[Partially adapted from Chapter 10 in Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things]
I have a friend in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who has spent the last decade and a half helping some of the world’s most vulnerable people. He was born and raised in what is one of the most war-torn regions on the globe today. His life is threatened regularly, and he faces the seeminly impossibly task of trying to restore villages decimated by rape, murder and plunder.
Some visiting executives from a large, well-known global-relief organization once toured the region. They noticed what a great job he was doing and offered him a position leading their Congo operations.
He quickly turned them down.
He refused because he saw that God had given him the job he had; that God had been the one to build relationships, open doors and keep him safe. He said, “I’m right where God has called me to be, so why would I go anywhere else? I don’t just want to do good. I want to be where God wants me to be.”
He serves because he loves his country, weeps for his people, and believes the only way to effect change is to trust God and the power that comes through the message of love and reconciliation in Jesus.
The way he understands goodness, it can only flow from a single source.
We know what is good and what God requires of us, taken straight from Micah 6:8—to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.
We can’t do that. Not one of us can do what is required.
We are to do justly—but who among us can do justly at all times?
And so we are to love mercy—for our own mistakes, for the mistakes of others, for every time our hearts do not match the heart of God, we need mercy.
And what does loving mercy produce? Humility.
Quite simply, we cannot be just. We have no standing before God or our fellow humans. It is only God who can make us just, who can justify us. We can’t will or act or intend or resolve or plan or move our way to being fully good people. When we try, we fail.
But when we succeed, we see, as Jesus did, God’s hand in the good we did.
What we can do is center our lives on God, as justice is centered on God, all the time and of necessity. Justice both demonstrates the need for grace and is completed by grace. Paul reported to the church in Corinth what God had told him about grace: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
We want to be good, but God is good. James 1:17 tells us that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
All goodness that flows into our world flows from God.
Jesus was once approached by a man who asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered.
“No one is good—except God alone” (Mark 10:17–18).
Jesus, the most upright and good person ever to live, didn’t allow people to call Him good. Instead, He pointed back to His Father.
It is my prayer for all of us that this truth would transform the way we inhabit our lives. God does not call us to create our own goodness out of thin air, as if justice were something we could acomplish with a checklist and a bit of hard work.
Instead, God calls us to listen. The source of all goodness will surely have something to say about injustice. Then he calls us to obey. That is what it means to give our lives away. I pray each of us will have the faith to do this, on behalf of others and for the glory of God.