How Good Is Good Enough? ● Part 2 | "Rethinking Good"

If we use “good” as our standard of behavior to get into heaven, we will all fall short. But that bad news is what makes the good news of Jesus so good.

NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.

Most people, certainly most Americans, believe in heaven. Not everybody views heaven the same way and not everybody pictures heaven the same way and not everybody is sure exactly what that's like, but most Americans believe there's a heaven. And of course, maybe because we're Americans, most Americans believe they're gonna go there and no American is in a hurry to get there, okay?

So that's kind of what we all have in common. Even though we view this different and there's so many questions, there's always mystery, there's so much mystery and we're busy and who has time to think about that? And it's gonna work out. But the assumption or the... There are two assumptions that kind of fuel this extraordinary confidence we have that somehow it's all gonna work out. And we talked about this last time. And the two assumptions are this, that good people go to heaven and I'm a good person, that somehow good people go to a good place after they die because it's very difficult for human beings not to imagine that there's an afterlife even if we're not sure how the whole thing works out.

And the good people go to heaven and I'm a good person. This makes sense. And there's so many things, there are things that fuel this kind of thinking. For example, it just seems fair. I mean, it seems fair, these assumptions are fueled by the idea that it's fair, that if I'm a good person or if you're a good person, you should be rewarded for being good. And if you're good in this life, then certainly if there's an afterlife, it should be good. The other idea that fuels this, the reason it's so easy to lean into this assumption that good people go to heaven, I'm a good person, it's consistent with the notion of a good God. I mean, a good God would want, I mean, that's kind of trite to say this, populate heaven with good people. Good God, good people, that kind of works. And then of course, the other thing that fuels this idea and the reason we wanna lean into it is that, of course, you make the cut, right?

You make the cut because you're a good person and you're a good person, especially compared to, right? In fact, you're not just a good person, compared to some people, you are an amazing person. In fact, compared to most people, you're at least above average. I mean, that's just sort of our positive self-esteem. And we're not perfect, I mean, we're quick to say, nobody's perfect. And interesting, it's nobody's perfect. In other words, I'm part of all the nobodies, nobody's perfect, okay? But I'm certainly a good person, right? But as we said last time, when you start examining this whole, good people go to heaven, I'm a good person thing, it begins to fall apart really, really quickly. And there are two or three things I wanna touch on that we talked about last week, then I'm gonna add a fourth one as we continue this series. And to begin with, the first thing that kind of undermines this whole idea that good people go to heaven and I'm a good person is that good is a moving target. Good is a moving target historically, what was considered good a thousand years ago is considered evil now.

What was considered evil a thousand years ago in some capacity is actually considered good. So depending on when you drop into history, the history of mankind, gosh, the definition of good, it's kind of all over the place. And it's a moving target culturally. I mean, right now, you can go to different parts of the world and what's considered good in some parts of the world, we consider evil. And what we consider evil, in some parts of the world, they consider good.

But the Bible, the Bible tells us what's good and bad and the difference between right and wrong. And so some people wanna use the Bible as the standard. And as we said last time, that's a terrible idea because if the Bible is the standard, you in fact don't make the cut. You aren't a good person. And I'm not judging you. I'm just telling you, if you hold your standard of behavior up against the Bible standard of right and wrong, good and bad, you're not all that good. Paul, who wrote about half of the New Testament, said there is no one righteous, not even one.

He says, he writes, no one will be declared righteous or good enough by keeping the law or by attempting to be good and keep the rules. And then a verse that many of us have heard our whole lives is, "All have sinned," he writes, "and fall short." Because if you sin, you fall short.Now, I'm not judging you. I'm just saying when you pick up the New Testament, it's not pretty picture, it's not a pretty picture. And there's nothing in the New Testament that says, if you'll keep the following rules or the following commandments, then you go to heaven when you die. So if you're looking for an answer to the question, how good is good enough? The Bible is really of no help because we're not that good. And then this was kind of the clincher last time. If being good gets us to heaven, and yet God has been so mysterious in terms of refusing to even reveal universally and transculturally what it means to be good, if God failed to tell us how good we have to be to get to heaven, again, is it a 50% cut, 70% cut?

Do thoughts and motives count? Does our origin, family of origin count? If God has refused to make it clear to us how good we have to be to get to heaven, then the truth is, by our understanding, God is not good. He's toying with us. He's teasing us. He's not just moving the goalposts. He's hiding it from us. And then there's this, and this is where we're gonna move on from last time. And I hope this bothers you a little bit. I hope really it just makes you think a little bit or maybe rethink a little bit. If only good people go to heaven, if only good people go to heaven, then Jesus was mistaken. He wasn't just mistaken, Jesus was actually misleading. And perhaps since if good people go to heaven, then Jesus wasn't just misleading. Apparently Jesus had been misled because Jesus did not teach that good people go to heaven.

