Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton received a rousing response to a line in her acceptance speech on Thursday night: "America is great because America is good."
The statement alludes to, but is not a direction citation of, a line in Alexis de Tocqueville's famous observation in his 1835 book, Democracy in America.
The full quote, as usually cited, is: "America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."
The Frenchman who traveled and studied the US in the early-nineteenth century said this in reference to the importance of Christian faith to Americans and how it impacted the way they conducted their personal and communal lives.
It's impossible to be great if you are not good. Hitler, for example, wielded great power; but he was not great. Being great has something to do with the good one does for others. (And with self-surrender.)
No Christian would claim that the good they may do comes from them. It comes from Christ living in them. Galatians 2:20 says, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."
When, by faith, I submit to the daily crucifixion of my old sinful self, I make room for Christ to live within me. Whatever good I do comes from Christ, not from me, but from Christ alone.
Anything I do in my own wisdom will always be tinged by my intrinsic sinfulness. But when I let Christ in to daily destroy the old and create the new Christ-me, Christ impacts how I live my whole life. The Bible says that I bear good fruit.
De Tocqueville observed how important faith in Christ was to the people of the young republic and concluded that the American constitutional system could not survive without the goodness which God fosters in Christian people.
The French observer was not saying that the American people were intrinsically good. The way white Americans were treating Native Americans and African-American slaves alone would have argued against that.
But the fledgling, imperfect republic had the makings of goodness and the evidence of some level of goodness in a society steeped in Christ's death, resurrection, and words. Americans in those days were often communitarians, joiners, neighbor-helpers. Christ preached and trusted in and lived out was what accounted for whatever goodness that de Tocqueville observed, a contrast to the cynicism and self-interest that characterized French life at the time.
There is no human goodness apart from Christ. As Jesus, God in human flesh, said, "No one is good—except God alone" (Mark 10:18). And if we are to do anything good, it will require a faith connection to Jesus Christ. But we have this promise from Jesus: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
America is good and human beings are good only when we let Jesus Christ into our lives. And then it's not our goodness but the goodness of God living in us. And that's what accounts for what greatness exists in us and in our country. Nothing else.
I ask you to consider letting Christ into every part of your life today and everyday.