What Happens When Our Goodness Still Isn’t Good Enough

Liz Curtis Higgs, the humble, wise ( funny!)  author of 30 books,  is one of my soul sisters, and together we’ve wandered Shaker Village (that unforgettable story coming soon too). Author of the bestsellers, Bad Girls of the Bible , Bad Girls of the Bible: And What We Can Learn From Them, and The Girl’s Still Got It: Take a Walk with Ruth and the God Who Rocked Her World, Liz has presented more than 1,700 inspirational programs in all 50 United States and 14 foreign countries — but she’s about as down to earth and warm and happiest grace as it gets. I just love her, and love her for coming by today. The relief of  this post from Liz? Well, have a seat on the porch with us  and exhale —

 

by Liz Curtis Higgs

He looked into my eyes, this person I loved, and said with conviction, “I don’t need God. I’m a good person.”

My heart sank.

How could I help him understand?

Yes, he’d behaved admirably the whole of his life. He was kind to strangers, generous in his giving, and always tried to do the Right Thing.

But was he good? Not according to Jesus, who said, “No one is good—except God alone” (Luke 18:19).

Oh dear. How do you tell someone you care about, “Your good isn’t good enough.” Sounds like the opposite of grace, doesn’t it?

Besides, aren’t we supposed to be good? Matthew 12:35 tells us, “Good people bring out good things from their good treasure” (CEB). So goodness must be possible, right?

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Goodness is entirely possible—but not without God.

David the psalmist put it like this: “Apart from You I have no good thing” (Psalm 16:2).

The time comes when we have to accept that we’re sinners, comparing ourselves not to each other—“Hey, she’s worse than me!”— but to the goodness of God.

Before we can embrace grace, we have to embrace sin. Not celebrate it or wallow in it, just own up to it — so we can accept the forgiveness we desperately need.

That’s where my loved one got stuck: he couldn’t see his own badness —  so he saw no need for God’s goodness.

For all of us who’ve been there, are there, or know someone who is there, here’s a true story meant to give us hope.

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. Mark 10:17

Matthew calls him a “young man,” probably not much older than thirty. And Luke calls him “a certain ruler,” so he’s a man of influence and means. Even so, he seeks out Jesus—in fact, “came running” (GW), then “greeted him with great reverence” (MSG), and “got down on his knees” (NLV).

Good start, right? Let’s see what the man has to say.

“Good teacher,” he asked,… Mark 10:17

Or “Good Master” (GNV), if you like. This man calls Jesus “essentially and perfectly morally good” (AMP)—words reserved for God alone, as Jesus is about to remind him.

Then the man poses a question most of us have considered.

…“what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Mark 10:17

Whether his question is worded “can” (CEV), “shall” (KJV), “may” (YLT), or “should” (GW), the key phrase is, “what must I do.” He’s not asking for the gift called grace. He thinks this is all on him, that he has to do something to deserve “life everlasting” (DRA), “eternal salvation” (AMP), “the life that never ends” (ERV).

In good rabbinical fashion, Jesus responds to the man’s query with another question.

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. Mark 10:18

The Lord is still back at the man’s greeting—“Good teacher”—and sees an opportunity to reveal an astounding truth. “What sayest thou, that I am good?” (WYC) The Lord asks the question, but doesn’t pause, waiting for an answer. Why? Jesus has the answer. Better still, He is the answer.

“No one is good—except God alone.” Mark 10:18

Aha! He’s not telling the man, “Don’t call me good.” Instead, Jesus is pointing to His own divinity, admitting, “No one is good except God!” (CJB) That is to say, Him.

Even though Jesus is in His third and final year of public ministry, I suspect this statement flew right over His listeners’ heads. Ours too. We definitely believe God is good. But we still cling to the idea that, at least some of the time, we’re pretty good too.

No better way to undo that kind of thinking than to take a gander at the Law.

“You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” Mark 10:19

Right, we know all these. Some of the biggies from Exodus 20, plus one from Leviticus, 19:13, “‘Do not defraud.”

I confess, I’m in deep trouble here. In my lifetime I’ve broken all but one of the Ten Commandments. Yes, some of them after I embraced the grace of God.

I’m genuinely sorry. Still, it’s the ugly truth of it.

Yet this young man is quick to say that he’s obeyed the whole list.

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Mark 10:20

How hard this man has worked at being good! He not only knows the Ten Commandments, he has also followed every one of them. “I have—from my youth—kept them all!” (MSG)

Now, get ready for how the Lord responds.

