Being Good at What We Do—or, Being Good - page 1

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From the Fall 2002 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

Being Good at What We Do–or, Being Good

by Dennis P. Hollinger, Ph.D.
President and Professor of Christian Ethics, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary


he recent scandals in the corporate world remind us that there is a difference between being good at what we do, and being good. Enron, Adelphia, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Arthur Andersen, and others certainly had competent CEOs, executives, managers, and accountants. Most were no doubt quite good at what they did. But, the growing evidence shows a crisis in ethics and moral character. Technical competence is one thing; moral trustworthiness is quite another.
  Throughout much of human history it was assumed that leadership and moral character went hand in hand. Of course there were continual failures in various spheres of leadership, and thus the current malaise is nothing new. Due to human sin, leaders in government, business, education, science, and even the church have often failed to steward their power with integrity, justice, and care for human beings. What has perhaps changed is that today the norms for morality seem up for grabs. Ask anyone on the street what ethical goodness is all about and you will get a myriad of conflicting answers. So while we have developed managerial and technical sophistication in carrying out our work, as a culture we are in a blur about morality and ethics. We are good at what we do, but are we good?

The Ultimate Source of Moral Goodness

  In the Bible, moral goodness does not reside within human nature, but rather is rooted in the nature and actions of our Creator. While God created a very good world, even that created goodness is not self-defined—although we do get a glimpse of God’s moral designs through his creation, even in its fallen state. We only know goodness in the fullest sense when we look beyond our own nature and actions to the God who made us and offers redemption in Jesus Christ. Thus, in the Bible righteousness is not attained by human moral efforts, but it comes through God’s own initiative, rooted in his own being and actions. To put it simply, we become good through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, appropriating his work on our behalf through faith and commitment to him as Savior and Lord. Theologians sometimes speak of a forensic righteousness, meaning that God declares us to be righteous through Christ’s work on the cross. We are justified before a holy God, not because of our own actions and character, but because we accept God’s provision for goodness.
  But the biblical story doesn’t stop there. Moral goodness is never just a forensic, declared righteousness. God’s own goodness comes to transform our character and moral actions by his grace and through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit who comes to reside within us.
  Paul put it this way in Ephesians 2: “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (vs. 8-9). Though salvation and moral goodness do not come from our own best efforts, the very next verse reminds us that we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (v. 10). Paul then goes on to give an example of ethical action that ought to be demonstrated as a result of God’s justifying grace, as he deals with one of the significant social ethic issues facing Christians in the first century—the racial and ethnic divide between Jews and Gentiles. Being good by virtue of God’s initiating grace and empowerment means reconciliation between “both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it” (v. 16). Justification overflows into moral goodness, personal and social.

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