17 As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. Mark 10:17-18
Jesus’ response in this case often causes some concern for those who affirm his divinity, because he can be construed to be saying he’s not good like God, and therefore did not claim to be what later followers made him out to be. One might fear that additionally Jesus might be admitting that he is not sinless, which would completely undercut the atonement and gospel. However, I think that if Jesus had accepted the title of ‘good’ he would not have been good! Actually, I think for him to accept that description would have been sin. Paradoxically, by refusing such a statement, Jesus remained sinless!
Theologically, I base this belief on the mystery of the incarnation. Jesus is God become man, and in doing so, shows us how to properly be human. He lives out faithfully and perfectly the way to be a creature in relationship with the Creator. Should any man accept the description of being ‘good’? Should we accept this if others say it about us, or should we say it about ourselves?
Clearly, Jesus answers as any created being should, attributing only true goodness to God. If Jesus had said, “Yes, I am good,” he would have sinned as a human being. Was he denying his sinlessness? I don’t think so, but neither was he affirming his sinlessness.
Jesus taught us, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1). Does that only apply to judging others, or can it also be true that we should not judge ourselves? Paul interprets this teaching to include the latter, when he says,
3 But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. 4 For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. 5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. 1 Corinthians 4:3-5
All rendering of judgment about anyone is the work of God. While we must and should make judgments about situations, what edifies, and a host of other things, we are to judge no one. If we judge ourselves ‘good’ then our praise comes from ourselves, and not from God. We are like the Pharisee praying in the temple, proud to not be a sinner like others. Even if Paul knows nothing against himself, he recognizes that this does not make him innocent. Only God knows the dark places of the heart.
Jesus sets, as always, the perfect example for us. He leaves all judgment to God. While we might say a certain action was good, and may receive a compliment that something we did was good, we refuse to allow ourselves to be judged as good, by others or by ourselves. If there is praise and a reward, let it come from God.