Monthly Archives: October 2012
For as long as I can remember there has been a silent cultural message that “if you’re good enough” God will accept you as his own and secure you a permanent place at his side in eternity. From Country and Western songs to Hallmark movie nights we are captured by the idea of a person realizing the error of their ways and making amends to a new status of a life well-lived. This trend has been exacerbated in recent years by a multitude of teachers and preachers in the church who are attempting to remodel Christ as a life coach who desires to lead man to his true potential. Turning from the old “you’re a sinner headed for judgment” model of reaching the masses, the new sentiment is “get on the wagon with Jesus and become something wonderful.” I have to admit it has a nice ring. It’s the stuff that after school specials were made for; grabbing oneself by the bootstraps and initiating the full potential of the human spirit in order to overcome the strongholds of one’s past. Such stories are inspiring, entertaining and motivating. After all, who among us could throw a stone at someone filled with good works, kindness and sacrificial service to others? Indeed, these are the very characteristics that Jesus modeled and are the substance of the inner working of the Holy Spirit in the life of his chosen.
Such ideas represent the heart and soul of a moralistic gospel approach. The model is simple: “Work hard, do better and God will accept you.” And, the presumed merit of such good works is that they will somehow erase the stain of a former life that was decidedly “not good enough” in God’s eyes. But will they really?
Several years ago I saw a news story on television about a woman who was discovered just miles down the road from where I lived. The woman had been missing for many years. She was not missing in the sense that she was lost, but in the sense that she did not want to be found. This woman was an upstanding member of a nearby town. She worked hard, had built a respectable life and was highly regarded by everyone who knew her. She was active in her church and local schools and was known as a model citizen. Yet, she had lived many years under an assumed name for fear of her past. In fact, she had been convicted of horrible crimes at a younger age and had somehow escaped the custody of the state in order to assume a “new” life and identity as the person she wished she had been all along. She had truly changed her ways. Likened to the gospel of moralism, one might consider that she had erased her former sins by her current good life.
When this woman was discovered by authorities the television news became hyperactive about her story. Some argued that she had lived a good and respectable life in the time since her heinous crimes and should be allowed to continue her new-found “good life.” Others argued that this woman could not possibly have been guilty of the crimes that she had been convicted of, for she had proven her mettle publicly for so many years. But, at the end of all such sentiment there was one thing that stood resolutely in the way of her freedom: the law.
The issue this woman had was not her inability to do well by her community. Her issue was not that she was unfit to exist among the other humans in harmony. It was not that she lacked the potential to fit in, be nice, get along with others or that she had failed to do any sufficient good works as deemed proper by the community. Her issue was that she had resolutely broken the law in a major way and had been sentenced to punitive discipline by the law. It frankly did not matter how good of a life she had lived the past number of years or how many people she had helped. Her punishment was indifferent to her good works. This woman had been formerly convicted of murder. She owed a debt to society that could not be paid by simply “doing better from now on.”
This story illustrates perfectly the issue of a moralistic gospel. The scripture says in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” You’ll notice the accusation clearly: “all have sinned.” The problem man has with God is not that “you have not been good enough.” The issue is that “you have sinned.”
Sin is a specific crime with a prescribed penalty announced from the very beginning of time: “the day you eat of it you will surely die.” The penalty for sin is reaffirmed throughout the scriptures, being clearly shown again in Romans 6:23, “for the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In short, our crime of sin is so substantial to God that we have been prescribed the death penalty for it. We can attempt to hide, rebrand our life and/or gain the sentimental approval of everyone around us, but we will never get away from the perfect law that condemns us as sinners. Our penalty will be paid– either by us or by a gracious intercessor.
Friends, the gospel message has never been that God loved you so much he sent Jesus to earth to show you how to live better. The gospel message is- and always has been- that God loved you so much he sent his innocent Son to earth to die for your sins and pay the sentence that you owe.
Because it is our sin – our offense of the law – that condemns us before God, there is simply no manner of good works that we can live up to that will ever save us. There is no statute of limitations on sin. It is a crime punishable by an eternal sentence that must – and will – be paid.
The good works performed by we who are in Christ are symptomatic of our salvation, but can never be the substance of it. Our issue before God is not a lack of good works. It is our offense of sin. For that reason alone, you will never be good enough. Rather, trust Christ’s provision of atonement on your behalf to save you from the wages of your sin and you will be transformed to the worthy and “good enough” creation you need to be.