7-1-3 The True Christians Aren't Good People

The more closely we analyze the Bible heroes, the more apparent it is that they were shot through with weakness; and some of those weaknesses it seems they unsuccessfully battled with until the day of their death. I think of Jacob, always trusting in his own strength, being progressively taught to trust in Yahweh's strength. And yet right at the very end of his life, he lets slip a comment which would seem more appropriate to his earlier life: " Shechem...which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow" (Gen. 48:22). The wrongness of this attitude seems to be alluded to in Josh. 24:12, which says that God drove out the Amorites " but not with thy sword, neither with thy bow" . And Ps. 44:3,6 also: " They got not the land in possession by their own sword...I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me" . So Jacob, right at the end of his life, still hadn't completely overcome that besetting weakness of self-reliance. This is, of course, a dangerous road to go down. In no way can we be complacent about our urgent need for spiritual growth. But on the other hand, we will never reach the stature of Christ without righteousness being imputed to us. In this sense, true Christian believers aren't good people.

The lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his sons are held up in the NT as our examples. And yet those records are absolutely shot through with reference to the spiritual weakness of those men, and even the suggestion that as men they were not 'nice' people. They, the archetypical believers, aren't good people. Indeed, the records seem to juxtapose their weakness against the more humanly acceptable behaviour of the world around them. The whole business of Jacob obtaining the blessing from his slightly drunk father Isaac is almost comical; dressed up with skins, with his mum prodding him under the ribs saying " Go on, go on, it's my sin not yours" ; Jacob must have been willing the old boy to hurry up, knowing as he did that Esau was about to come in with his meal.  Yet this was the most Godly family on earth at the time. Consider further examples: 

The household of faith

Abraham tells Sarah to say she is his sister, not his wife, and (by implication) let the Egyptians sleep with her rather than kill him.  And straight after this, God blesses Abraham with riches (Gen. 12:11 - 13:2).

The surrounding world

Pharaoh was attracted to her, and took her into his house. But he didn't sleep with her, and was willing to allow a period of time to elapse before marrying her, in order not to insult her dignity (cp. Dt. 21:13).

Abraham made the very same mistake with Abimelech of Gerar (Gen. 20:1-13); and it seems he did it many other, unrecorded times (Gen. 20:13).

Isaac does just the same with Abimelech (Gen. 26:7-11). And again, God blesses Isaac straight after this faithless, immoral incident (Gen. 26:12). Believers aren't good people! 

Isaac's criticism of them seems unreasonably aggressive and paranoiac: " Wherefore come ye to me, seeing ye hate me?" (Gen. 26:27-29).

Abraham ought to have apologized to Abimelech. But instead Abimelech gives him a present (Gen. 10:14-16).

Again, Abimelech and his people do the honourable thing. The people of Gerar surely had the impression that the Abraham family were a faithless, unprincipled lot compared to themselves.

Truly could they reply: " we saw certainly that the Lord was with thee... we have not touched thee, and as we have done unto thee nothing but good, and have sent thee away in peace" .

Abraham and Sarah doubt God's promise of a seed, and so Sarah pushes Abraham to have an affair with Hagar her servant. When Hagar gets (understandably) full of womanly pride at her conception, Sarah persecutes her and drives her out to certain death in the wilderness. True believers aren't good or nice people!

God seems to take Hagar's side, He hears her affliction, He looks upon her, and makes a covenant with her (Gen. 16). Hagar believes God's promise to her, and praises Him for it. Sarah laughs at God's promise to her as being a joke (Gen. 18:12-15). And even worse, when she is reprimanded for doing this, she flatly denies she ever laughed.

Sarah again tries to kill Hagar and her son Ishmael, apparently because of the teenage Ishmael mocking the baby Isaac. Whilst this incident is symbolic of the persecution of the righteous by the wicked (Gal. 4:29), this in no way justifies Sarah's behaviour. And yet straight after this shameful business, God blesses Abraham in all that he does (Gen. 21:22).

God again justifies Hagar and takes her side against a rather unreasonable mistress (Gen. 21:12-20)- who is held up in the NT as our example, although, it is stressed, not in her weaker aspects (1 Pet. 3:6).

Jacob, on a human level, compares unfavourably to Esau. He cruelly deceived his brother, and all his life long hated him and lied to him (consider 33:13-15).

Mal. 1:4 makes the point that Edom (Esau) was zealous to return and rebuild the ravaged land which God had once given him, whereas Israel wasn’t.

Judah took a Canannite woman and shamefully treated her (38:2)

When Esau had the chance to take vengeance on Jacob, he wonderfully forgave him. He never lied to Jacob.

And yet despite this, God says He still chose to love Israel (Jacob) and hate Esau. His behaviour in this is an example of how He saves by pure grace and not works.

Esau took Canaanite women, but married them and treated them responsibly (36:2).

