"None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:10-12)"Oh," they like to tell me, "that's just hyperbole." Maybe, except it appears as if it goes to great lengths to disavow that suggestion. It is not merely a claim that "no one does good." It follows that potential hyperbole with a clarifying qualification -- "not even one." No, it seems quite clear that the claim is a genuine statement that none of us does good.
How can that be? We all know people who do good things. We all do good things. Even bad people slip up from time to time and do nice things. I think the problem here lies in the definition of "good". I think we're looking at a God-sized problem.
When the rich young ruler approached Jesus with what appeared to be a genuine question, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 18:18), Jesus's original response is a bit odd. "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone." (Luke 18:19) Odd or not, you will note that it is a Jesus-based agreement with the Romans passage. "No one is good except God alone." It appears, then, that the standard for "good" here is not "doing nice things" but God. "Good" is defined as "that which is done by God."
I've believed this for some time, and then, the other day, I came across this. We all know John 3:16. Later on down the very same discussion we can hear Jesus say, "But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God." (John 3:21) There it is! According to Jesus the deeds that we manifest in practicing the truth are deeds "wrought in God." Or, "that which is done by God."
Lest you think I'm making a stretch of it, this is the same thing we see in Philippians. You are to "work out your salvation" (your work) because "it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:12-13) (produced by God). We work; He does it. This is simply consistent with the overall claim that all things are "from Him and through Him and to Him" (Rom 11:36).
As it turns out, then, it appears that the Romans passage is not hyperbole. We do nothing good. The only good is that which God does. The only good that we do is that which God does through us. Isn't it amazing, then, that He would include us in this and reward us for it? So do not grow weary in doing good (2 Thess 3:13).