Can somebody please explain the difference to me?

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Today’s Guardian carries a report concerning one Kevin Wilson. Back in December 2015, Wilson was sentenced to life in prison for attacking his heavily pregnant girlfriend and killing their unborn baby. The paper reports:

At the Old Bailey in December 2015, teaching assistant Kevin Wilson, 23, was convicted of child destruction and causing grievous bodily harm to Malorie Bantala.

Wilson was later jailed for a minimum of 16 years after a judge heard that he took matters into his own hands after Bantala refused to have an abortion.

Judge Mark Lucraft said it was a “cowardly, vile, callous attack”, which resulted in the healthy 32-week-old boy being stillborn, and Bantala needing life-saving surgery.

The paper goes on to state:

They kicked and stamped on Bantala’s stomach as she lay curled up on the ground, desperately trying to protect her unborn child with one hand.

Bantala, who lost six pints of blood and had two fingers broken, immediately told police her child’s father was responsible, saying: “He doesn’t want the baby.”

She described her innocent son, Joel, as the “real victim”.

“The moment Joel died inside me I lost everything, literally. Life as I knew it no longer made sense.”

Whilst an attack on anybody is a horrible crime, the judge – and, indeed, the paper – were in no doubt that the life sentence handed down to Wilson was specifically a result of the purposeful killing of the unborn child.

The euphemistically titled ‘child destruction’ is infanticide by any other name. The crime is defined thus: ‘the crime of killing an unborn but viable foetus; that is, a child “capable of being born alive”, before it has “a separate existence”‘.

Following yesterday’s comments re Peter Singer (see here), can somebody please point out the difference between this and standard abortion? Whilst I recognise the phraseology of the law would permit the killing of a non-viable foetus – the tipping point of which would usually be viewed as 28 weeks – plethora of examples exist of children surviving earlier births. Can somebody explain how this issue is any different to the termination of those who, though under 28 weeks, have a perfectly good chance of survival?

In the case of the disabled, the issue is even more stark. The disabled can be killed in utero right up to birth. Given that the definition of ‘disabled’ incorporates a far greater number of people than ‘not viable’, can somebody explain how this example of ‘child destruction’ is any different to the daily destruction of children in the womb with disabilities as minor as cleft palates?

If Malorie Bantala, seemingly in accord with the reporting of the Guardian newspaper, ‘described her innocent son, Joel, as the “real victim”’, if he was indeed her son – not simply a foetus – and if this was the murder of a child (as sentencing suggests), is it just me or does anybody else sense the cognitive dissonance at play?

 

 

Peter Singer, utilitarianism and the problem with after-birth abortion

Peter Singer has long been known as a leading philosopher advocating utilitarianism. Here, Sally Phillips speaks with Frank Skinner about a documentary in which Singer features. Specifically, his views on the disabled are under scrutiny (Phillips has a downs syndrome son and has been a vociferous campaigner for disability rights).

She notes that Singer believes there is no moral difference between an embryo and a child at the age of three. He argues that nobody has the right to life and, if we can terminate children in the womb, to end the life of a three year old who does not have sufficient self-awareness is perfectly acceptable. In fact, Singer deems those without adequate self-awareness as non-persons who are of less value and worth than animals with, in his view, a great self-awareness. Sadly, none of this is especially new (see here).

Let me start with where Singer is absolutely correct (around 3:10 on the video). He is quite right that the sanctity of life is a religious idea that has ‘no defensibility outside of religious views’. On the Atheistic/Agnostic/Humanist views, there really is no reason why anyone ought to be able to live or otherwise. One person’s views, opinions and principles are just as valid as another’s. There is nothing to ground our morality – it is, at best, cultural but, more likely, simply subjective. We may offer subjective reasons, or utilitarian principles (which are ultimately subjective – who is the arbiter of the greatest good?), but there is no ultimate reason why any view or belief is right or wrong, including the right to life.

