I don’t need Jesus, I’m a good person
David was a Buddhist man I met during an open-air meeting recently, who swore blind that he had lived a perfect moral life for the past twenty years! As I tried to pinpoint areas of his life where he may just have possibly fallen short of perfection, it dawned on me what a ridiculous conversation I was in; how could anyone honestly look at himself and see moral perfection? Yet many people, although not claiming to be as perfect as David, certainly wouldn’t see themselves as sinners needing a Saviour. Below are a few pointers that you may find helpful in dealing with people convinced of their own righteousness.
‘It’s got to be-e-e-e perfect!’
A few years back I worked for my Uncle Steve in his foundry. Steve gave me a relatively simple job, making little sand tubes called cores. I made these cores for hours on end. When Steve looked at the finished batch, of which I was extremely proud, he explained that not one of them was useable. They looked fine to me but Steve saw a poor quality core which would ruin the mould. What was the problem? I hadn’t understood just how perfect those cores had to be nor worried about the defects because I didn’t think they were all that important.
Likewise, most people see defects in their lives and will readily admit they’re not perfect, but crucially, most people don’t see God as being perfect or demanding perfection and therefore the sin in their lives doesn’t seem all that important. The statement, ‘I don’t need Jesus, I’m a good person’, flows from a fundamental misunderstanding of the character of God and the standard by which we as a human race will be judged.
So, speak first about Him; the beauty of His holiness, His hatred of sin, the standard of perfection the Lord shows through His law. But most crucially, speak of Jesus Christ, the only person who was ever truly good. Ultimately, we’re simply trying to show people that our righteousness is a far cry from the righteousness of God.
Armed and dangerous
Remember, you’re armed with the nuclear bombs of spiritual weaponry – the Bible and prayer! Firstly, the Bible clearly states that we are wrong when we claim that we are ‘good’. When I meet people like this I open up the Bible and show them Romans 3:9-26 or 1 John 1:5-10; passages which clearly oppose the claims of self-righteousness. Also, I often show them how even a prophet reacted when confronted with the holiness of God: ‘“Woe to me! … I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips…”’ (Is. 6:5). So carry a Bible with you, in your bag or as an app on your smartphone. Then, if you find yourself confronted with a person claiming that he’s good enough, you can show what God’s word says.
Secondly, you, as a believer, can pray for that person. We have no power within us to convince a person of his guilt, but we are able to appeal to the One who can. When the Spirit begins to convict a person of sin, self-righteousness will soon fly out of the window.
An evangelist’s best friend
In John Bunyan’s The Holy War, Mr Conscience is described as speaking with ‘a voice as loud as a lion’s roar’, so much so that when he bellowed the ‘whole town of Mansoul would shake from the sound of his voice’. Bunyan taught an important lesson that anyone who hopes to share the gospel would do well to remember – even against the hardest of hearts – we have an ally on the inside; ‘Mr Conscience’ will continue speaking long after we have finished.
So, if your words are arrows, your target should be the conscience. However, it is important not to appear ‘holier than thou’. Therefore, I have found the best strategy is often to try and draw out from the person an admittance of guilt through asking questions, rather than simply condemning their behaviour. The first question I ask is usually, ‘Tell me, do you know what it’s like to feel guilty about something you’ve said or done, or maybe something you know you should have said or done, but didn’t?’ Another question that can make people think is, ‘Can I ask, if all your family and friends knew in depth the thoughts that had run through your mind just during today, do you think you’d be able to go home to them tonight without being ashamed?’ Sometimes though, it’s just better to prod them into thinking about the reasons that lie behind their behaviour; ‘Listen, you would admit you’ve done wrong things in your life, things that you knew were just plain wrong, but you did them anyway. Why do you think we do these things?’ There are many variations of these questions and many more besides, but hopefully, having laid the groundwork of God’s character, the aim of your question should be to point them to the unarguable truth that we are guilty sinners before a holy God.
Remember when Jesus was approached by the rich young ruler. Jesus quotes some of the commandments that the young man then claims he has kept since he was young. Consider how Jesus deals with him next. He pinpoints this man’s sin – his love of money. Jesus troubles his conscience and forces him to see his own sinfulness. This young man chose sin over eternal life but there’s no doubting he left with the realisation that he was not as righteous as he had first claimed.
Is this the road to…?
If you look at a UK road map, you’ll notice that most major roads lead to London. Likewise, in trying to convince someone that he’s not a ‘good person’, it’s only because we want to lead him to the cross. Last year I spoke to a gentleman called Colin who was attending a liberal Anglican church and had read many books on Christianity by liberal authors. In Colin’s version of Christianity there was no hell, only some kind of purgatory and as long as you lived a decent life you would be accepted into heaven. ‘But Colin,’ I said, ‘If you could please God simply by living a decent life, why did Jesus need to die on the cross?’ He paused for a moment then said, ‘I’ve never thought about that before. You’ve got me there, I don’t know!’
And that’s really the crucial question that we are aiming to ask; is our righteousness sufficient, or do we require the righteousness of Christ?
Sooty this ain’t!
When I was young I loved watching Sooty, Sweep and Soo. Sooty used to carry a magic wand and perform tricks, but only when either Harry or Matthew Corbett said the words, ‘Izzy wizzy, let’s get busy!’
In this article I’ve tried to explain how I generally handle objections made by the average person who fails to see his sinful state. But people are, of course, very different and therefore there can be no set pattern or ‘magic words’ in dealing with the problem of the human heart. This article attempts to offer a basic structure for dealing with such a person, but in the end you simply need to be both faithful to God’s word and prayerful, knowing the Holy Spirit alone can convince a person of sin.
Tim Whitton works for the Open-Air Mission as an evangelist in London.