Dinah goes downtown to have a fling. She ends up sleeping with the prince of Shechem. As a result of this, her brothers trick the men of Shechem into being circumcised and them come and murder the lot of them. Humanly, the sons of Jacob, unrepentant as they were (34:31), should have taken the consequence of their evil at the hand of the vengeful surrounding tribes. But God, in His grace, preserves them by a miracle (35:5).

The Prince of Shechem didn't rape her, and he didn't just discard her. He could easily have just taken her as his wife with no more discussion with her family. He did the honourable thing in that he honestly wanted to marry her, and would do absolutely anything to enable this (Gen. 34).

It's often been observed that there are so many people in the world who are 'nicer', 'better' than we are. And in some ways, on a human level, this seems true. Christian believers aren't good people. And yet we  have been called to salvation, not them. I would guess that the more reflective among the Abraham family had exactly the same thought. And yet God chose weak, apathetic Israel- not because they were righteous, but because they were predestined, unconditionally as far as we can understand it, to this calling. And the calling of spiritual Israel is no different. In the fact God called Israel to be His people we see the depth, the very essence, of salvation by grace, not works or committed righteousness. The desperate sinners, not the apparently righteous, are the ones God calls. Israel were warned that they were being given the land (cp. salvation) " not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thy heart...for thou art a stiffnecked people" (Dt. 9:5,6). These words are picked up in Tit. 3:5 and applied to the new Israel: " Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing (baptism) of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit" - by His grace alone. 


Those who enter the Kingdom will genuinely, from the very depth of their being, feel that they shouldn't be there. Indeed, they shouldn't be. For Christian believers aren't good people. We are saved by grace alone. The righteous are " scarcely saved" (1 Pet. 4:18). The righteous remnant who spoke often to one another about Yahweh will only be " spared" by God's grace (Mal. 3:17). The accepted will feel so certain of this that they will almost argue with the Lord Jesus at the day of judgment that He hasn't made the right decision concerning them (Mt. 25:37-40). It's only a highly convicted man who would dare do that. Thus the Father will have to comfort the faithful in the aftermath of the judgment, wiping away the tears which will then (see context) be in our eyes, and give us special help to realize that our sinful past has now finally been overcome (Rev. 21:4). We will be like the labourers in the parable who walk away clutching their penny, thinking " I really shouldn't have this. I didn't work for a day, and this is a day's pay" . Therefore if we honestly, genuinely feel that we won't be in the Kingdom, well, this is how in some ways the faithful will all feel. Although by the very nature of being in this state, just knowing this won't change how we feel. We won't think " Oh, I feel I'll be rejected, so, great, that means I won't be" . But we must simply be aware that it is God's earnest desire to save repentant sinners. He will even bend His own laws to enable this. Consider how within His own law, it was an abomination for a man to re-marry the woman he had divorced. Yet this notwithstanding, God abases Himself in asking worthless Israel to re-marry Him (Dt. 24:4 cp. Jer. 3:1). Even though leaven was prohibited in offerings (Lev. 2:11), God was willing to accept a peace offering with leaven in it (Lev. 7:13). And for a freewill offering, He would accept a deformed animal (Lev. 22:23), even though this was against His preferred principle of absolute perfection in offerings. There was no atonement without the shedding of blood; and yet for the very poor, God would accept a non-blood sacrifice. This all reflected the zeal of God to accept fallen men. The relationship between Solomon and his bride in the Song is evidently typical of ours with the Lord. Yet she has major problems: he always addresses her directly, yet she always answers indirectly (“he cometh...he standeth...he brought me”), often with some awkwardness and sense that she is unworthy of his love, and that his glowing descriptions of her are exaggeration. She is depicted as in doubt, lost, asleep, uncertain, reluctant, moody, sometime in love with him sometimes not, in need of reassurance despite the greatness of his love (“let him kiss me...”).  

I can't help but end on a positive note. Believers aren't good people. But the Biblical evidence is that those who will be in the Kingdom basically love God, but really feel they shouldn't be in His Kingdom. There is much Biblical reason to believe that we should be positive about the fact we will surely be in the Kingdom. And yet the Biblical pictures of the judgment indicate that the accepted will not have grasped this aspect as strongly as they might have done. And this is exactly, exactly the position which I sense so many of us are in: not believing as strongly as we might the positive fact that we really will be in the Kingdom because we are in Christ, and yet experiencing answered prayer, basically holding on, albeit with a deeper sense of their unworthiness than of God's grace. These characteristics, which are clearly seen in so many of us, are the very characteristics of the faithful in the Biblical descriptions of the judgment. And therefore, many of us will be in the Kingdom of God. This isn't playing with logic or the semantics of Biblical exposition. Like Peter, I am " exhorting and testifying, that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand" (1 Pet. 5:12). 


(1) See Study 1.2 The Problem Of Certainty.

(2) See Study 4.1 We're All Preachers.

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