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Jesus looked at him and loved himMark 10:21

Oh, Jesus. You see right through him, don’t you? Just like you see through us. Our desire to please, our need to impress, our deep-seated longing to be good on our own is not hidden from You.

Even so, “Jesus felt genuine love for him” (NLT) and “his heart warmed towards him” (PHILLIPS). Compassion floods the Lord’s soul, like that of the father of the prodigal son who started for home fresh from the pig pen: “His father saw him and was filled with compassion for him” (Luke 15:20).

Jesus not only sees us, He understands us, and so He loves us—not because we’re good, but because we’re in need of His goodness and grace.

Most of us can’t hide our feelings. When we love someone, it shows on our faces. The Lord doesn’t mask his emotions here either. “Jesus looked at the man in a way that showed how much he cared for him” (ERV).

The man has asked what he must do. So Jesus tells him and blows the man’s supposed righteousness clean out of the water.

“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” Mark 10:21

Jesus is gently revealing the young man’s sin, and ours as well: the sin of thinking, “I’ve got this.” The Lord is showing us that, if we think we can earn our way to heaven with our own good deeds, our efforts aren’t going to cut it.

He knows we cannot manage goodness on our own, just like He knows this rich young ruler cannot bring himself to sell everything he has.

We all need Jesus. Period. He wants us to be united in Him, made one in Him, wholly dependent on Him. That’s why He prayed to his Heavenly Father, “I in them and you in me” (John 17:23).

When we embrace the reality of our sin, we embrace the need for a Savior. That’s where I’m parked every day of my life.

Help me, Lord. Forgive me, Lord. All day, every day.

As for our wealthy fellow, Jesus offers him an invitation.

“Then come, follow me.” Mark 10:21

Uh-oh. “Then” means after the young man sells all he owns and gives it to the poor. Otherwise, he can’t follow Jesus.

At this the man’s face fell. Mark 10:22

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Just as Jesus didn’t hide his emotions earlier, neither does this man now.

It’s obvious by the downward curve of his mouth and the tight knot in his brow that he’s “upset” (ERV). Even more, he’s “dismayed” (CEB), “shocked” (CJB), “disheartened” (ESV), and “stunned” (HCSB).

No wonder. As Eugene Peterson puts it, “This was the last thing he expected to hear” (MSG). Knowing something of the Lord’s generous mercy, this guy surely expected to be handed a free Go-Straight-to-Heaven card.

Instead, he’s been reminded of what the disciples have already done—left behind their nets, their boats, their families, and their homes to follow Jesus.

He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Mark 10:22

So descriptive: “He walked off with a heavy heart” (MSG). Our hearts are heavy too. Even if we don’t have great wealth, we all have stuff we’d rather not sell, habits we’re rather not give up, sins we’d rather not confess.

This guy “owned much property” (NASB) and “had many possessions” (CEB), making his sacrifice greater. Yet we’re reminded of that verse, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke9:25).

It comes down to this: are we ready to give up everything — our pride most of all?

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” Mark10:23

The young man didn’t only have a boatload of stuff; he had a boatload of self-righteousness. He didn’t come to Jesus the way the tax collector did, beating his breast and saying “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). No, the young man came confessing his goodness, not his sins.

Painful as it may be, when we come face to face with our sin, we’re finally looking in the right direction. “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up” (James 4:10).

When Jesus elaborates on the difficulty of entering the kingdom of God, the disciples are taken aback, and say to one another…

“Who then can be saved?” Mark 10:26

That’s really the question, isn’t it? Clearly we can’t be good enough. And who could ever hope to be humble enough?

The Lord provides an answer for his followers, then and now.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27

He’s looking right at them, meeting their gazes, making sure they don’t miss this amazing news:

The man can’t do it. The disciples can’t do it. We can’t do it.

But, “With God, everything is possible” (CJB). Everything.

What are the chances God will open the doors of heaven for you? “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it” (MSG).

Our goodness will never be good enough. And His grace will always be more than enough.

 

 

The forgiven life. The grace-filled life. It begins with an embrace. Wherever you are spiritually, whatever you have been through emotionally, you are already enfolded in the arms of One who believes in you, supports you, treasures you. He is waiting for you to embrace Him in return. To accept the gift He’s offering you. To listen for the whispered words you’ve longed a lifetime to hear: You are loved.  All is forgiven. 

Liz is married to Bill Higgs and they enjoy their old Kentucky home, a nineteenth-century farmhouse in Louisville, and are the proud (and relieved) parents of two college grads.

 I can’t recommend all of Liz’s books highly enough — especially Embrace Grace.

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