Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Submission to Authority and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

July 4th Post

Suppose you were compelled by law to take some action you deemed immoral, or face incarceration and fines? While we seem to be trending that way with Orwellian crimespeak in some quarters, this has happened before.


If you thought you would have to decide whether you thought owning slaves was right or wrong, if you lived in the 1850s, and opt out of participating in it yourself, you thought wrong. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 not only required law enforcement in Northern states to apprehend escaped slaves (and paid them a hefty bonus for it), but:
"In addition, any person aiding a runaway slave by providing food or shelter was subject to six months' imprisonment and a $1,000 fine" (Article on Wikipedia)
If you let a runaway stay on your property, or if you gave them a cup of water, without reporting them to the authorities, you could be fined the equivalent of $30,000 in today's dollars AND thrown in jail. 

So here's the question:

Is it right or wrong to give food and shelter to a runaway slave in this situation?
Is it right or wrong to decline to report a runaway slave if you know of one?


For some, one might be easier than the other, and for others, the reverse. I could see how one person might feel ethically compelled to provide food, feeling that it is a violation of James 2:15-16 to refuse their neighbor in need. I can also see how someone else might feel justified not telling the authorities so long as they provided no aid, because at least then they wouldn't be in violation of the law, so they might think. I could see how some might provide aid, and tell the authorities afterward. I could see how some would delay to tell the authorities. And I could see how some might defy the law on both points, utterly.


But I would like to point out that regardless of which way you're convicted, the difference between a Christian and a Republican (you know, the anti-slavery party) lies in how you would respond when you get caught.


Do you: flee? Go down guns blazing? Have your friends bust you out of prison? Lie when questioned? No.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Romans 13:1-7

So what does the Christian do? He exercises his discernment in helping those he can practically help who are indeed in need. He exercises his conscience in deciding to report himself to the authorities. And if he is caught, he submits to the arrest without unlawfully resisting the government's right to detain. In all of this, he obeys God's law, choosing to ignore human government when it compels him to do evil, but submitting to it when it acts in accordance with God's law. 

And that means that even though the crime is no crime, for which he is arrested, the government is still legitimately authorized TO arrest, and the Christian rejoices that he is counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.  Acts 5:41


The Christian obeys the government's authority. This includes the authority to imprison, fine, and execute you, even under false pretenses. But he does not recognize the government's authority to compel him to commit evil. At this point, the Christian takes a stand and lets everyone know that his fidelity to God is what compels him, so that even in his persecution, he might witness to unbelievers whose hard hearts God has determined to soften by means of the unjust spectacle.

In other words, you could say that, while you're not obligated to obey the government if it tries to make you do evil, you're obligated to obey the government even if the government's actions are evil. The fact that it's perpetrating injustice doesn't render our submission to its authority voluntary. If this were true, then we would never be in submission to government, because government is composed of men and men are sinful, so government will always be acting sinfully to some degree. We simply can't justify rebellion based on how bad our government is. We justify disobedience to the government when our obedience to the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2) requires us to refuse a command to the contrary. This is the Christian ethic of civic responsibility.



I'm posting this on July 4th because there is a tendency toward uncritical patriotism of country, among Christians, pseudochristians and conservatives in America. Too often, in practice, the country itself is held up as the highest ideal and that which most richly deserves our honor and commitment. But this ignores the fact that in both the present, future, and past of this country have included laws which punish good and require evil, which Christians cannot gloss over. The highest ideal is the Law of God. The fact that no one, and no country, can aspire to that naturally brings up the doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria. You can't do it, and that's precisely why you need God. His glory is the highest good, and thwarting those who seek any other glory is His specialty. Submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:6

May this country indeed return, or this somewhat abstract exercise is due to become painfully practical as it ceases to be a thought-experiment and becomes our daily reality.