I mean, follow Jesus through the gospels and he levels the playing field. In the Sermon on the Mount in particular, he levels the playing field. Jesus, Jesus, this is amazing. He raised the standard of good enough so high that everybody fell short. Over and over and over he said, you've heard it said, this is the standard. I say, this is the standard. You've heard it said, this is the standard. I say, this is the standard. You've heard it said, this is how good you have to be. I say, this is how good you have to be. And by the end of it, his disciples are like, well, then there's no hope, we're all doomed. And Jesus didn't say, oh, no, no, no, you misunderstood. I think he just smiled and walked on. Like, yeah, you're all doomed. The Pharisees are doomed, the fishermen are doomed, the men are doomed, the women are doomed, everybody's doomed. But he has this big grin on his face because he's Jesus. Okay? And he knew how to teach and get people's attention. And here was the differentiator.

This is so important, especially if you're not a Christian or used to be. This is so important. If you grew up in church, this is so important for all of us. And it's so easy to miss because when we begin to read the Bible or we begin to consider religion or consider Christianity, we all bring with us a paradigm, we all bring with us a framework that may or not be accurate. But here's the thing that set Jesus apart. And this is why what he taught was so different. And this is also why it wasn't until after the resurrection that his first-century followers had their oh moment. Jesus consistently rejected, Jesus consistently rejected the religious notion that a person could be in good standing with God while mistreating people God loves. Jesus completely rejected the idea that you could be in a good standing with God, that you and God, you were on the same page, that you could be on the same page with God, in good standing with God, on your way to heaven while at the same time mistreating people that God loved. This was the game changer. This was the show stopper. This was the differentiator.

So before we move on, I wanna ask you a question and don't answer this out loud. I already know the answer, even though we've never met. Have you ever mistreated another person? Have you ever, in your whole life, I mean, mistreated another person? Maybe by accident, but hey, I don't think we all have to go too far back to know that we said things we shouldn't have said to people about that person that we knew in the moment we shouldn't say. Have you ever mistreated another person? See, doesn't this question level the playing field? Does anybody stand up who's over 18 and say, no, I've never mistreated, I didn't mistreat my mom, I didn't mistreat my dad, I didn't mistreat my younger brother, I didn't mistreat those people at work. I didn't mistreat and say bad things about the people I disagree with politically, I didn't gossip, I've never gossiped, I've never lied, I've never mistreated anyone in my whole life. This is the question, even though these are my words, not Jesus, this is the question that Jesus drew people's hearts and minds and emotions to, and when he did, everybody was guilty.

According to Jesus, this makes you and makes me a sinner. This is sin. Now, again, real quick, if you're not a Christian, you're gonna love this. Isn't it true, if you're not a Christian, not a Jesus follower, not a religious person, isn't it true, doesn't it irritate you? Doesn't it irritate you when Christians who claim to be right about God, like we got the corner on the market, we got God all figured out, who claim to be right about God and who claim to be right with God because you know I'm right with God, God loves me, I'm in good standing with God, doesn't it irritate you when Christians who claim to be right about God and right with God turn around and mistreat and devalue other people?

Does that irritate you? It should irritate you because it irritated Jesus. He had no patience, read it for yourself, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. He had no patience, he had no patience with internalized, believe-only religion that thought somehow I can do something in this life and be right with God, regardless of how I treat or mistreat the people around me. He had no patience with that. What Jesus taught is this, that when you sin against someone that God loves, you sin against God.

Now, pause. Imagine if you're a Christian specifically, imagine if the church had maintained this standard since the time of Jesus, imagine if the church decided, no, good and bad isn't something I'm doing to try to please God, so God likes me and I went to church and I said this and I did this. No, imagine if sin was viewed the way that Jesus introduced, the way that sin is to be viewed, that I cannot be right with my Father in heaven and mistreat people my Father in heaven loves. And Jesus, this is so revolutionary. Jesus says, that's how God your Father views the world and views people and views you, and that's his definition of sin.

Sin isn't breaking some religious tradition. Sin and being right with God isn't keeping some religious tradition. It is all about how you treat the people that God loves. So let me try to do my best Jesus level playing field one more time. Have you ever mistreated another person? If so, then from the perspective of God, as presented by Jesus, you fall short of the goodness and the glory of God. According to Jesus, mistreating other people separates us from God because that is sin, which means we are all doomed, every single one of us. Even the nicest among you, even the worst among you, the best among you, we're all doomed. Because God, Jesus raised the standards so high. We say, I mean, I'm gonna  just put my words around what you're thinking or maybe feeling, it's like, wait a minute, wait, wait, wait, wait. It can't be that way. I mean, wait, wait, that's so unfair.

