I am a ‘nice’ person (most of the time, I think) and most of the people in my church are also ‘nice’ people. What does that mean? It means that if you met most of us, you would leave feeling that we were friendly and polite. We have generally had the opportunity of a good education, and most are employed. Most of us live in nice houses and drive nice cars.
The newspaper and the internet are full of people who do not seem as ‘nice’. There are always juicy, over-detailed accounts of the latest depraved crime that has been committed. There are video clips on the news of crying ‘nice’ relatives of victims outside courtrooms who have been harmed by people who are not ‘nice’. These other, not so ‘nice’, ‘evil’ people are the ones responsible for the drug use, the crime, and all the injustice that is around us.
Or so we’d like to think.
According to Romans 5, which we have been working through at church lately, the world is not split up the way we like to split it up. The division is not between ‘nice’ people and ‘evil’ people. In fact, Romans 5 says some horribly confronting things to those of us who like to think we are ‘nice’. Paul calls us sinners. All of us. Every human being. And because we are sinners, we are guilty (quite rightfully) of death and condemnation by God.
(To be fair to the flow of Romans, this is hardly the first time Paul has explained this. Much of chapters 1-3 have the same major message).
We tend to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to. We would like to think we are ‘nice’ because we can see others who have made worse choices than us or had less opportunities, those who don’t dress as neatly or have the same manners. But the Bible doesn’t give us the freedom to describe ourselves like that. We are sinners. We are people who ever since birth have rebelled against authority, who need to be taught to be good because being bad comes naturally. We dream selfish dreams and live selfish lives. Just because our lifestyles are respectable compared to what society thinks doesn’t mean we are right with God. By nature, we are not. We are lost.
Why is it important that we understand this? Because if we don’t see how lost we are, we won’t see that we need to be found. We cannot possibly understand how great Jesus is if we do not understand how bad we are, and how much we need to be saved. It is only in Jesus that broken sinners like us can be saved and move from death to life.
And there is more than this too. We must see that just as we are lost without Jesus despite being ‘nice’, likewise our neighbours and friends and family members are in the same position. We mustn’t think that our neighbour who is not a believer is OK because he or she is ‘nice’. No, evangelism is critical for it is the only way to be truly right with God. A nice exterior won’t cut it.
Yes, I am ‘nice’, or so I might look to others. But I see the truth of Romans 5 that I am really not nice; I am as lost as that person lost in drugs or who is rude or spends their life pursuing crime. Without Jesus I only have death to look forward to. But with Jesus I have life, a life I do not deserve, a life I can only receive as a free gift (Rom 5:15-16). Grace truly is amazing.