When I was growing up, I was a good kid. My family went to church every Sunday, and I liked church. The few times I got in trouble were mainly because my friends suggested something that pushed the limits, and I went along.
Through church, I learned about God. I learned about Jesus. I knew that God is forgiving. I also thought I was doing a pretty good job of being good.
I saw a lot of people around me that were not so good, and I was pretty sure that God would find my life acceptable to him. Hey, nobody’s perfect, right? So if God wants some people to go to heaven, He’s going to be reasonable, and accept people that are “pretty good”. He has to grade on a curve.
My dad was a pastor. My mom taught us in Sunday School. We got cleaned up and put on our best clothes for church on Sunday, but it’s not like I was just “acting good”. I wasn’t really any different during the rest of the week. I knew the Ten Commandments, and I was NOT doing that stuff. I was pretty far up the ladder of following the rules.
When we look at the world, we can see a lot of pain and sin and evil. Reading the news or following Facebook exposes you to all sorts of bad things and bad people. Make sure you don’t click on any of those links because they will pretty quickly take you into a whole world of temptations. And a simple email from someone who wants some help retrieving their inheritance can show you just how nasty people can be to you. Why do they want to harm me when they don’t even know who I am?
It’s very easy to see the world on a scale of good and evil. Sure there are people like Billy Graham and Mother Teresa that are better than me. But there is a lot of the scale that is below me, and an enormous crowd of people that are much less kind and caring and deserving of God’s goodness than I am. I was not judging them. But I was pretty sure that God would judge them as not worthy, and me as worthy of spending eternity in heaven with Him.
It always seemed to me that I was good enough. That’s the way we get accepted for most things in this life. Try out for a team – are you good enough? Join a band – are you good enough? Apply to college – are you good enough? Interview for a job – are you good enough? We can wait around forever for the “perfect” candidate, but we all know nobody’s perfect. If that is the requirement, then we are never going to find the candidate that measures up.
If I really understood the level of righteousness needed to get into heaven, I would have been worried about whether I was good enough. Jesus told some stories about this as well. A rich young man asked Jesus “What good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” Jesus told him to follow the commandments that he had learned since he was a boy. He said “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?”
Jesus said “Go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven.” The man thought he was good enough, but could tell that something was missing. He wasn’t ready for that additional challenge and walked away from Jesus.
Jesus said to His followers, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 19:16-20)
In a recent Sunday message, Pastor Roman told us that the Law is a mirror. When I look in a mirror, I usually decide that I don’t look that bad. This is not based on an honest assessment. It is just a way to encourage myself and avoid the truth. I certainly am showing a lot more wrinkles and a lot more gray than I was in the past. And even at my best, I did not qualify for any glamor awards!
Until I was 20 years old, no one had ever challenged my thinking about being good enough. But then someone asked me, “Why should God let you into heaven?” The only thing I could say was that I tried to be good and that I thought God would consider me good enough. Even that wasn’t really true, because I was not trying that hard to be good in college.
The disciples understood that Jesus was telling them how hard it is to be good enough to get into heaven. They responded to Jesus, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus said, “With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Jesus also told that rich young man to, “Come follow Me.” This is the piece that he, and the disciples, weren’t getting. This is the piece that I never learned in my years of attending church. This is the piece that Paul lays out for us in Romans. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) None of us can get into heaven by being good enough. None of us can add some good thing to our life to make us worthy of being accepted by God and allowed into eternal life.
Instead, Paul tells us that we can be “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 3:24) It doesn’t depend on us. It doesn’t matter if we were a Jew following the Law or a Greek that was living a life of freedom. It doesn’t matter if we tried to be good, or if we didn’t try. It doesn’t matter how good a job we did, or whether we failed a little bit, or we failed a lot. You are NEVER going to be good enough to get into heaven.
But that’s alright. Jesus says “Come follow me.”
Scott Sibley is on our Leadership Team. He also serves as our Director of World Outreach. His favorite times of the week are serving with Youth@Hope. It has been 40 years since he responded to Jesus’ command to “Come follow me”.