If I were to ask you to name a good person in this world, you could probably come up with a few names. You would recognize them by their selfless service to others, their care and concern for those who need extra support, and the overall joy they bring to others. Were I to ask you about someone you thought was evil, you might throw me the newspaper or tell me to look at a news website. We seem to focus on evil in this world. Disaster sells newspapers. Bad news gets internet clicks. If you want to see someone who’s nice to dogs and cats, find a click bait site. If you want an extended look at the evil person who just engaged in the latest horrific crime, go to a news website.
We sometimes see the same kinds of things at school. There are some kids who want attention, any kind of attention, so badly that if they can’t get attention for the good things they do, they’ll get the negative attention that comes with disrupting class. I wish I could say that I recognized that as a teacher, but I didn’t always do so. Some kids are so good, that they receive honors and recognition. Paul, after talking about judging others, he was against it, talked about the two kinds of people in this world. “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Romans 2:7-8)
This is the beginning of a complicated argument by Paul about faith and works. Ultimately, the key to being able to do good is faith in Christ and a relationship with God. He has just talked about the hypocrisy of judging others in that so often when we judge, it’s because we’re guilty of the same sin. This is the turning point of that argument. God will give you what you deserve. If you are doing good, you will gain eternal life. If you are self-seeking, you can look for wrath and anger. The quick and easy take away from this is that the argument that God will save everyone is completely invalid. Paul did not believe in or teach universalism. As you understand all of Paul’s teaching though, the truth is that until we are in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we can’t do good. We are all self-seeking and self-serving, without Christ in our lives.
That may seem like a harsh statement, but even people who do good things often do so because it makes them feel good. I volunteer in a couple of different places. I feel good when I leave, knowing that I’ve helped others. The question is, do I volunteer for the good feelings or because I have been led to volunteer by the grace of God? I like to think that my volunteering is because God has led me. When God gives me abilities, time, and/or money do I use it to satisfy myself, or do I realize that He gives these gifts so that I can help others? The two kinds of people Paul talked about in this passage must be looked at in terms of their relationship with Christ. Those who are doing good seek that glory, honor, and immortality because they are in a proper relationship with God and they are seeking to serve Him. If things aren’t right between you and God, you can’t be doing things His way. Others, including many who claim to follow Christ, are serving themselves and not God. Perhaps we need to put it this way: if we are in a good relationship with God, it will change our lives, and our overall outlook on life. We will seek ways to care for others; we will seek ways to live a life that exemplifies God’s mercy and grace.
Lord, remind me that all that I do shows my relationship with You. When I sin, it is because I am doing things my way. Keep me from self-service and help me to focus on serving others because of my love for You.