Let us define being good as doing good naturally from an unselfish heart. Now we can look at the two possible conditions of man in relation to morality or personal goodness.
Everyone born on this earth is a child of Adam. As such they inherit the knowing of good and evil. They know right from wrong. This reluctant gift of God was chosen by the first people. It meant the end of their innocent state.
Harmony turned to a separation which Adam and Eve felt as nakedness. They became independent of God, alienated from nature, and even in disharmony with each other as was soon shown by blame and accusation.
A person may try to follow this internal direction, now called your ‘moral compass’. If reinforced by society and family, you may act as a ‘good’ person in your life.
Does this mean you are now good? Not really. As Jesus said, “You, being evil, are able to give good gifts…” Even though you may act good, it doesn’t mean you are good. Motivation may be fear or pride or even cunning calculation to get what you want. Or it may even be weakness in that you just go along with what is expected of you.
Before Jesus, people were considered either Jews or gentiles. The gentiles did sometimes hold up virtue and some reached to attain it. But all this is still the state of men without God. Made in the image of God, they retain the impression of the Good.
And the Jews had a clear definition of good behavior from God. The Law contained clear commands regarding living right. Sure, this helped the society function but did not make the individual good. Sacrifices were offered all the time for sin or wrongdoing. Big sacrifices once a year and personal sacrifices quite often.
In both cases, personal goodness did not result in the sense that good actions came naturally from a pure heart.
The idea of an ideal person lives in each one of us. The Jews were also given a hope in a coming savior who would be that ideal person. Jesus is the only one who fits this ideal. Jesus did not emphasize that keeping the Law of Moses was the way to eternal life. The fact was that even if you tried your best to do them, you would discover your heart did not match them.
So, life on earth after Jesus came cannot be just following rules of good behavior. It must be something quite different. And knowing good from evil had a fatal flaw; people don’t have the power to do good all the time. They can live somewhat good lives but they cannot bear up to an examination of their heart.
The heart is not pure. To be pure means to be only one thing. A pure heart does not contain two but only one desire. The heart of a man has never been pure. Even Adam easily desired something wrong. But Jesus said that the pure in heart are blessed. They will see God! So that one desire of the pure heart must be toward God.
How do you get there? There are three ways, I think. First, to try and be good. Eventually, you discover your heart is not good. You want God to change it. Second, you pursue evil and eventually your heart is so full of evil, you desire relief. Third, the injustice and deception around you moves you to call on God for relief.
In all three cases, the conclusion is the same. The heart of men is somehow wrong. In the first two, you see it in your own heart. In the third, you see it in others.
You have come to the right conclusion! Your heart begins to desire the one remedy that will work. God. Only he can change a heart. There is a promise made by God: ‘I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.’
This is repeated later with more detail: ‘I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
This is a big change. Maybe the biggest change of all. Those that heard Jesus speak were expecting an external change of circumstances from God. But he was always talking about internal change. The earth was fine in the garden of Eden. In that good environment, the two people chose to do the wrong thing. Good circumstances do not produce good people.
Let’s go back and look at the promise. Cleansing comes first. All the accumulated wrongness is removed by God. Some would call this forgiveness. But it also results in a clean conscience. God will change our heart from hardness to the kind we were meant to have: one that matches us as humans. More than this, he will put his Spirit in us. This will incline us toward good and motivate the best actions. We will become the kind of people we were created to become.
Maybe you are a Bible expert and say: this promise was to the Jewish people, decreed by their prophet, Ezekiel! That is true. But in The Acts of the Apostles, we learn that this is for all people because gentiles experience the very same transformation. Those Jewish people who would have doubted that this could happen were convinced by what they saw.
So we may be confident of two things: this promise is for all people and it is for right now. Better circumstances await us in the future. But our immediate concern is our heart. If our heart becomes right and pure, we may have all confidence in God to arrange everything else by his power.