Did Jesus come to teach us to be good people?
Well, that depends on how you want to read the Bible. We can read the Bible, beginning to end, as a book of rules telling us what will make God happy, what we have to do, and then go out and try to do it. We may make an admirable try. Yet we know that, without exception, we will fail. Not only will we fail to do what is right before God, we will actually break his law and make him angry. Then what? If we don’t manage to follow that old saw, “What Would Jesus Do?” every minute of every hour of ever day, what good does it do us? None. Yet we can’t do it perfectly. Nobody ever has.
So where should our focus lie? What did Jesus come to teach us? He wasn’t crucified for what he said about how to live a good life. The Pharisees were all in favor of rules. They were angered, and plotted against him, and crucified him, because of what he said about Himself. “I am the good shepherd.” “I am the light of the world.” “I am the bread of heaven.” “If you do not eat my flesh and drink my blood, you do not have life in you.” When they asked him clearly if he was the Son of the living God, he said that he was, and that they would see him coming in power. And see him come in power they did– as he went to the cross, and paid the price for all our falling short.
Did Jesus come to teach us to be good people? No. He came to teach us that we cannot be good people, but that he, the only Good Person, would pay the price for our not being good, and give his goodness to us so that we could stand beside him, without fear– so that we could see God. Any teacher who says that the core of the Christian faith is “How to be good people” has entirely missed the point. Any church that makes our goodness the center of their preaching is not a church of Jesus Christ, because Jesus Christ has gathered us on the foundation of his goodness, not our own. He laid down his life to buy us, poor miserable sinners that we are. That is how we read the Bible– the whole Bible– as the story of God’s love for us, which led him to give his life for people that would never be good without him.