The practical reason why we must respond Biblically, not politically, to unjust government -- a far distant second to the primary reason that we should obey God because we love Him and desire to obey because it is right to obey, and His Spirit in us compels us to do right -- is that while God doesn't guarantee national blessing, He only promises to bless nations that follow His precepts, so when things don't work out when your primary objective is political victory, don't be surprised.

Consider this, instead.

“Although slavery is not uniformly condemned in either the Old or New Testaments, the sincere application of New Testament truths has repeatedly led to the elimination of its abusive tendencies. Where Christ’s love is lived in the power of His Spirit, unjust barriers and relationships are inevitably broken down. As the Roman empire disintegrated and eventually collapsed, the brutal, abused system of slavery collapsed with it—due in great measure to the influence of Christianity. ... New Testament teaching does not focus on reforming and re structuring human systems, which are never the root cause of human problems. The issue is always the heart of man—which when wicked will corrupt the best of systems and when righteous will improve the worst. If men’s sinful hearts are not changed, they will find ways to oppress others regardless of whether or not there is actual slavery.”~ John MacArthur

-W

I credit Todd Friel, John MacArthur, and the endless parade of Christian martyrs for persuading me of the correctness of this Biblical approach to government law and order.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Meaning of the Terms "Conservative" and "Liberal"

There's a reason why terms like 'conservative' and 'liberal' sometimes serve to confuse political discussions. It's because those words are adjectives -- another word for adjective is a "noun modifier." In other words, nothing is conservative or liberal in and of itself, but with respect to something that can be conserved or loosened. Let's look at the terms:

Conserve: to conserve, restrain, hold back, maintain, preserve, hold fast to, etc.

Liberally: profusely; Liberate: to loosen, set free, relinquish control over, etc.

From what I remember, the Founders made a distinction between the concepts of "freedom" and "liberty." The short summary is this: total individual freedom, a 'state of nature,' is not true freedom at all because it's unstable. The strong eventually conquer the weak and impose their own rules. By contrast, liberty is freedom with some minimal, reasonable restrictions on the individual, that makes society safe for individuals to exercise their freedom, enabling them to be more free than they would be otherwise, without those restrictions.

Back on topic: Conservatives wish to conserve something, but Liberals wish to relax, or be free from those things. But what is that thing?

This is where I wish to make an important point. Conservatism and Liberalism mean different things in different countries, because their different histories, by definition, mean that that which would be conserved varies based on the established historical culture of those places.

That's why, in Iran, conservatism means Shia Islam. In Saudi Arabia, it's Wahhabi Islam. In Spain and Italy, it's Roman Catholicism. In the US, it's Protestant Christianity. In the UK, "conservatism" is just slightly more pro-capitalist liberalism. In Russia, it's Communism, and in China, it's a mixture of that and, religiously, ancestor-worship is the traditional spiritual belief. So on and so forth.

The US differs from the UK, despite their common language and some similar facets of culture. While they have a similar theological history, their political culture is very distinct. The UK was a Constitutional Monarchy since the good old days when King John signed the Magna Carta. It still is, but the monarchy is much weakened in its power. The US, on the other hand, has never had a king. It has always been a mixture of a Republic (leaders decide the laws on behalf of the people) and a Democracy (the leaders are chosen by the people). The democratic aspect of this is deeply embedded in American society because of generations of asserting the ideal of individualism. In America, the political unit is the individual. This is in turn supported by the theological teachings of Christianity, which says that all people are made in God's image and are responsible for themselves.

American Conservatism, then, is extremely unique because no other country has over a hundred years of history at its foundation that supports the political position that says that every individual has the right and responsibility to make their own decisions, provided they are not immoral, without any other person interfering with their ability and prerogative to do so.

That's why Conservatism in the US can be boiled down to a single phrase, as far as it concerns the relationship between the individual and his government: personal responsibility.

This is the functional secular definition that most people on the political right conceive the term to mean. It's how come Catholics, Mormons, Jews, and even Atheists can be politically conservative -- and not just in name, but genuinely have many opinions in common with genuine conservative Christians.

