Old elm tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Good enough

Being a good person makes me happy. How about you? But how many good people do you know? I know quite a few myself. Good people are the kind of people who always do the right thing, who never overreact, who never get in trouble, who never do anything to hurt someone else intentionally. I’m not lying. I do know people like that. I’m not one of them. But sometimes when you’re that good I imagine it could be difficult to remember that you’re not perfect.

One of the difficult places I’ve discovered as a Christ-follower is that dangerous place where you learn how to keep all the rules and follow all the traditions, where you find that careful balance between obeying the law and still saying that you trust Christ. Not saying we shouldn’t obey the law. The law is good. God gave us the law to establish order and peace, and–well–many of the Ten Commandments are moral law too. It’s just a good idea.

But where it becomes dangerous is when you convince yourself that you can be good enough. And for a little while, you’ll be okay. Because if you’re a good enough person, you can be a good enough Christian in comparison to others, but what happens when you screw up?

Old elm tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Old elm tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 3:2-4.

Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved. For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort, though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!

There’s a lot happening in this section of verses. Too much to really go into in a brief morning devotional, but what is important to understand is that during the Early Church, there was a group of people going around who believed people had to do certain things in order to be saved. Honestly, they weren’t much different from the church leaders during Jesus’ life. Honestly, they aren’t much different from the religious experts in any time. There has always been and probably will continue to be people who believe we have to earn salvation.

Paul is basically calling them on the carpet here. What he’s saying is that those people who believe you have to do something in order to be saved are trusting in their own accomplishments and not in Christ. Thsoe people are trusting in what they can do rather than in what Christ has done. And I find it ironic because our world and even the Church is still full of people who believe this. I know tons of people who talk about how Christ has saved them, yet they’ll turn around and tell everyone how they’re supposed to dress, live, eat, drink, speak, etc. in order to be right with God.

Watch out for those people.

There is no human effort we can make that will make us right with God. There is nothing we can do to earn our salvation. If there were, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to do what He did. So is Paul saying that we shouldn’t strive to “be good”?

That’s not the case at all. Part of having the Bible is knowing how to live. The Bible is a roadmap to life. It’s a guide that explains how we should make decisions and why. But the trouble comes when you take the lifestyle that the Bible promotes and turn it into something that redeems us. No lifestyle will redeem you. No dress code will make you perfect. All following the Law does is show us that we aren’t good enough.

Yes, being a good person, doing what I know is right, does make me happy. And it should. It should make everybody happy when you do the right, even though sometimes doing the right thing isn’t pleasant. But take a minute to scrutinize that happiness the next time you do something right. Are you happy because you did the right thing? Or are you happy because nobody else did the right thing? Are you comparing yourself to other people?

You can’t be good enough. Neither can I. Trusting your future entirely to your behavior is the quickest way to be disappointed, because even if your conduct is spotless, there will come a day when you screw up. And you’ll fall into a tailspin. When you spin out of control because you made a mistake, you have two options: You can compare yourself to someone else and tell yourself that what you did isn’t as bad as what they did. Or you can compare yourself to what the Bible says and recognize that you screwed up and that God forgives.

Which do you think will make you happy? Maybe at first glance, you’d think comparing yourself to someone else. Because after all admitting that we’re wrong won’t make us happy, will it? You should try it sometime. It’s funny how much a relief admitting wrong is.

Wearing the burden of perfection is exhausting. Take it from someone who has been there. You can’t be perfect, and even if you could, it wears you out. Trying to be perfect doesn’t bring happiness; it just bring weariness.

So do what’s right. Obey the law. But don’t trust your future to it. Because you’re not good enough. The one person who was is Christ, and He took care of it. So trust Him and let the rest go.