The Judeo-Christian view uniquely offers the concept of the imago dei. The right to life is not a matter of God’s simply saying so, as in many other religious worldviews, it is a matter of God’s very design. He created human beings in his own image and thus imbues them with something that inherently distinguishes them from animals, whether severely disabled or not. The reason why those in the Judeo-Christian tradition can defend the sanctity of life is not simply because God says life is sacred (though he does and so it is). It is because every human being reflects something of God himself. God specifically links the seriousness of taking life to the concept of imago dei in Gen 9:6.

At the end of the discussion, both Phillips and Skinner agree that Singer’s ‘cold, calm logic’ is ‘hard to fault’. Certainly there is a logic to the view that says the termination of children in the womb is of little difference to the killing of children up to the age of three. There is an even straighter line from the ability to terminate disabled children in the womb up to birth  and the view that disabled children can be killed after birth (non-disabled children cannot be terminated after 28 weeks forcing us to draw the only conclusion possible, the disabled are not viewed equally or equally valued in the eyes of society). So there is a certain, almost consistent, logic here.

But here is where the logic begins to fail. If it is true that persons are determined by their self-awareness and their value determined by the greater good (leaving aside the thorny issue of who determines what ‘greater good’ actually is), then to limit termination to disabled people up to the age of 3 is entirely inconsistent. In this country we say the age of criminal responsibility is 10 (we are considered draconian by the rest of Europe). If that is true, then we have determined that those under the age of 10 lack the self-awareness to understand the implications of their moral decisions. So, to be consistent, Singer really ought to advocate the ability to kill anyone – disabled or otherwise – up to the age of 10.

However, consistency pushes us further. We have determined as a society that there are many aspects of life that are unsuitable for children. We have established that they lack the moral ability and self-awareness to able to handle all sorts of things. This means consistency really ought to permit the ability to kill anybody under the age of 18 as they are not fully self-aware. If they lack full self-awareness, and they are of limited value to wider society, should all under-18s not be bumped off unceremoniously too?

But things must surely go further. If value and self-awareness are the primary concerns, how self-aware and valuable must we be to avoid being deemed surplus to requirements and immediately snuffed out? Should the brash and gauche be killed for lacking full self-awareness? What about the intellectually inferior? Each group we remove en masse means we create a new bottom caste who immediately become the new ‘least valuable’ group. Before long, are we not left with only one person who is simultaneously both most and least valuable?

The reason why most people baulk at even the softer end of utilitarianism is because, as a society built on Judeo-Christian values, there are a whole range of values we take for granted as correct and consider self-evident (see Tom Holland on this very issue here). These were not formed in a vacuum but over centuries of Christianity as the dominant cultural force. The problem much of Western Europe now faces is, as a society that has broadly rejected the Judeo-Christian framework but wishes to uphold many of its values, what basis have they got upon which to enforce them?

Everything is providence

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‘The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps’ – Proverbs 16:9

The Bible is pretty clear on the sovereignty of God. Would that there was no need to defend it given the clarity on the issue scripture affords. Yet the likes of Molinism, Arminianism and Open Theism – to a lesser or greater degree – undermine the doctrine of which Spurgeon said:

There is no attribute of God more comforting to his children than the doctrine of Divine Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe troubles, they believe that Sovereignty hath ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all.

But one doesn’t want to defend God’s sovereignty here, there really is no need (just read the Bible). I am more interested in the related concept of God’s providence.

Providence is the natural outworking of sovereignty. If sovereignty is to do with the range of God’s rule, providence is the outworking of that rule. Sovereignty relates to the divine control of God; providence is how God works out his divine control in practice. If God is in control of all events (sovereignty) then the circumstances we find ourselves in must have been divinely ordained (providence).

There is a common strain of Christian thought that wants to know ‘God’s will for my life’. The logic is thus: (1) God has a plan for my life; (2) To honour God I must act in accord with his will; (3) Therefore, I must discern and act within the will of God.