To be more specific, however, American Conservatism, understood historically, means the maintaining of Biblical Christian principles in all areas of public and private life.

That's my working definition. It, once again, can be agreed to to an extent by people with other philosophies. "Biblical Christian principles," without the faith, are often borrowed by those with less internally consistent views, because of their inherent usefulness. That doesn't make them true, but because they are true, they are inherently worthwhile to pursue, in ways that are sometimes obvious and sometimes revealed after a time, and so atheists can often see the value in limited government, and Catholics can express strong convictions about the value of human life and the blessing of doing marriage God's way. In this way they are conservative in ways that Christian conservatives can agree with politically, but the ultimate reasons are different. The Christian is concerned with glorifying God, and does not get lost in secondary causes. We stand for what is right not because it seems practical, but because even if it does not, we trust that God knows best and we want to glorify Him by our obedience.


This is all to distinguish between holding political positions that are consistent with Biblically conservative Christianity, and being reborn by the Holy Spirit so that, as a natural outgrowth of your continuing sanctification, you follow God's principles from the heart.

The liberal view, meanwhile, would be, rather than maintaining those principles, loosening and/or abandoning those principles.


-W

Monday, June 26, 2017

Let's Play A Game: Popular Songs As Summarized by Puritans

This gets worse as you go down the list.

Point 1: While Puritan is often used contemporarily as a derogatory term, it is a historical term that refers to English Reformers specifically, and, since then, conservative protestants specifically. You could be considered a puritan for having a less liberal attitude about what is proper language, behavior, dress, etc than the wider culture. In some sense, all Christians should be puritan.

"In the world, not of the world" - (John 17:14-15) - comes to mind often when I observe contemporary culture through song or television. There is no sign of self-awareness, by content producers,  of the fact that what they project is not affirmed as good by everyone who sees it, and this is very ironic. I often reflect on the significance of language, attitudes or beliefs which are taken for granted, and feel increasingly more isolated from and marginalized by the culture I live in. I suspect many believers can say the same.

For those who do not, I'd like you to consider a few highly popular recent songs that many young people sing along to and enjoy, I suspect uncritically. I wondered how a Puritan might characterize the lyrics if he heard them, and if it would shock some modern listeners, if only because of their numbness to what they're actually singing along to.

In other words, this is how I would describe the songs.


Carly Rae Jepsen -- "Call Me Maybe"
Young girl improperly pursues a man after lusting over him, boasting over how many other suitors she has had.

Adele -- "Hello From the Other Side"
Older woman mourns the dissolution of a past relationship, desperately trying to reconnect with a man she was once intimate with, because she is lonely and afraid of "running out of time."

Ellie Goulding -- "Love Me Like You Do"
A girl so overcome with lust that she spends the whole song begging a man to take advantage of her sexually.

Taylor Swift -- "Wildest Dreams"
A cynical woman holds no hope for a stable relationship, merely wishing that a man she fornicated with will remember her from time to time.

Sia -- "Chandelier"
A girl who is the 'life of the party' admits that she's becoming an alcoholic as a result of how much she drinks to keep from feeling the pain of her raging depression and emptiness.

Tove Lo -- "Habits"
Woman describes how she became a chronic drug user, prostitute, and developed an eating disorder after a break-up with a man she was very emotionally involved with.

Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj -- "Side to Side"
A profanity-laden song performed on the Dangerous Woman tour which featured a concert that was targeted by a muslim terrorist. Graphically describes a variety of sex acts, encourages pursuing sexual relationships against the protests of one's friends, and is named after a post-coital gait characterizing some young women.

There's a theme here.

Nearly all new songs that chart describe, whether in positive, negative, or ironic ways, unhealthy romantic relationships...if you can even call them romantic.

I could unpack this in a lot of different ways, but let me make a few short points and be done:

1. The lifestyle promoted by these lyrics also describe terrible consequences for mental and physical health, one's sense of identity, the ability to be content, and the ability to form healthy relationships.

