October 25, 1994
A certain alcoholic man decided to leave his Christian wife. He said she was “too good for him” and he could never be “that good.”
Another person responded in a similar way when she first encountered Christians. She said, “Everyone at church is so godly. I’ll never be good enough to belong in that place.”
Many of the Christians I know are amazed and saddened at statements like that. For one thing, we do not see ourselves as being “that good.” Even though we know Christ has changed our lives, we also know we constantly are in need of forgiveness and cleansing from sin. The nearer we draw to God, the more we realize how imperfect we are.
The idea that a person must be “good” in order to belong also saddens us. While Christ calls for holiness and obedient living, we are well aware it comes as a result of knowing Him, not as a prerequisite. Goodness is the consequence of believing, not the criteria.
Further, a genuine Christian should never be making an effort to be something they are not. The goodness observed by both the alcoholic husband and the new church attender is an unconscious goodness, put there because they know Christ. It is only in that relationship with the Son of God that the above described wife and congregation could possibly have characteristics that qualify as “godly.”
Is it possible for anyone be godly even when they are certain they are unable to be “that good”? Of course it is. God Himself promises to change lives. He says in Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white a snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
That means that anyone who is willing to confess their sins to God will receive His forgiveness. As He wipes the slate clean and gives them a new heart, they experience freedom from guilt and a new ability to behave as He intended. This ability comes from His Spirit, a gift to every born-again child of God.
Along with that freedom and ability, Christians find themselves without crippling despair. Instead of fighting a horrible sense of never being able to “measure up” they simply acknowledge it is true. As the Bible clearly says, everyone falls short of the high standard of God and not one person can stand before God on the basis that they are “good enough.” God accepts sinners for entirely different reasons.
This is why Romans 5:8 says Christ died for us, not after we pull up our own bootstraps, but “while we were still sinners.” He offers us love and His own godliness with no prerequisites but need. His offer of forgiveness of sin and eternal life is for to those who realize they do not deserve it.
Compare it to medical care. Those who are healthy do not need a doctor, only those who are sick. In the same way, Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance and new life. Anyone who recognizes themselves to be in that category and is willing to admit it before God, can ask for forgiveness and receive a new, changed life.
The irony is that those who honestly feel they are not good enough to be Christians are far closer to God than anyone who insists they are good enough the way they are.