Matthew 13:47-50 (ESV) Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Reading the parable presented in Matthew 13:47-50, I find myself contemplating good vs. righteous. Did you notice that the fisherman saves all the good fish? Compare the fisherman to the angels in verse 49. Alternatively, the angels don’t save good men, they save righteous men. Why do these words change? What is the difference?
To start, consider what is good? Who is good? These questions remind me of Jesus’ conversation with the rich young man in Mark 18. Jesus challenges the rich man’s definition of good. Why? Because it wasn’t enough. In order to receive the full grace of God, being good didn’t earn him salvation. The rich man needed something more. Isn’t the same true today? Everyone thinks that they are ‘good.’ In fact, just like the rich young man, we have followed the rules. We have never murdered anyone, we don’t commit adultery, we don’t steal or bear false witness. No, we do not defraud, in fact we are very honest and, yes, we honor our father and mother. In fact, we see them every weekend and love them very much. So clearly, we too, are good. Unfortunately, good is enough to save the fish, but apparently, not enough to save men. The salvation of men requires righteousness.
Verse 49, shifts the conversation from good to righteous. Why? Consider Jesus’ reminder in Mark 13:18. Despite all our efforts, He insists that “no one is good except God alone.” Paul backs him up in Romans 3:12, saying ‘no one does good, not even one.” As I consider these exhortations, everything in me wants to defend the good that I have done. Maybe its about how much money I’ve given or how many hours I’ve spent serving and volunteering. To be true, I have to ask, how am I, how are we, different from the rich young ruler? Answering honestly, I must admit that we are not different. We are just like him. In fact, our failure to accept it strips all power from Jesus Christ, rendering his sacrifice on the cross impotent. If, on the other hand, we embrace their admonitions, we are finally able to receive the deep desire of our hearts, righteousness.
When I think about good vs righteous in this way, I get a hint at their difference. Good is about my life. Good carries elements of carnality and the desires of the flesh. Righteousness, on the other hand, is all about God. It disregards my-self. It prefers the kingdom of God over everything else. There is only one way that this heart condition is rendered. We see it in Romans 4:20-22. Abraham “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” How then, do we gain righteousness over goodness? Give glory to God and rely on him to do what he has promised.