There is a rightness of this type of thinking. Where God has expressed his will, it is certainly not honouring to him to actively disregard it. There is nothing glorifying about flagrantly disregarding God’s expressed will which we have in his word. Where the logic errs is in failing to recognise that there are two sides to God’s will: expressed and providential. His expressed will is that which he commands in his Word; his providential will is all that he brings to pass in the world. To ‘know God’s will for my life’ is to look in his word and seek to act in accord with it whilst recognising, in the ordinary course of things, God’s ultimate will cannot be thwarted.

This leads on to my point: everything is providence. If God is in control of all things, and he ordains all events, is it possible to act outside of his will? Surely the answer must be ‘no’. Certainly we can act against his expressed will (e.g. Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery or the unjust crucifixion of Jesus) but we cannot act outside his providential will (e.g. Joseph becoming supreme governor and Jesus purchasing salvation and rising from the dead). It means all things are providential and we cannot act outside of God’s ultimate will.

So how do I know what God would have me do in any given circumstance? There are three things to consider:

  1. Read his word. Does God give any expressed guidance as to his will? If yes, make sure you act in accordance with it.
  2. Use your mind. If God is control of all things, he is also in control of our volition. If God guides primarily through his word, he surely also guides through our will and volition. If he knows how we will act in any given circumstances, it follows that – once we have considered his expressed will – we can weigh up what seems right to us.
  3. Consider your circumstances. If God ordains all events, does it not seem likely that he will place us in particular circumstances – knowing our own volition – that will cause us to act in accordance with his will? He will close certain doors we might otherwise think viable and open those that seem credible in the circumstances. Using both our minds and circumstances, the Lord knows what we would choose in any given circumstances and places us where we will act in accordance with his ultimate will.

The basic point is this: to act within God’s will, just do something. If everything is within God’s control, then everything is providential. If everything is providential, then it is impossible for us to act outside of God’s ultimate will. If God’s ultimate will cannot be thwarted, and he guides us through circumstances and volition, then simply acting in accordance to whatever seems appropriate in the circumstances means we are surely following God’s plan for our life.

Whatever God’s will for your life may be, simply acting as seems right in your circumstances means you will be acting in line with God’s will for you. Although we may act against God’s expressed will, everything is essentially providence.

Is hate now only perceived in the ear of the hearer?

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Two stories relating to so-called hate crimes have cropped up recently. The first came from The Guardian on Saturday in which they reported that Police in England and Wales Consider Making Misogyny a Hate Crime. Just as racial, religious, disability and LGBT+ motivated assaults and the like have all been categorised as hate crimes, so now gender motivated crime (or, at least, that committed against women) is to be added to the list.

The issue here is quite basic: why should an assault motivated by any of these things be treated differently to an assault for any other reason? Call me old fashioned, or naive if you will, but is not being violently battered in the street or aggressively abused just as unpleasant to those who perceive no underlying reason nor who fit the categories apparently deemed hateful (even though such action surely always is)? In short, why should a punch in the face be deemed more palatable if it is delivered into the face of a white, heterosexual male who believes they were attacked for no apparent reason?

What is rather worse is that this new categorisation means ‘women can report incidents that might not be considered a crime and the police will investigate’. The same applies to all categorised under the “hate” banner. But this begs the question why something otherwise not considered a crime becomes worthy of investigation simply because the person reporting it perceived they were targeted because of something about their inherent person for which the perpetrator didn’t care? Thus a perception that a man making derogatory comments about a women – unpleasant and unkind as that may be – is deemed a hate crime even though no non-verbal behaviour was involved, no threat took place and the man may have had a grievance that bore no relevance to gender.

The categorisation of hate crimes means that which is otherwise not criminal may be treated as though it is. It means the perception of the one reporting to the police takes precedent over the intention of the one being reported. Once again, if one is subjectively offended and truly believes an individual was addressing them based on who they are (whether true or not), a hate crime has been committed. It means mere words, even if there is clearly no inherent threat of violence and no perceived danger to the individual, can be investigated as a criminal matter. It particularly makes a mockery of the principle that all are equal before the law, for some will receive greater punitive recourse simply because they perceived some hateful words against their person.

