It’s that time of year when we start hearing much talk about who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. If you grew up in the U.S., the early part of your childhood Christmas hopes were based not on Santa’s kindness, and not even the kindness of your parents, but on whether you were going to make the cut for the “nice” list. Eventually, though, we grew up and realized what “Santa” brought really wasn’t dependent on how good or bad we were. We got the goods because our parents wanted to give us good things.
So as we quickly approach Christmas, when the greatest gift of all was given to all who would simply receive Him, I have seen a lot of talk about being good in the context of Christianity.
All the Christmas lore says we have to be good to get Santa to lavish us with gifts. And just recently, the American Atheists Association paid a nice chunk of change to put up the following billboard in North Carolina:
Here’s the thing about the gift of Christ and salvation that you need to realize when it comes to being “good”. You can’t be good enough to earn it. Staying home or going to church doesn’t really make a difference in your good points. Going to church makes a huge difference in your growth points, but not your “good” points.
Let’s back up a few steps. Let’s talk about why we need Jesus in the first place. I’m going to give this a really quick treatment, but for highly suggest digging in to Paul’s letter to the Romans to get a good grasp on this subject. The basic overview is this: God is perfect and holy. Like, indescribably so. We are are so innately sinful and unholy that we cannot approach him in that state. (Just for fun, go read up about the old temple procedures in Leviticus, and how only one priest could enter into the Holy of Holies one time a year. And that guy? He had to have a bell on him and a rope tied around him, so that if the bell stopped ringing, they knew he had died in there and would be able to pull him out. His death would have been due to his not being correctly prepared in his unholy state approaching the presence of the perfect, holy God and that is something that can’t happen–the unrighteous cannot stand in the presence of God.) The prophet Isaiah, when he was called into the presence of the LORD, said (and I paraphrase here) ‘uh oh! Woe is me. I’m a sinner, my people are sinners, and here I am before the king!” Go read Isaiah 6:5 and see how he was cleansed for his encounter.
So by now am I losing you in what sounds like gloom and doom? Old-time hellfire and brimstone preacher stuff? Wait, it’s not that bad! But I do want to share this about my journey. Way back in high school when somebody first started talking to me about Christ and sin and repentance, I agreed with it all in theory, but I didn’t think I was that bad of a person. And compared to axe murderers, animal torturers, bank robbers, etc. I wasn’t. I was a great person when I was comparing myself to the standards of this world. It took me many years before it really sank in what the standard of “good” was. (So just as a side note to our friends who put up that billboard, they have no standard by which to judge good. They set their own standard. That doesn’t work out so well, ultimately when everybody gets to set their own standard. But that’s another topic altogether).
So here we are, separated from a perfect holy God. And many people think we can get to God just by being “good enough”. We cannot. We just can’t. My buddy Paul in Romans says that no one is good, not even ONE. (Romans 3:12). He goes on to ask why he doesn’t do what he knows he should and does do what he knows he shouldn’t. (Romans 7:19). And this is after his conversion. See, on our own, we can never attain the perfection required to get near a perfect God.
But God knew we couldn’t. So one evening some 2000+ years ago, he made a way to bridge the gap. A baby. A tiny baby was going to save the world and bridge this eternal rift between man and God. That baby grew up and lived a perfect life. He had to in order to be the perfect sacrifice to atone for your sins and my sins that we can’t atone for with our own goodness. See, good isn’t part of the equation at all. I’m not telling you not to live morally. Far from it. But I’m telling you if you think you’re salvation, your roadmap to eternity with God, has anything to do with your goodness, you’re mistaken. It’s all about the goodness of Christ. And when you accept him as the sacrifice for your sins, you can let huge sigh of relief. It’s like sucking in your stomach for ten minutes of family pictures and then letting it go! You’re now free to live in the knowledge that this gift of salvation is not of your goodness. It’s nothing but pure, unrelenting grace. Unrestrained grace. (Ephesians 2:8-9). If you have put your hopes for a relationship with God in a basket labeled with your efforts, I ask you now to put that basket down. Get in prayer with God and confess to him your mistake in thinking you had to do something to earn this, then thank him for the immeasurable grace that his given you this gift of his Son for your salvation, just based on your faith alone.
And since we’re talking about being good enough, I want to mention one more thing. If you are worried that you have been on the naughty list too long, you’re so very wrong. Just as much as we can’t be good enough to earn God’s love and grace, we can never be bad enough to be out of the reach of his love and grace. I don’t care how long it’s been or how bad you think you are, He is waiting for you to come home. Go read the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. God is waiting to throw a party for you, wanderer. Won’t you come home?
Heavenly Father, I thank you for your indescribable, immeasurable grace. The grace brings me close to you through nothing of my own doing. I pray that I be a giver of that kind of grace to others. I pray for your covering of those who struggle today to think that even in their condition you could love them, that your great love invade every part of them in this moment, and that great love leads to broken chains and strongholds. In Jesus’ Name