2. If you listen to this sort of music un-ironically, you're allowing yourself to be influenced by it. Does it paint a picture of something you wish to emulate? Please be selective about the messages that you listen to. Especially if you're Christian.

Because,
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. Philippians 4:8
-W

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Spurgeon on Prayer

     “There are times when solitude is better than society, and silence is wiser than speech. We should be better Christians if we were more alone, waiting upon God, and gathering through meditation on His Word spiritual strength for labour in his service. We ought to muse upon the things of God, because we thus get the real nutriment out of them. . . . Why is it that some Christians, although they hear many sermons, make but slow advances in the divine life? Because they neglect their closets, and do not thoughtfully meditate on God's Word. They love the wheat, but they do not grind it; they would have the corn, but they will not go forth into the fields to gather it; the fruit hangs upon the tree, but they will not pluck it; the water flows at their feet, but they will not stoop to drink it. From such folly deliver us, O Lord. . . .”

    "It is interesting to remark how large a portion of Sacred Writ is occupied with the subject of prayer, either in furnishing examples, enforcing precepts, or pronouncing promises. We scarcely open the Bible before we read, “Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord;” and just as we are about to close the volume, the “Amen” of an earnest supplication meets our ear. Instances are plentiful. Here we find a wrestling Jacob—there a Daniel who prayed three times a day—and a David who with all his heart called upon his God. On the mountain we see Elias; in the dungeon Paul and Silas. We have multitudes of commands, and myriads of promises. What does this teach us, but the sacred importance and necessity of prayer? We may be certain that whatever God has made prominent in his Word, he intended to be conspicuous in our lives. If he has said much about prayer, it is because he knows we have much need of it. So deep are our necessities, that until we are in heaven we must not cease to pray. Dost thou want nothing? Then, I fear thou dost not know thy poverty. Hast thou no mercy to ask of God? Then, may the Lord’s mercy show thee thy misery! A prayerless soul is a Christless soul. Prayer is the lisping of the believing infant, the shout of the fighting believer, the requiem of the dying saint falling asleep in Jesus. It is the breath, the watchword, the comfort, the strength, the honour of a Christian. If thou be a child of God, thou wilt seek thy Father’s face, and live in thy Father’s love."
    ~ C H Spurgeon



    I have a personal belief now, developed years ago and after many long nights of prayer, that there is no mystical way in which prayer benefits the Christian in spiritual growth. But I think I can finally understand how Spurgeon could make such a big deal out of it. Since God doesn't audibly talk back to us, the nature of a prayer conversation will begin with thankfulness and supplication, and progress to drawing on memorized Scripture passages (i.e. "meditating on the word") to "talk it out" with God, explaining your reasoning process and in that process coming to discoveries that refine your conduct of speech: you realize that how you were asking could have been wrong/fully motivated, so you alter your requests and acknowledge that He knows best and maybe you oughtn't get what you ask for. You "happenstance" come across new or more profound Theological truths than you had in mind before, simply by thinking about the truths you know. This lets you grow in spiritual wisdom. I think the strength of an active prayer life is an active thought life.

-W

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Spurgeon: "I thought I was doing it all myself"

Born, as all of us are by nature, an Arminian, I still believed the old things I had heard continually from the pulpit, and did not see the grace of God. When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me...I can recall the very day and hour when first I received those truths in my own soul—when they were, as John Bunyan says, burnt into my heart as with a hot iron...

One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher's sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, "How did you come to be a Christian?" I sought the Lord. "But how did you come to seek the Lord?" The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, "I ascribe my change wholly to God" (AUTOBIOGRAPHY, pp. 164-5).