Would it not make more sense to simply return to assault simply meaning assault (which does include language by which a genuine fear of physical harm is conveyed)? This way the reason for assault is deemed irrelevant, that assault actually took place is the main issue. Likewise, unless genuine fear of physical harm is at hand, words – no matter how unpleasant, unkind and unwholesome – should not be criminalised. Certainly criminality should not be determined by the subjective perception of the one taking exception to the words. It all just feels one step further down the road to the unilaterally imposed cultural orthodoxy of thought and speech by the ruling liberal elites.

A case in point is the second story that arose over the weekend. Last Monday, Vicky Beeching wrote an article in The Guardian in response to Nicholas Chamberlain, Bishop of Grantham, openly stating that he is gay. This is well within Beeching’s wheelhouse, who has made it her personal mission to convince all that practising homosexuality and active Christianity are entirely biblically compatible. Of course, she is perfectly entitled to make the case whether we agree or not. What seems unfortunate is that the alternative view seems to be verboten.

The Archbishop Cranmer blog wrote a perfectly reasonable, quite credible, rebuttal to Beeching’s piece in The Guardian. He queried Beeching’s assumptions about calling to pastoral ministry and offered a slightly more nuanced view about the Bishop of Grantham on this basis. As you would expect from a theological conservative, he did not exactly affirm with gusto the the ordination of practising homosexuals (maintaining the orthodox teaching of the church and The Church). It was an alternate view that, though daring to swim against the tide of the cultural zeitgeist, is both orthodox and in line with the vast majority of British public attitudes right up to the last 30 years.

Step forward Jayne Ozanne:

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His Grace has written an erudite and reasoned reply which you can read here. Particularly, he comments:

According to Jayne Ozanne, the post on Vicky Beeching and vocation was ‘hate’, pure and simple. Vicky Beeching herself called it an “attack“, which is odd, because reasoned argument about an issue isn’t personal attack at all. But perhaps even that observation constitutes an attack? Maybe to disagree with a deeply-held view is to attack? So all must now agree, or else it’s ‘hate’?

“It took a lot of vulnerability to talk about why I’ve never become a priest,” Vicky Beeching explained. To be clear, then, she was feeling fragile and vulnerable, so she wrote an op-ed piece for the Guardian? So a few hundred quid mitigated her fragility and vulnerability? Is it ‘hate’ to ask these questions? Do they constitute an “attack”?

Why should a provocative piece purposely placed in the Guardian – in which the Church of England is maligned as damaging to people’s well-being, and the Archbishop of Canterbury smeared with duplicity – be considered immune from critique? Is it that Good Disagreement can only happen when “attack” is not perceived? Whose threshold of feeling should then obtain? What if no personal attack was intended, but one is felt?

Why should Vicky Beeching feel free to attack the Church of England, which is people, but feel “sad” when her attack on them is met with counter defence? Why should she feel free to attack Justin Welby for issuing a statement which is “less progressive than it first sounds”, but object to a counter affirmation of moral orthodoxy, or the mere questioning of why the Archbishop should need to be progressive on this matter at all? Or is it that not to be progressive is to ‘hate’? So all conservative/traditionalists become “abusive and vile“?

And thus it seems to be. Hate is subjective and a matter for criminal investigation. Indeed, even those matters which might otherwise not be considered criminal may be investigated by police. Apparently, it is now truly subversive – even hateful – to assent to that which the church has deemed true and proper for some 2000 years. Save for the last 50 years, even the cultural majority was with the church. It is only in the last 30 years, the church has considered it necessary to even discuss the issue such was the conclusion drawn deemed self-evident.

If it is now unacceptable to even voice alternative views, how can rational discussion ever take place? What is the point of the Church of England “shared conversations” if, indeed, only one view within the conversation is permitted? It sounds rather less like a discussion and more like a diktat. It is the irony of the so-called progressive liberals who refuse to tolerate that which does not conform to their narrow view of the way things ought to be.

