How does a person become good? This fundamental question has been exercising humanity since time began. We are moral beings; we understand concepts of goodness and badness, we know that some lives are better than others, and some actions are better than others. But knowing something is one thing: doing it is a different matter!
Many huge brains have thought long and hard about this, and many societies have orchestrated elaborate schemes to engineer it. But it basically comes down to one of two options: either you try really hard to be good yourself, or someone else forces you instead (usually through a system of compliance and punishment). It helps if you have a clear and detailed understanding of what it means to be good – and this is actually harder than it sounds, it’s a massive problem at the moment in our post-truth culture. But assuming you know roughly what you should be doing, the usual ‘answer’ to being good is all about human effort: either self-motivated, or enforced by others.
But what if that doesn’t actually work? What if this whole endeavour is ultimately bound to fail? What if even the most perfect law can’t make people good? What then?
This was God’s dilemma with Israel. 700 years of trying, and the basic problem was the same. God’s people either couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do the right things consistently. And the bible insists that this is not the fault of a particular nation: it is the human condition. Hard as we try, no-one can be good all the time. And even those we call ‘good people’ are often driven by decidedly mixed motives.
A totally new solution is needed. The problem is not the law or our capacity to act – it is what’s inside us. If this isn’t right, then our actions (even our ‘good’ ones) won’t be either.
There’s much more to say about this in future daily inspirations. But for now, let’s be encouraged by this beautiful promise given to Ezekiel: ‘I will remove from you your heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh.’ In other words, God says, you’ll start to feel what I feel, to be ‘soft’ to my love and my ways. But you can’t do it yourself. This is a work of the Spirit: ‘I will put my Spirit in you, and move you to follow my decrees.’
Today, let God fill your heart again. Ask Him for that new heart, even if you haven’t ever done that before. And ask Him to move you, to show you where your heart needs to soften, to be moved to follow Him. And give thanks that it’s not how hard you try, but how much God’s goodness can transform yours.