I mean, And y, that standard's way too high. It is high. And here's where we are all hypocrites if we're not careful. It may seem like too high of a standard when it comes to my behavior toward others. But it sounds about right when it comes to others' behavior toward me. If you mistreat me, I think you fall short of the glory of God. If you mistreat me and take advantage of me and steal from me or steal my ideas or mess up my reputation, if you hurt or do something against me, then I feel like you aren't right with God. And Jesus smiles and says, exactly. Welcome to the lost human race who don't even treat each other the way your heavenly Father wants you to be treated. And now, now we stumble upon the great differentiator between Jesus and religion.

Good, good is a moving, confusing target. As long as we view good as a bargaining chip for our benefit, good will always be a moving, confusing target. How good do I have to be? Is it 50% or 70%? Do motives count against me? Does my family, upbringing, does that impact? Does my life experience impact? How do I know? Good will always be a moving and confusing target as long as you're trying to use your good behavior as a bargaining chip with God. How good do I have to be to ensure heaven for me? But good sits uncomfortably still when it comes to what's good for others, doesn't it? As long as it's about you, as long as it's about me, it's a fog. But as soon as I look at you and your family, and as soon as you look at me and my family, as soon as I look at you and your circumstances, I know what's good for you. I know how to treat you well. I know the difference between right and wrong, and I know the difference between good and bad, and I know what's good for you and best for you, and I know what would undermine your integrity, undermine your relationships, undermine your career, and you know the same about me.

And this is the Jesus version. That what's best for him, what's best for them, what's best for her, that's what's best. The question that we come back to all the time around here, what does love for them require of me? That is the standard. And I fall short and you fall short. Religion says, look up and try to make things right with God just between you and God. Jesus says, no, I want you to look around. I want you to look around at the people around you, the people that God loves. And don't think for a minute you can mistreat them and be good with your Father in heaven. By Jesus' definition, we've all sinned and we all know it. That is the bad news but the bad news is what makes the good news such good news. It's no mistake that in the first century, think about it, we overlook this.

We have different words we use. We say words, don't think about what they mean. The word gospel, euangelion, means good news. The reason it was called good news is because when Jesus showed up, he leveled the playing field and introduced hope all at the same time. That's why he could say the things that he said with a smile on his face. That's why at the end of the day, it wasn't, oh, just gloom and doom and we're hopeless and we're all damned and we all fall short. It's called good news because of the bad news. That Jesus, think about this, Jesus is the only person in history, no one's even claimed this before. No one's even claimed this about another person before. That Jesus is the only person in history to offer a succinct and clarifying message answer to the question of how good is good enough. And do you know what his answer was or is? You ready? It's offensive. In the first century, it got him crucified. How good is good enough? That good (text reads JESUS). And you're not that good. And I'm not that good. That's why you need a savior. Not a list, not an 11th commandment, not a loophole, not a workaround, not an excuse, not a do-over.

It's why you need, it's why I need, it's why the world needed a savior. This is why it's called good news because Jesus was the only one good enough to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. The apostle Paul, who as you know, steps onto the pages of history as a Pharisee, a do-gooder. I mean, in fact, he brags when he talks about his little autobiography, he's like, I was the best, I was the best. I was the best of all the do-gooders, I was the best do- gooder. Nobody kept the law as well as I did. And then he meets Jesus and all fall short, I mean, he, the do-gooder Pharisee is the one who wrote the words, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Paul, even you, Paul's like, you know what Paul says about himself? Some of you know this. He said, "Of all the sinners in the world in the first century," he said, "I am the chief among sinners." Wait, Paul, how could you be the chief among sinners? You kept the law perfectly, you say. He's like, yeah, but I mistreated people like no one else I've ever met. And he becomes a Jesus follower.

And here's what he says to kind of put all of this together, hopefully in terms that us Gentiles could understand because he was writing to Gentiles who were just... Had so many questions about Jesus in the city of Corinth. Here's what he writes. He says, we beg you, he and his guys, we beg you on behalf of Christ, which means this is what Christ is begging you to do. This is Jesus' desire for you. We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. That is you and God don't fit, we want you to fit. And there's something that you... You have a part in this, you have a role to play in this. We want you to be reconciled to God. We want you to be right with God. We want you to be in a right relationship with God. And it's like, okay, Paul, you want us to be reconciled to God. What do we do? You know, jump higher, duck lower, try harder, be good, or... He goes, no, no, no, no, no. Then listen to what he says. And this is tricky, but this is amazing. You're smart, you'll understand this. He says, God made him, Jesus, who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf. That God made Jesus who knew no sin, which means he did no sin, to become sin on our behalf so that we, he did this for us.