Let’s be clear: hate cannot be criminalised without a determined desire to criminalise thoughts and the expression of alternate point of view does not amount to hate, even if it does not accord with cultural mores. If discussion is ever to thrive, we really really ought to stop this nonsense.

What denomination should I join?

If you’ve ever wondered what denomination you should join, or where you would feel most at home, why not try taking this little quiz.

*disclaimer: please don’t actually use this quiz to determine which denomination to join
https://www.boombox.com/widget/quiz/fi9xdWl6emVzLzI2NTI0MQ

How do we identify unbelievers masquerading as believers in the church?

‘I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.’ – Romans 16:17-18

The Bible tells us there will always be unbelievers within the church. It refers to some as wolves among the flock, masquerading as believers in the church. But how do we identify such people?

According to these verses there are four signs of those masquerading as believers in the church:

  • Unbelievers masquerading as believers are divisive and stir up dissent
  • Unbelievers masquerading as believers create obstacles to right doctrine
  • Unbelievers masquerading as believers want to serve their own egos
  • Unbelievers masquerading as believers will flatter you with what you want to hear

Listen to the audio above, a section taken from a sermon preached back in March 2015 on Romans 16, for an explanation as to how this may work its way out in practice within the church.

Am I a good person?

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In today’s Guardian, Andrew Brown attempted to answer a commonly googled question – am I a good person? You can read his answer here.

The problem, as Brown rightly notes, is ‘there is no agreement on what constitutes a good person’. Compare the answers of all faith and none, different philosophers and variant cultures and you will find as many different definitions as there are potential answers. He also correctly points out that ‘there is a basic difficulty with our inquiry: if we ask ourselves, the answer we get will probably be tainted with lies. Even when we know we have done wrong, our minds set at work to scrub the knowledge out’. So to ask the question of ourselves is to ask the most biased of biased witnesses. Am I a good person? Naturally, we all want to answer yes.

Rather than answer the objective statement, Brown shifts the ground slightly to ask whether we can know we are good enough. Good enough for what is entirely unclear but, once again, he lands on the central problem: there are competing ideas on measuring goodness. A secondary problem, which he does not note, is that there is equally no universal sufficient standard. So not only is there no consensus on how we measure goodness itself, there is no agreed level at which we can consider ourselves sufficiently good (or, good enough).

Brown argues there are three broad views on measuring goodness: (1) keeping the right rules; (2) developing the right virtues; (3) making the right impact on the world. He goes on to claim that any judgement of goodness ought to have elements of all three, though one is likely to be predominant. Brown suggests consequentialism – the belief that your goodness is equal to your impact on the world – is the prevailing view in our culture. Though I am not entirely convinced this is true, he rightly goes on to establish two problems with this view. First, goodness involves good fortune i.e. those born into power and money can have a greater impact on the world. Thus, on this view, the powerful are of necessity better people simply because of their ability to impact the world due to fortune of birth. Conversely, the powerless – babies, the severely disabled, etc – cannot be good simply because of their inability to impact the world the same way. Second, how does one determine ‘good impact’. As Brown notes: ‘Socrates thought that it was part of virtue to harm your enemies and other bad people. Jesus disagreed. Which scale do you want to measure yourself against?’

Though developing the right virtues gets around the first issue of fortune – the poor and powerless can develop virtue as well as the rich and powerful – there is no agreement on which virtues are truly virtuous. Leaving aside the latter issue, Brown argues virtue ethics is ‘a gain in realism rather than cheerfulness’. He turns to Job to make the point: ‘in the Old Testament, Job was a good man and look what happened to him. Satan got to take away his health, his family and everything he owned’. The issue, as Brown puts it, is not so much whether you win or lose but ‘how you play the game’.

The problem, however, is that Brown’s assessment of Job is wrong. He states:

Job, however, is not held up as a virtuous man, who cultivated courage, or temperance, or justice, so much as one who followed the rules. He did what God commanded, and what society expected. Leaving, if you like, God out of it, that’s how most people most of the time have always lived, and had to do. You do what’s expected and expect the reward of good behaviour. Then you die, and never realise that in a couple of hundred years, society will have moved on, and some of the things you took for granted are regarded as monstrous crimes.