-W

Monday, June 19, 2017

Spurgeon: "Calvinism is the Gospel"

I loved the short quote in this, the first time I heard it. It encouraged me, because I had been researching Calvinism and was unsure whether it had been believed through history, or was a recent invention. What had "big-name" pastors and preachers of the past said about it? Spurgeon was a name I'd heard mentioned positively in the theological circles I'd been crossing into. So this served to unify my understanding, and conclude that "these guys are on the same team. We are on the same team."

If anyone should ask me what I mean by a Calvinist, I should reply, "He is one who says, Salvation is of the Lord." I cannot find in Scripture any other doctrine than this. It is the essence of the Bible. "He only is my rock and my salvation." Tell me anything contrary to this truth, and it will be a heresy; tell me a heresy, and I shall find its essence here, that it has departed from this great, this fundamental, this rock-truth, "God is my rock and my salvation." What is the heresy of Rome, but the addition of something to the perfect merits of Jesus Christ—the bringing in of the works of the flesh, to assist in our justification? And what is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer? Every heresy, if brought to the touchstone, will discover itself here. I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.


The website I chose to use for the source text is Spurgeon.org. Please read the whole sermon, called "In Defense of Calvinism."

-W

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Relevance of Plato's Forms to Interpreting Human Emotion

My personality preference per the Myers-Briggs personality test (one of the only useful things ever produced by secular psychology) strongly favors 'intuitive thinking,' which is to say that I don't identify with my emotions. I wouldn't say that I'm "not emotional" or that I "don't feel emotion." On the contrary, in some ways I'm much more sensitive to / aware of my own emotional state because I relate to emotion as something that happens to me. It is not me; therefore, I have to first interpret what I am feeling, and then consciously choose how to act on it. It is very perplexing to me to see others behave according to a philosophy of "I feel like I should do x, therefore I will do x."

Most upsetting is when I have had opportunities to observe young men express a tendency to be turned on by the 'challenge' of seducing a woman who is already in a romantic relationship with someone else. Rather than respecting the people in the existing relationship, such adolescents are even more interested in "taken" women than those who are single. This evidently transcends gender, because it takes two to cheat.

But suppose you don't find pursuing things that are 'off limits' acceptable.

Whether you operate emotionally like the example above, or are more like me, let me offer, for your consideration, a different way of thinking about it. 

I found myself, once, contemplating the meaning of the good feeling I had when I had the opportunity to observe a Christian couple interacting with each other. The following is based on those thoughts:

Rather than focus on the obvious downside (“bummer, one less fish in the sea”), seeing a happy couple in a good relationship should give you encouragement because they, by their very existence, demonstrate that a committed relationship between young Christians can work. The obvious extrapolation of this observation is that "if it works for them, it can work for me." Instead of being disappointed when you see a beautiful woman who’s “taken,” the Spirit enables you to draw enjoyment from their enjoyment by being glad that God is strengthening their bond and using them as a lamp for His glory, and look forward to the day when you can experience the same joy, personally.

