Men who say, “It is possible to be a good person without being a Christian,” speak the truth, but the error is in the thrust of this spearpoint and not in its hardiness. By this point, the speaker means to continue with the implication, unspoken, that it is pointless to be a Christian, a deposit of unnecessary effort, because to try to be a good person is all that is needed to enter any final reward the Christian posits. Let us separate the wheat from chaff in this fuzzy thinking. In short, the statement is true as far as it goes; the problem is that it doesn’t go far enough. We must know, if we know anything, that only being a good person is not the goal of Christianity.
Goodness as it is meant is not “living sinlessly” but instead “living without sinning too much.” This is inadequate, if not in works then certainly in temperament. To be a great person — holy, God-fearing and devout — is the goal, the requirement to enter the Kingdom of God. If we are not, it will be “like passing through fire.” Furthermore, we will not enter Heaven by aiming for Purgatory. We will only enter even Purgatory — the shower room for the eternal pool party with God — by aiming for Heaven. By Christian doctrine, we know that this kind of greatness happens as a gift of grace, that which comes only by Christ, the one mediator between God and man.
If it is possible for anyone outside the Church to nonetheless receive the grace of God — which it surely is if God freely gives and men freely accept such a gift, and Christians are not in the habit of limiting God in His omnipotence — it is not the ordinary means of receiving grace. It is, in an illustrative word, extraordinary.
Furthermore, do we often try to be great people? Being a human myself, it seems the temptation of men in their fallen nature is to satisfy oneself with not being too bad. Strive for only the briefest moment of virtue, so long as it doesn’t hurt too much, and then fall back to the false comfort of your peccadilloes. While it is possible to live thus, without making waves, this is hardly the pattern of holy men in corrupt times or places. Holy men are unsettling to other sinners. It is no accident that John the Baptist has a slightly off, almost crazy glint in his eye, and is more honestly depicted as wild-haired and on fire with God than as a groomed gourmand. We must dedicate our lives to God to have an ordinary source of His grace. We must live in every moment prayer to or at least mindfulness of God to put up the good fight.
If living the Christian life means living with this constant reminder that we are not perfect — if we are to “repent, and believe,” — then Christianity is not pointless. It is pointed.