And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. (Luke 18:18-19)
Before Jesus answered his question about the requirements for salvation, He dealt with the compliment. Jesus asked: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (v. 19). Some critics hold that, by virtue of this response, Jesus was denying His goodness and deity. No, Jesus knew very well that this man did not have a clue about the person to whom he was speaking. This man didn’t know who Jesus was. He didn’t know he was asking a question of God incarnate. All the rich young ruler knew was that he was talking to an itinerate rabbi, and he wanted an answer to a theological question. But Jesus’ identity was central to the answer. So Jesus said: “Why do you call Me good? Haven’t you read Psalm 14:3: `They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one’? No one is good except God Himself.”
Does that seem absurd? After all, we see people who aren’t believers doing good all the time. It all depends on what we mean by “good.” The biblical standard of goodness is the righteousness of God, and we are judged both by our behavioral conformity to the law of God and by our internal motivation or desire to obey the law of God. I see people all around me who aren’t believers but who practice what John Calvin called “civic virtue”; that is, they do good things in society. They donate their money for good causes, they help the poor, and they sometimes even sacrifice themselves for others. They do all kinds of wonderful things on the horizontal level (i.e., toward other people), but they do none of it because their hearts have a pure and full love for God. There may be what Jonathan Edwards called an “enlightened self-interest” involved, but it is still self-interest.
R.C. Sproul, Can I Be Sure I’m Saved? (Kindle Edition)