He did for you what you could not do for yourself on your very best day. So that we, he did something, he did something for us that we couldn't do on our own. It was impossible for us to do. So that we, look at this, might become, don't go too fast, might become, in other words, not do, become. Paul says, because of what Jesus did for you, he has paved the way for you to become something different, become something new. It's not a do, it's a new status, it's a new standing, it's a new type of relationship with God. That you might become, look at this, the righteousness of God in him. Paul's like, I wish I could explain it better, I wish I had better words, but the best way I can say it is this, that God through Christ gave you his righteousness, that God through Christ gave you a right standing with Jesus, that he transferred onto you and transferred onto me what we could never earn on our own. He didn't, this is amazing, he didn't just take our place, Jesus gave us a brand new place, a brand new type of relationship with God, not based on anything we could do because we all fell short, but based on what only Jesus could do.

And Jesus took his righteousness and he made it available to you, so that we would have what he had with God. And he took upon himself all of your falling short and all of my falling short, all of my sin and all of yours, based on nothing we've done, based on what was done for us. According to Jesus, good people, they don't go to heaven because compared to Jesus, there aren't any good people. Good people don't go to heaven. You know who goes to heaven? Forgiven people, that's who goes to heaven. And Jesus underscored this throughout his entire life, right up to the bitter end of his life, because this was the point of his life. Luke, who researched thoroughly everything that had anything to do with Jesus in the first century and brought us the gospel of Luke, listen to what he records based on the eyewitnesses who were there that he talked to later. This is amazing. It says that when they, this is at the end of Jesus' life, when they came to the place called the skull, Jesus has already been arrested, he's been beaten, he's been tried, and now he's about to be crucified.

When they came to the place called the skull, they crucified him there along with the criminals. And Luke says, I know this is hard to believe. I know that anyone who's ever seen a crucifixion before will find this almost impossible to believe. But Peter was there, and Mary was there, and Martha was there, and John was there, and James was there. And this is what they said, he said. Jesus looked down from the cross and he said, Father, forgive all of them. Father, don't hold their sin against them. Father, don't make them pay for what they did and what they are doing even though they know they're doing wrong. This is not just, this is not justice. This is not fair, this is not fairness. Do you know what that is? It's this word, it's grace. It's getting what we don't deserve. It's mercy. It's not getting what we do deserve. And that's good news. Religion, religion has always been defined by do. Jesus rejected that whole paradigm. His message was simply this, done, done, done.

Let me say it more directly. There's nothing you can do, there's nothing you can do to make up for you. There's nothing you can do to make up for you. There's nothing you can do to make up for you. There is just a gift to be received. The gift of forgiveness, a right standing with God that God through Christ transfers his righteousness onto you. Ready for this? Just because he wants to. How great is the father's love that he would bestow upon us the standing that his very son has with him? Jesus declared you a sinner. Then he died for your sin, or so he claimed, but of course anybody could claim that, right? I mean, isn't that the gotcha? How do we know? Again, the apostle Paul, just a few years after these events, summarizes it perfectly and I'm gonna close with this.

I wanna remind you of the good news I.  preached to you that Christ died for our sins and he was buried. Do you know why he was buried? Because that's what you do when someone dies. He was actually dead. They saw where he was buried. He didn't swoon, he didn't pretend. There was a confusion at the last minute. He was buried, that he was raised from the dead on the third day. And then here's what he writes about 15, 20 years after these events. And then he appeared to Peter.

Paul, how do you know that? Because I know Peter. He appeared to Peter. Then he appeared to all the apostles. Then he appeared to more than 500 people all at one time. And he goes on to say, and some of them are asleep, but many of them are still alive. If you don't believe me, just visit Judea. They're everywhere, these followers of Jesus. And then, I love this. And then he appeared to James. You know who James was. The brother of Jesus. And of course, James shows up as a leader in the first century church because he saw his brother crucified. And then he met his brother afterwards. And he [0:32:25.2] ____... This is amazing. Read the book of James, the little letter in the New Testament written by the brother of Jesus. How fascinating is that? And James calls his brother his Lord. It's good news. The bad news is you. The bad news is me. The bad news is the playing field has been leveled. The bad news is you have mistreated people God loves. The bad news is you are a sinner and you are separated from God, we all are. And then Jesus, who declared as much, came and paid for your sin.

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