I want to make clear that what one might like about a young Christian couple ought to be the fact of their relationship itself and not an attraction to the woman (or man) in the relationship—getting these two confused can lead to catastrophe, and I think that inappropriate approaches to people in relationships, both by Christians and nonchristians, is one of the root causes for a lot of strange relationship problems that exist. I acknowledge that you, as a typical man, might initially recognize the woman as an attractive person. Sin is when that becomes lust—the desire to have HER for yourself. What your Spirit-led emotions [should, of you're growing in holiness] find to be attractive about seeing her, happy, in a loving bond, is not her but the fact that she is happy, the fact that someone like her can be happy, and the fact that there can be such a loving bond that can generate such happiness.
Let me briefly explain Plato’s forms. Plato used his brain of brains to wonder about things like definitions—what makes a thing the thing that it is? Is it arbitrary convention or is there an abstract concept that defines it? Let’s give an example: a chair. What makes a chair a chair? Is it that it has four legs, or three, or five? Is it its shape or its material that it’s made of, or its size? Why do we recognize every new chair that we see as a chair, and not as a completely new thing, since not all chairs are exactly alike? Plato would hold that there is a form called chair that defines “chair-ness,” and describes what it means to be a chair. Chairs are destructible and material but forms are eternally existent and immutable. Every chair possesses the form of “chair-ness,” and that’s what enables us to recognize it as a chair.  This is all a complicated way of getting to my point, which is this: I am attracted to the form of marriage. It is recognizable only in actual examples of marriage, but each actual marriage possesses some quality of “marriage-ness” that points to the form marriage, which is what I’m attracted to and desire.
When I see a happy marriage between two Christians, it is not THEIR marriage that I desire. But there is something in their marriage that points to, that “reminds” me of some quality of the ideal of marriage, and it is THAT that I want. So when I see something in this ideal of marriage displayed in an actual marriage, it gives me hope because it shows that it’s not just an unreachable abstract idea, but a concrete reality that isn’t impossible to achieve—they did, and that means that you can have it too. That’s why I can be turned off to a particular woman upon realizing that she’s in a relationship (this is true. I would almost consider it a spiritual gift, but I suspect it’s just biology or psychology), yet turned on to/by something more abstract about her that isn’t HER, but a quality that she possesses that I yearn for in my own life. I don’t want their relationship. I want a relationship like theirs. And what that really means, in Christian theology, is that I want an earthly relationship with a woman that as closely mirrors the heavenly relationship, that God has with His Church, as possible.

So, young person, when you 'feel something' upon seeing or speaking with other attractive people, do you automatically assume that that's "desire" (for them), and wish to 'follow your heart?' Or do you assume you are experiencing lust, and this produces internal turmoil or a difficulty interacting with other people in the Body of Christ?

Or have I persuaded you of the wisdom of questioning what it is you think you're feeling, and, regardless of conclusion, determining to guide your emotions to focus them, productively, on pure and noble goals, such as motivating you to pursue (or patiently wait for) a beautiful marriage of your own?


-W

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Good and Righteous. Bible Study to Define Terms

If you've ever wondered why these two words would be, curiously, given distinct meanings in places like Romans 5 (below), you're not alone. I have wondered, too, and therefore, I think my study to figure it out may help you understand the purpose of the Author of Scripture in using this peculiar language.

Righteousness and Goodness: A Biblical Word Study

The way I think of these words now is probably very different from the way a typical person uses them, because I think of them in Biblical terms. Without getting too technical, let me spell out the distinction between them, and then give some verses to back up my point.

Righteousness is one of two things: godly behavior (what we would usually think of) OR the positional righteousness that saints have because of the Cross--namely, that God considers us to be perfect like Jesus even though we're not, because we've traded places with Him so that our sins could be dealt with separately from us.

Goodness in the Bible can be something we do as humans, indicated by Galatians 5, but it is appropriate to translate the word 'good' as perfection, which is consistent because goodness as a fruit of the Spirit is something that we don't manufacture on our own, but it comes from God.

Here's my super-simplified idea: No one is good, but some are righteous. Lemme show you my proof-text:
Romans 5:6-8
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodlyFor scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 
This verse used to make no sense to me. What is the distinction between righteous and good? And why is righteous seemingly placed below good on an apparent grading-scale of holiness?
The verses arrange it like so: ungodly-->righteous-->good. If righteous and good aren't the same thing, then what do they mean? And here's the answer:

Good Means Perfect
Mark 10:17-18
17 Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”
18 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. 19
Jesus isn't saying that He's undeserving of being called good. On the contrary, He's subtly implying that since the 'rich young man' of this passage recognized Him as good, that He IS God. This is yet another example of Jesus' sense of humor, as I see it. But notice what He says--no one is good except God. And God is perfect. So this passage identifies the Biblical word "good" as equivalent to our modern English definition of the word "perfect." Consider this, and we'll look at another example of the same.
Genesis 1:31
31 Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
Logically, since there was yet no sin in the creation, everything was still sinless, and thus perfect. So the use of 'very good' at the conclusion of the creation account is to be understood as 'totally perfect.' If I understand the scholarship, the word translated 'very' in the Hebrew signifies completeness, lacking nothing.

