good.
Not every man is as bad as he could be. I’d much rather live beside some non-Christians who believe in limited government, honesty, and hard work, simple folks who like guns and vinegar-based pulled pork, than any leftist, for example.
Some non-Christians are better to be around than others. Some non-Christians do more things that bring about more good than others.
But for an action itself to be good, it must be done in faith in Christ Jesus. Good works are therefore reserved for God’s people. A man must be recreated by the work of God in order to do good, to do things that accurately reflect his character.
Ephesians 2:10 reads, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Two men helped an old lady hike to the top of a mountain without falling. The good result of the work, shared by the two men, was that she was respected and honored as woman, and was able to safely enjoy a stunning view from the peak. The one man did the work with no faith in Jesus. He did it faithlessly, as Jesus’ opponent. And so he did not do a good work. The other man did the work with faith in Christ. He did it faithfully, as Jesus’ slave and brother. He did a good work.
Two men ran into the Pentagon to rescue folks on September 11, 2001. The good result of the work was that people were saved and evil from the Muslim terrorism was checked. The one man did the work with no faith in Jesus. He did it faithlessly, as Jesus’ opponent. And so he did not do a good work. The other man did the work with faith in Christ. He did it faithfully, as Jesus’ slave and brother. He did a good work.