This is a theologically weak assessment of Job. First, Job is very much held up as a virtuous man. The very purpose of God in allowing the Devil to attack Job – which Job himself never actually learns but we do – is to prove to Satan, those around Job and even Job himself that he exhibits the one virtue that truly matters, to love God before all others. This was the very heart of the Devil’s accusation which God refuted with such confidence that he permitted Satan to do his worst. He said:

Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” (Job 1:9-11)

It was not Job’s behaviour or rule keeping that made him good, it was his love for the Lord himself. This was the challenge of the Devil. Not I will make Job sin, but I will make him curse God to his face. I will prove he does not love God above all else, he merely loves what God gives him. In his affliction, he will curse the Lord. And, as we know, Job never does.

Despite Brown’s claim, Job is held up as a virtuous man. Though he is called blameless and upright, he is only so because he fears the Lord. The Devil was not interested in making him sin per se, specifically proving that Job does not love God was his aim. God was not pleased with Job because he kept the rules, he was pleased with him because Job loved God just for who he is – the highest virtue of all.

This rather leads back to our initial question: how can I know I am a good person? Brown ends his piece with the rather disappointing ‘The only certain thing about this question is that if you’ve never thought to ask it, the answer has to be “no”’.The Bible gives us a much better, clearer answer.

Whether we have thought about it or not, the Bible is categorical on whether you and I are good people. Ecclesiastes 7:20, Psalm 14:3 and Romans 3:10 give a fairly comprehensive answer. Nobody is good. Not you, not me, not even Job. Even Jesus says ‘why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone’ (Luke 18:19). Whilst Brown is quite right that, if you’ve never asked yourself if you’re a good person the answer must be “no”, the same applies if you have wrestled with the question. By God’s objective standard, none of us are good.

And there is an objective measure of goodness. Contrary to Brown’s three categories, it is neither keeping the right rules, developing the right virtues or making the right impact. Goodness is determined by God himself. Our goodness as people is not based upon how well we keep his rules or put on his virtues, our goodness is dependent on how far we reflect the glory of God. The Bible says ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). We haven’t fallen short of God’s rules, we have fallen short of his glory. As the Westminister Shorter Catechism says:

Q. 4. What is God?
A. God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

God himself is the objective standard of goodness. We are good people inasmuch as we reflect the glory of God. And the Bible tells us clearly that we have all fallen short. The one objective measure of goodness is the very measure none of us have attained.

The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that, however we care to measure goodness, salvation does not rest upon it. My standing before God is not determined by my performance or my efforts. Whilst I am not a good person, nor am I good enough, the relevant question is whether Jesus Christ is good enough. The gospel tells me that though I am unable to get myself right with God, though I cannot legitimately call myself “good”, Jesus Christ can. He is the only one who fully reflects the glory of God so much so that he could say ‘he who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9).

The question of whether we are good people rather distracts from the reality of our situation. It is only when we grasp that we are not good people that we may come humbly to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith. Jesus said ‘those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance’ (Luke 5:31-32). The question is not so much whether we are good enough for God but whether we consider ourselves bad enough for him. The good news rests not on our goodness, but on the goodness of God himself.

As the Shorter Catechism puts it:

Q. 20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
A. God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a redeemer.

Q. 21. Who is the redeemer of God’s elect?
A. The only redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever.

Q. 22. How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
A. Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin.

God ‘made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Just as Romans 4:1-8 says, God credits Jesus’ righteousness to our account by faith. If we are counted righteous by faith in Christ – if our sin is imputed to him and his righteousness imputed to us – the fundamental question is not am I good enough? but rather is he good enough? As the only sinless man, the perfect image of God, the one who reveals and manifests God to mankind, the answer must be a resounding “yes”. And that means there is hope for all of us, especially those of us who see we are not really good people at all.