Of interest, since I now have the conclusion that good = perfect in Biblical terminology, I wondered if this would hold up concerning Galatians 5 where one of the fruits of the Spirit in believers listed is 'goodness.' I looked up the word in GotQuestions and cross-checked the word in the Mark 10:18 passage with the Greek interlineary provided by BibleHub and verified that the exact same Greek word was used. Agathosune is the Koine Greek for 'goodness' as read in the New King James Version (the one I prefer to use on BibleGateway because it's less cluttered with hyperlinks), in both locations, and is understood to mean selfless acts for the benefit of others.

What really nailed it down for me was the James 1:17 passage that GQ included which said that "every good and perfect thing comes from God above" (paraphrased the ending), which affirms that goodness doesn't come from us but God, since God, being the only perfect being, is the only One who can cause goodness to be done in the earth. 

Out of curiosity, I searched the BibleHub database for the Greek word translated as 'perfect' in that passage, and it is teleion, which appears to be the Greek counterpart in this passage to the Genesis 1 Hebrew word "very." Look at the 7 uses in the New Testament listed and see if you agree. I think a safe definition for teleion would be "completeness." Don't you?

Righteousness Means You're Not Righteous

I'm just being cheeky, here. But when you consider that righteousness is a word that comes with certain qualifications, you realize it's not a word that confers any opportunity for pride to a person. Not in itself, at least. The word "self-righteous" means that you think you are righteous in and of yourself, and this is wrong. The correct way is to be "God-righteous," to be considered righteous by God's standards. So how can we do this?
Isaiah 64:6
"all our righteousnesses [not even our sins!] are like filthy rags."
Titus 3:5
we were not saved because of any righteous acts we did.
Romans 3:21-26
21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
I highlighted the key part. Do you see that God, when He justifies the repentant sinner, GIVES His righteousness to them, through Christ? This means that God considers us righteous, but it's not our righteousness that we have, it's HIS righteousness. So that's why it's called 'positional righteousness.' We are righteous by virtue of our relationship to God, and not by any special ability to be good that we inherently have which other people do not. In fact, the whole point is that we don't have the ability to be righteous by ourselves, that's why God has to give us His righteousness. Otherwise we couldn't be saved. That's why the doctrine of substitution is so important.
2 Corinthians 5:21
-- "He made Him, who knew no sin, sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."

Transcript of the above video


The Greatest Gospel verse in the Bible, 2 Corinthians 5:21:

"He made Him, Who knew no sin, sin for us,
that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."

Lemme unpack those 15 Greek words.
He, God, made Jesus sin.
'Whattya mean He made Jesus sin?' Only in one sense:

He treated Him as if He had committed every sin ever committed by every person who would ever believe,
though in fact He committed none of them.
Hanging on the Cross He was holy, harmless, undefiled,
Hanging on the Cross He was a spotless lamb.
He was never for a split second a sinner.
He is Holy God on the Cross.

But God is treating Him -- I'll put it more practically -- as if He lived my life.
God punished Jesus for my sin, turns right around and treats me as if I lived His life.
That's the great Doctrine of Substitution, and on that doctrine turned the whole Reformation of the Church; that is the heart of the Gospel.

And what you get is complete forgiveness, covered by the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

When He looks at the Cross He sees you, when He looks at you He sees Christ.

Summary

None of us are good. The good we do is by the power of God.

None of us are truly righteous. Those of us whom God considers righteous have the righteousness of Jesus Christ credited to us, we have no inherent righteousness of our own.

Good to know, huh? :) I hope this was an interesting and informative read. And now you'll know what I mean in future posts if I refuse to use the words good or righteous to refer to someone...or on the other hand, what I would mean if I do use those words.

-W