|Volume 21 Number 12 December 2019||
In the course of a religious discussion, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say, “I’m good enough. I’m just as good as” this person or that person. In one’s mind, such is justification for one’s lifestyle, that if God is pleased with this person, then surely, He is pleased with me. Sometimes, one will offer a qualification to it, as well. For example, people may say, “I’m good enough because I believe in God.” Yet, believing in God isn’t enough by itself. James wrote, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2:19). While faith is essential to a relationship with God, a faith that doesn’t respond in obedience isn’t good enough.
Others may say, “I’m good enough, because I have served God in the past.” We know there is no way we can earn our salvation through our own merit. Jesus told the parable of an unworthy slave in Luke 17:7-10 and concluded, “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’“ While past deeds are commendable, the past alone isn’t good enough, as life in Christ is always in the present. We must obey today to please the Lord. “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
One may also say, “I’m good enough, because I don’t do all the bad things other people do.” It’s easy to compare ourselves with those we believe to be worse than we are, but no doubt there are others who could do the same with us. Everyone has a sin problem (Romans 3:23), and any sin in which a person persists will condemn him or her before God. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Just because one’s sin list is different than another person’s sin list doesn’t make one good enough before God.
The truth of the matter is we’re not good enough. We can concur with Isaiah, who wrote, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Isaiah 64:6). We need God’s grace and the cleansing of Christ’s blood to stand acceptably before God. These don’t nullify living a righteous life, but they are what enables us to do so. John said, “But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Our walk in the light is essential for the blood of Jesus to continue cleansing us from all sin.
In reality, the child of God should say, “I’m not good enough, but God loves me, and with Christ working in my life, I can grow and mature each day. I can please Him.” This is what Paul believed about himself, about what God was doing in him, though he called himself the foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). “For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10). May we yield our lives to God and live each day in His will for us, so that through Jesus Christ, He will consider us good enough for eternal life. “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning; but He who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him” (1 John 5:18).
The early church made its way in a social world that parallels life today in many ways—an era of widespread confusion, unrest and decay. Rome imposed its military will over an empire including widely different peoples. Political and social privilege was granted only to a small minority. The religious scene was one of chaos and decay. Life went on amid the debris of old regional religions, superstition and the hollow practices of the state-supported emperor cult. New religions from the East with secret rituals attracted some and offered escape from the rigors of daily life. Competing beliefs and practices jarred and clashed. Paganism, which would take a long time dying, was entering its last stages.
In this environment, sexual perversion, infanticide and brutal forms of entertainment cheapened the value of human life. Men and women found themselves living meaningless lives, powerless victims of forces beyond their understanding or control. For many, life was marked with a deep sense of despair and helplessness.
It was into this confused setting that Christianity appeared and under these harsh conditions that Christianity spread throughout the ancient world. Christianity was neither a set of magical rites nor an assortment of private beliefs. Christianity was a fundamentally new understanding of all reality—God, the universe and human existence. Unlike the religions in which morality did not play a major role, Christianity was a new way of life. Early Christianity spread not only because of the convincing nature of the message but also because of the compelling power of Christian lives. Many people were drawn to Christianity by the integrity, compassion and quiet confidence that characterized Christians.
The revelation of God in Christ offered a radically new view of the world and the purpose of human life. It taught that Christianity depends on its Creator not only for its origin but also for its continuing existence. “Created…in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27), men and women are made to enter into covenant relationships of trust and faithfulness, both with their Creator and with one another. The new disclosure of God in Christ exposed the false claims of the political, military, intellectual and religious powers of the age. The Gospel revealed that the covenant love that created and sustained the universe was now reconciling the creation to its Creator. The wisdom of the cross was greater than the pretensions of the intellect. Reconciliation was to be found in Christ and not in the many superstitions of the age.
The church was open to all. It was a place where even slaves and masters could be reconciled to their common Father and to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ (Philemon 15-16). In Christ, believers are called and empowered to live lives distinctly different from those in the surrounding society. Above all, Christians bear the imprint of God’s covenant love. The new life received in Christ involves both conduct and character. In other words, the Christian life is not only a new way of behaving, but it also involves a new mind and a new heart, new attitudes and new dispositions. The apostle Paul urged Christians, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
The above came from Things that Matter: A Guide to Christian Faith, a booklet published by the Austin Graduate School of Theology. I found the reasoning in this particular part of that work to be quite deliberate and so encouraging in making us realize the reason “why” Christians are so different from the world. God’s children must be more like Him and not like the world!