Better Than Good
Are you good or are you bad? How do you judge yourself? We are all judgmental, whether we like to admit it or not. We judge other people based on their clothes, their posture, the cars they drive, the homes in which they live, the jobs they occupy, the friends they keep, and everything in between. But out of all of these judgments we make in our minds, I think it's fair to say that most of us do not think any of these are really, truly justified. In other words, not many people are gutsy enough to proclaim their judgmental remarks to someone's face by saying, "Hey you. Yeah, I don't really want to be friends with you because your outfit is ugly. And it's apparent that you aren't in the same social sphere as me." That sounds ludicrous, right?! (Well maybe not since the advent of Twitter...you people know who you are.) Rather, when we vocalize our judgements, we at least try to keep our comments positive and focused on something of substance. You might say something such as, "My neighbor John is really a good guy," or "Isn't Jessica such a sweet lady?" While the verdict may still be out for those who are alive, we're often nicer when judging deceased people. When you think of someone who has passed away, you rarely think about his/her clothing, musical preferences, or other finite characteristics. Typically, when you think about a deceased person, you think about his good qualities such as his love for his family, her hard work ethic, his kindness, and things of that nature. Sometimes, you might think of his/her bad qualities. Either way, you usually put that person on a scale of bad to good. For example: Mother Teresa...good! Joseph Stalin...bad. Martin Luther King, Jr...good! Nero...bad.
Isn't it revealing to how we see goodness? People weigh other people's righteousness on a sliding scale of bad to good, with neutral being in the middle and various degrees of each pole building away from neutral.
Then it is not surprising that it is difficult for us to comprehend God's divine judgments. He doesn't ask, "Are you good?" or "Are you bad?" He only asks, "Is My son, Jesus, your Savior and Lord?" And frankly, that is a tough pill to swallow. As someone who has been a Christian for 16 years, it's still tough for me to comprehend. I think part of the problem is that we hear (a very untruthful) culture screaming in our faces all day, every day, but we hear God's truth of eternity maybe once a week. That's a problem! The other problem is that it's hard to fathom that "good" people might actually go to hell. If I were to compare these two opposing ideologies, it would look like this:
How do you view your eternal destiny? Is it assured through Jesus or are you hoping you're good enough?
Anyone reading this blog probably fits into one of three categories: 1.) You think you're too bad for God. 2.) You're striving to be good and do right, hoping it's enough to get into Heaven...or at least leave behind a good legacy when you pass. 3.) Jesus is your Savior; and you're reading this to figure out why I have been so preachy about salvation lately.
Let me talk to the first two groups before I talk to the last one.
1.) If you think you are too bad for God: Satan is lying to you. You are never too bad for God. You probably feel like you've screwed up too much for a holy God and you feel very distant from Him. But think about this: God created all the heavens and all the earth. There isn't a place you can go on earth that He didn't create long before you. As an analogy, it's like the kid who goes to his dad and says, "I've messed up. I did this terrible thing. It's too late to fix it." To which his dad responds, "Son, tell me what you did. I'm older, I'm wiser. Let me tell you how to fix it. All you have to do is follow my advice." And if you've been that kid - I know I've been there a time or two - then you know how true that is. I can't even remember all the hundreds of times my dad's advice guided me out of bad situations.
If you feel too bad for God, then you are in good company. There is a man in the Bible named David - the guy wrote the Psalms, and God called him a "man after God's own heart" - who felt how you feel now. David knew that Satan was telling him that he was too far gone in his bad ways for God to love him. David previously had a man killed out of pure lust for the man's wife and then married her, despite his Pastor calling him out on the whole debacle. It was a mess! But David knew that if he would ask God to save him, then he would be saved. He says in Psalm 139:
"Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there...For you formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother's womb."
The truth is that God is not far away from you because you live a sinful lifestyle. God is near, and He is calling you back into His loving arms.
2.) If you are striving to be good and do right, hoping it's enough to get into Heaven: I have to ask: Did God tell you to try really hard to be good? Pardon the frankness of my questioning, but can you really be assured that it's enough? God offers a solid foundation through His Word for knowing your eternal destiny. Acts 4 says about Jesus Christ:
"There is salvation in no one else [besides Jesus], for there is no other name [besides Jesus] under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
There is absolute assurance in putting your faith in Jesus. But what does this mysterious "faith in Jesus" entail? Let me simplify it as best I know how. Faith in Jesus means believing that He was born on earth as God in human flesh; that He lived a perfect, sinless life yet He died a horrific sinner's death for you; that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, having defeated death, and because of that He is the only way you can defeat death, too. Faith in Jesus means your life is forever changed because you no longer live in hopes that maybe...by chance...if you're lucky...God will accept you. Faith in Jesus means relying on the finality of the truth that Jesus died in order for you to live.
God doesn't ask you to be good; He asks you to have faith in Jesus Christ.
3.) If Jesus is your Savior; and you're reading this to figure out why I have been so preachy about salvation lately: The reason I am so obsessed with salvation is because I need to keep this focus. Truly, I need to remember this as much as anyone else. If I really believe that everyone who doesn't know Christ is destined for an eternity in a lake of burning fire, then why don't I do something about it?! As I prefaced this blog, I don't realize how much of a reality that hell really is. I bet if I asked some churchy people if hell exists and how I can avoid it, I would hear a lot along the lines of, "Be good on earth, and you'll have a good eternity", which is a GIANT lie! At the end of your life, it will not matter to God whether or not you were happy or good or nice. The only thing that will ensure you enter Heaven is faith in Jesus Christ. This is true for you, and it is true for your family, friends, colleagues, grocery store clerk, the waitress who served supper to you, people you like, and people you don't like. Only salvation in Jesus will make any difference at the pearly gates.
If we can all agree on that, let me further ask my fellow Christ-followers: How many people are you going to see in Heaven because you showed Christ to them? If I am honest with you, I have to admit for myself that it is not many as of yet. I have been a Christian for 16 years, and I have never naturally felt the burden for the lost to know Christ in the same way I now feel it. For me, this all changed when I examined God's Word, examined my feelings, and honestly admitted that my life contradicted the Word. In the famous Great Commission, Jesus' last words to His disciples were:
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." -Matthew 28
For me, it was tough to reconcile the difference between "my feeling that my relationship with Christ was highly personal" and the truth of God's Word which commands me to live an evangelistic life. But I determined only one way could be right between my feelings and God's Word and that God must be right, which means my feelings must be wrong. So I submitted my feelings to God and asked Him to burden my heart for the lost. One of my favorite authors and evangelists, David Platt, said, "Every saved person this side of Heaven owes the gospel to every lost person this side of hell." If you ask God to give you a burden for lost souls, He will. But don't play around with that prayer. Either you recognize God's Word as truth and submit to it, or you don't. It took me far too long with far too many people fading in and out of my life to realize the eternal implication for everyone else. I wish I could go back and tell everybody I missed in the past about Jesus' love for them, but this blog post on the web will have to suffice.
With Good Friday and Easter Sunday quickly approaching, let us all join together to focus on the implications of Christ's life, death and resurrection in the grand scheme of eternity. This time of year is often when your friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues are going to be most receptive to exploring their faith and talking about their view of eternity. But are you open to start that conversation? By the grace of God, I hope I am and I hope the same for you.
With love, PriskaTabitha