Being Good is a Bad Thing (and some Lagniappe)

All my life, I’ve been taught to be good.

In my very young years, I can remember going to church with my family, walking into Sunday School, and the teacher would ask if I had my offering envelope.

Nope.

“No problem. We’ll just fill one out for you,” my teacher would say. Let the heaping of guilt begin. I get to find out what my grade is as a Christian. I’m sure you remember the envelopes…the ones with the boxes you’d check if you’d accomplished certain holy tasks throughout the week.

“Read your Sunday School lesson?”

“No.”

“Bring an offering?”

“No.”

“Read your Bible every day?”

“No.”

“Did you bring your Bible today?”

“No.”

And the guilt was poured on, like a Mississippi River levee giving way to a week’s worth of rain. Another week had passed, and on Sunday morning, I was reminded what a sorry Christian I was. All the little things we do…the tasks we accomplish…all done to show that we’re really good Christians. The upper echelon. The best of the best.

And, don’t forget the perfect attendance Sunday School pins. I remember those Sundays when the pins were handed out. Or, for those who already had pins, the little adornments that would be added to the pin, year after year. For those whose attendance jewelry hung down to their waist…they were the really good Christians.

I was not.

And, so began my journey to be a good Christian. I decided I must do everything right. Stuff like…read my Bible every day, go to church whenever the doors are open, sing in the choir, go on mission trips, don’t cuss (or date girls that do), don’t drink, don’t dance…you get the idea.

The problem is, I failed at being a good Christian. So, I’d start over.

Every day.

I’ve heard it said that morality is the greatest enemy of the gospel.

Being good doesn’t work. But, being forgiven does.

Tim Keller, in his course The Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything lays out how the gospel must permeate every aspect of our lives, from our hearts to our community to our church to our witness and on. He says that there are three ways to live: irreligious, religious, or gospel-centered.

The irreligious person makes his own laws and exalts himself.

The religious person makes law and obedience a means of salvation.

The gospel-centered person understands that Jesus takes the law of God so seriously that he paid the penalty of disobedience, so that we are saved by sheer grace.

For example, the religious person would say, “I obey; therefore, I’m accepted.” The person centered on the gospel would counter with, “I’m accepted; therefore, I obey.”

Our good works cannot save us. That was made clear to the pharisees. Jesus said this,

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:12-13 ESV

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that because we’re saved by grace, we can just go out and live like a hellion. Paul responded to that when he said in Romans 6,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

We respond to the gospel with joy and gratitude, knowing that we are saved by grace, walking in a way that shows “newness of life.”

As Keller stated so well,

You are not saved by the quality of your faith. You are saved because of the object of your faith – the Redeemer, the God who is fighting for you.

Lagniappe

1. A bizarre article by an agnostic about the best selling book “Heaven is for Real”.

2. Losing a pet can sometimes be like losing a family member. Here’s a book that may help.

3. Want to know how to hit a home run? Learn how from Domingo Ayala.

4. What’s the big idea of the Christian life? To live coram Deo.

5. Does the Bible still matter? A new poll provides encouraging, yet unsettling results.

6. Is this Nebraska Cornhusker’s coach out of bounds?

7. Here’s a class at NYU I’d love to take: Baseball as a Road to God

8. Not sure how you can find parallels between Jesus and Yogi Berra, but this book apparently does.

9. And, finally, a little bit of heaven.

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