When Being Good Isn’t Good Enough

“Believe in Jesus and be a good girl.”

That’s how to get into heaven when we die. Or so I thought. 

Believe And Be Good. 

So I believed in Jesus when I was thirteen-years-old. But instead of trusting God’s grace (unmerited favor) to make me righteous in His sight, I added to His saving work by trying to be good.  And hoped that worked!

Relying on my goodness to save my soul is like trusting a life vest to save me from hungry sharks.

Being good meant I had to display moral virtues such as kindness, mercy, humility . . . and, obey rules. I made a list of moral do’s and don’t. Oughts and should.

Do unto others as you’d like them to do to you.

Don’t lie, cheat, steal. Don’t even think about it.

I should read my Bible. I ought to pray.

Depending on my behavior, and society’s fluctuating “definition of good,” I never knew for sure where I stood with God. I worried I could lose my salvation because even on my “good days” I questioned whether I was “good enough.”

“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.” (C. S. Lewis)

So I raised the ante. I did good deeds to earn my way to heaven. I volunteered at charities. Served within my church. 

My faith in Christ’s morphed into a works-oriented faith which isn’t uncommon. People tell me they’re going to heaven because . . . 

“I’m a good person. I’ve lived a good life.”

“Sometimes I take what’s rightfully not mine (i.e., ask for a free water cup at a fast food restaurant and fill it with soda) but I’ve never robbed a bank.”

“I may lie on my tax forms and cheat on tests, but I’ve never killed anyone.”

“We are all on very good terms with ourselves, and we can always put up a good case for ourselves.”

Martyn Loyd-Jones

We deceive ourselves. “They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3).

That’s why the Gospel is Good News. We can’t save our souls, but we can save ourselves a lot of worry and strife if we believe in Jesus to save us. 

The jailer in Philippi asked the Apostle Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30, 31).

They didn’t add, “And be good. Otherwise all bets off.”

Praise God for His gift; rejoice in our salvation.

“God’s grace does not come to people who morally outperform others, but to those who admit their failure to perform and who acknowledge their need for a Savior.”

Tim Keller

I cringe, knowing I once tried to earn what Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplished. Jesus’ shed blood justified me. Not my behavior.

God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Ro. 5:8

There’s no addendum which says we should bring something to the table. We come with empty hands and expectant hearts.

Even in This . . . mad world, “He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25).

Photos: Mine

And the Voice Said?

Forty years later, and I still hear that High School boy’s comment. 

“You’re ugly!” 

His words shocked me as though he’d thrown iced water in my face. I didn’t know his name. We weren’t classmates. I didn’t bump into him as we passed each other in the hallway. What motivated his cruel words?

Speechless, I escaped into the girl’s restroom and looked in the mirror. My fifteen-year-old image stared back at me. Straight dish-water blond hair. Pimples on my chin. Metal braces on my teeth.

“I am ugly!”

I grabbed the gold tube of lipstick in my purse (the only make-up I wore at that age) and colored my lips pink, hoping I’d appear less ugly. But lipstick couldn’t salvage my wounded self esteem.

I never encountered that boy again, but his two words stayed with me. Such is the power of words regardless of the children’s rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can’t harm me.”

Words hurt especially if we believe they’re true. Even thoughtless words . . . that we know aren’t true . . . feel like nettles in the heart. But there’s a way to hush the voices when we can’t erase the words.

Replace them with God’s truth and His love-filled promises.

  • I formed you.
  • I redeemed you.
  • I have called you by name. 
  • I am with you. 
  • You are Mine. 
  • You are precious in my sight.  
  • You are loved. 

The Lord spoke these words to the Israelites—despite their tendency to rebel and ignore Him. (Isaiah 43) But God’s love wasn’t reserved for them alone. Search Scripture and you’ll find His love for each of us is equally endearing. 

I couldn’t always say that. I had to learn there’s a difference between knowing God loves me and believing God loves me—pimples and all. What about you?

Do you believe you’re precious in God’s sight?

Do you believe God loves you so much that He sent His Son Jesus to redeem you?

Do you believe He loves you with an everlasting love?

If not, why not?

Perhaps you’re struggling like I once did. You want to believe God, but your inner critic and those negative voices sound too convincing: 

“God doesn’t love you.”

“You’re not worthy.”

“You messed up big time—no forgiveness for you.” 

Oh precious reader, which voice has authority in your mind?

My mentor, Loretta, once told me, “If you only look for God’s judgment and wrath in the Bible, you’ll find it. Look for God’s characteristics and actions that reveal His love. Draw a heart next to those verses as a reminder.”

I followed her advice. As I read Scripture through love-tinted lens, the depth of God’s love amazed and humbled me. Now my Bible resembles a Valentine’s card similar to those pastel heart-shaped candies imprinted with the words: 

I Love You. Be Mine.  Forever Yours.

As for that teenager who called me ugly, I hope he believes in the Lord and has experienced His love too!

“God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).

Photo: Jennifer Wrede

Candy photo: Getty Image

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