Yesterday I wrote a short blog riffing off a comment my pastor made during his Sunday sermon. He basically framed an argument that being “right” meant following God’s commands and being “good” meant following societal norms or worldly ways of doing things. I made a list of right things and good things to further that discussion.
I have to admit I was surprised at the pushback! Not that I don’t expect people to disagree with me, I do! But, the pushback came from fellow Christians who were uncomfortable with my word choice, the idea that we can’t be good, or some of the things on the good list that seemingly the world does not condone.
While I responded to their thoughts via the Facebook feed, I want to double down on this with another blog this morning. Perhaps I can make the point clearer, and yes, this will be uncomfortable for some who believe that man is somehow good.
Here is a question that has been rolling around my head all night: Do you think you’re good and if so by what standard are you measuring yourself?
You see, this is the crux of what my pastor was trying to say. If you measure yourself by God’s holy standard, we all fall short and not one of us is good. However, if you measure yourself by the world’s standard, we’re all pretty good relative to the really bad people.
Have you ever noticed how people rank sin? Murder is really bad. Rape is really bad. Pedophilia is worse than bad! But, white lies, gossip, not loving the unlovable, not helping someone in need are bad but certainly not as bad as the other stuff! In God’s economy all sin is equal; it’s all unacceptable. The consequences for each sin may be different, but the sin itself is all rebellion against God. There really is no hierarchy. But we as fallen man make ourselves feel better when we can rank our sin from least offensive to most offensive because it justifies the fact that we aren’t that bad! However, the truth is we all are fallen; we all fall short of the glory of God; and we all deserve the requisite punishment that goes along with rebelling against God.
That last point is the most important!
Jesus came as God incarnate to take the punishment we deserved and to die in our place. The Gospel – Good News – is not that Jesus loved us as He certainly did! The Gospel is that sinners were saved from their deserved eternal punishment by Jesus who took upon himself the sins of the world to reconcile us with God! That is GOOD NEWS!!
When we say that we are good in our own right what we really are saying is Jesus didn’t need to die for us in those things in me that are good. That’s a HUGE problem! Once you say that Jesus didn’t need to suffer and die for you completely what you’re really saying is that you could have salvation by your own works and worth. That is heresy.
Paul made this really interesting argument in Romans 7 where he said that if he were to sin now that he has accepted Christ it was not him sinning but the sin in him. What he means in this confusing passage is that his spirit is Christ’s but his flesh still disobeys as he so aptly puts a little later in that chapter saying he cannot do what he wants to do but does what he hates.
In our natural state we all rebel against God. If we are honest with ourselves, we rebel against God every day! In my natural state I can do no good because even if I do something that is nice, such as feed the poor, my motive will not be to glorify God but something else. However, because God loved me first and the Holy Spirit lives in me, when I do good it is not me doing good (following Paul’s logic) it is Christ in me doing good! I am simply the vessel allowing the Lord to use me!
I know this really bothers people. I recently wrote a book that included a section on intelligence profiling – how you determine a person’s personality traits in order to predict future behavior. One of the points I made is that research indicates people need to see themselves in a positive light. This is what can be difficult about Christianity because our faith is about admitting that we are so broken and so depraved that we need a savior! That in and of ourselves we actually are not good!
Let me give you a little test to see if I can prove my point. The following are the basic commands of Jesus. Here’s the quiz: Read each one of these and honestly answer if you follow this command 100 percent of the time. Here we go:
- Love your God with all your heart, with all your mind, all your strength and all your soul
- Love your neighbor as yourself
- Do not judge others
- Turn the other cheek (or don’t take offense)
- Love your enemy
- Pray for those who persecute you
- Forgive as you’ve been forgiven
- Serve others
- Abide in Jesus
- Acknowledge Jesus publicly
- Go baptize and make disciples
I mess up at least one of these every day! I don’t love God with all I am because I rebel against Him and don’t trust Him as much as I trust myself. My neighbors can drive me nuts! I judge others routinely based on their looks, their job, their car, their attitudes, and more. I get ticked off when insulted instead of accepting the offense and turning the other cheek. It’s really hard to love someone and pray for someone who hates you and it making your life miserable. Forgiving people can be difficult, especially when they’ve done something seriously egregious. Serving others requires sacrifice that I’m not always willing to make. I try to abide in Jesus but find myself loving the world instead. I do acknowledge Jesus publicly but not every time when I need to. And, I’m not really going out and making disciples as intentionally as I need to!
Folks, I’m in full-time ministry and I fail! But, like Paul I am going to boast in my weakness because God tells us that when we are weak He is strong! But only if we can admit the truth – we are absolutely nothing without Jesus.
We know what the Good News is – Jesus came to save sinners and reconcile them to God through His sacrifice on the Cross and His resurrection! Now let me tell you what the bad news is.
If you reject the free gift of grace given by Jesus – if you don’t accept that He died in your place for your rebellion against God and somehow believe that you are good in your own right – God will then judge you based on your own merit instead of Jesus’ righteousness. That’s the deal – either you get to be seen through Jesus’ righteousness or your own. Good luck with that!
This is why I will never ever say I am a good person. I am nothing. The only worth I have is in Christ Jesus!
Scripture tells us we are to hate the world which means hate the ways of our world and its culture. There is a reason for that – what seems good to us is really death. So, if you go back to my list from yesterday’s blog, sure, some of the things in the good list may seem a bit extreme in terms of people just accepting them. But, I don’t think it is a stretch to say they are cultural norms in today’s society and they certainly don’t measure up to the holy standard of God.
I don’t mean to harsh your groove here and make you feel bad. In fact, I hope you feel the exact opposite way. There is a reason it’s called the Good News! It’s AWESOME that Jesus did love us enough to die in our place so now we have no condemnation, no guilt, no shame, and no blame! God sees us as holy and righteous not in and of ourselves but through the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus. We are no longer enemies of God! We are beloved sons and daughters even though like Paul the sin in us continues to do what we hate!
The reason I’m doubling down on yesterday’s blog is that I find so many Christians living a partial gospel that I feel they are in danger. Of what? Everything from not living the abundant life Jesus promises to losing their salvation because they never really were saved in the first place. When you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior you MUST admit that you are a sinner in need of saving! You must admit that you are not good! You must admit that you need Jesus to take your place on that Cross! So many Christians I know preach a gospel of love without the gospel of God’s justice, holiness, righteousness and Jesus’ propitiation (paying the cost) to satisfy God’s need for atonement for all this rebellion. Partial gospel does not get you to the cross in a way that you truly understand that Jesus didn’t come to love you He came to save you!
To my friends, I love you and understand how uncomfortable it is to be called evil, rebellious, and ungodly. Know that it’s not a personal attack – I, too, am evil, rebellious and ungodly which is why I so badly need Jesus in my life every second of the day. It is only through Him that God can see me as the person He made me to be instead of the person I am in this fallen world.