The Philosophy of the Rich Young Ruler
“And, behold, one came and said unto him, ‘Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?’ And [Jesus] said unto him, ‘Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God…’” ~ Matthew 19:16-17
To say that something is “good” is to refer to its intrinsic value or worth. When God said in proclaiming His creation “good” was that it had value, and not just value to Him, but value in and of itself.
That doesn’t mean that something that is “good” cannot be used for evil intent, and even if it is used for evil, that doesn’t change its intrinsic goodness.
Now contrast this with every philosophy, from Plato to Immanuel Kant, where the chief aim is the destruction of man. Such a philosophy was held by Philo who had a great influence on the Pharisees and Jewish religion, incorporating it into Jewish orthodoxy.
Given this understanding it is easy to see why Jesus would say what He said to the rich young ruler, who would have been a student of this philosophy under the Jewish orthodoxy of that time. Jesus was not making a definitive existential statement about man. He was sardonically pointing out the rational inconsistency of the rich young ruler in calling Jesus “good master” when his own philosophy taught that man is not good.
Nevertheless, unregenerate man is not under condemnation because he has somehow lost his value in being “good.” He is condemned because he is under law. The reality that God made a way for man to be reconciled to Himself is evidence of God recognizing man’s continued “goodness”, his value. That man in the weakness of flesh from time to time may break the law is not somehow indicative of his lack of “goodness”. This is why the Bible states that righteousness is apart from the law. Any attempt to define righteousness by some standard of law-keeping (even if Jesus “keeps the law for us”) is placing man right back under the very same law that can only condemn. The only way for man to escape condemnation is for him to get out from under the law.
This is exactly what the new birth accomplishes. It makes man a truly righteous being who is the literal offspring of God the Father, and one who is no longer condemned by the law because he his a new creature that is not made under the law. The old man who was under the law is dead, and you can’t condemn a dead man. This is the very reason why the apostle John can state unequivocally and without contradiction:
“Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” ~ 1 John 3:9