Thursday, 12 August 2010

Why isn’t being good, good enough? – Romans 3:9-26

How do you know what is good? What is the standard for goodness? Is being good a little like marmite all a matter of taste?

What does a good child look like? Is it one who eats their greens, does her homework, is polite, washes without being frog marched to the sink, helps out around the house, and writes his thank you letters? Is that a good child? You may think that is more than a good child, that such a child would be a miracle but I may just consider that normal behaviour and not especially good.

Or how about a good employee, what does a good employee look like? Is it someone who is punctual? Always meets deadlines? Uses their initiative? Obeys instructions without question? Works long hours? Buys into the company ethos? Makes the coffee without being asked? What does a good employee look like? My hunch is if you asked 10 managers you’d get 10 different answers.

So what does a good person look like? Is it someone who is law abiding, no criminal convictions, well apart from a few speeding tickets? Do they give to charity? Are they animal lovers? Do they have to be religious?

How do you know who is good? Is a terrorist a good person? Someone who sets out to kill others to highlight a cause he or she believes in. Those who share his or her beliefs might say they are good, his victims’ families would no doubt say otherwise. Who is right? Who decides?

How do you know who is good, how do you decide? Surely there has to be a standard. In industry there are kite marks that can only be used if your product passes certain standards of goodness. If it isn’t good enough, if it fails to meet the pass mark it cannot have the stamp to say it has met the standard.

Who decides what is good? God does. Why? Because “In the beginning God created…” God designed the world, he created us therefore he has set the standard. Just as in industry it is a manufacturer’s agreed standard that sets the pass mark for goodness, so God, the creator sets the standard for goodness.

We are just going to think tonight about who God says is good? Who passes the test, who measures up to the mark?

The startling thing is that according to Romans 3 God says “No-one”. There is no one who passes the test for being good, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

Why isn’t being good, good enough? because although I may be good in my eyes, I may pass my standard of goodness, I may award myself pass status. My verdict doesn’t matter, it is God’s standard that counts. There are two reasons why we are not good?
1. Because God says so 2. Because God shows so.

1. Because God says so.
(10-18) are a collection of Old Testament quotations that emphasize God’s standard, and our utter failure to meet it. God’s standard is not some shifting idea of goodness, like ours where the standard changes as societies values change. God’s standard is righteousness. God’s standard is not comparative, it is not about how good you are compared to so and so down the road. God’s standard is an absolute - righteousness

Righteousness is living a life that pleases God, living in line with God’s priorities, not mine, living a life that acknowledges God’s right to rule.

What is God’s judgement – there is no-one who seeks God, no one living in fear of him, no-one living with that continual awareness that God rules, is watching and is relevant.

Come back with me to Genesis 3. God has made the world and it is good and God has placed Adam and Eve in the midst of that world to enjoy it and to rule it on his behalf. The whole of God’s perfect creation is theirs to enjoy, they can eat of every tree bar one. The question is will they ‘fear the Lord’, can they live righteously, and can they accept the creator’s word and rule?

God has made everything they see around them, it is all good, and there is nothing to mar their enjoyment of it. Will they give God the respect he is due? Will they follow the maker’s instructions?

Well you know the story don’t you, they grasp for autonomy, they try to knock God off his throne, they reach for self rule, they want to decide for themselves how to live. They reject the creator and that in a nut shell is the problem, why can’t I be good because I reject the creator.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” God says do not lie but if I don’t lie I’ll look silly, or be found out, so I decide what is right and wrong. God says love your neighbour as yourself, but well he doesn’t know what they are like, I’ll make do with ignoring them – again I decide what is right and wrong. God says love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength, but I love my work, I love the money it brings in, I love the things I can buy with it, I love my family, I love my hobbies. What is it I spend most energy and time on in the week? That is what I worship, that is what my idol is and again I decide what is right and wrong and push God’s standard away.

Why isn’t being good, good enough? Because it is not what I think that counts, I may measure up to my standard of goodness, may be you even measure up to my standard, but we fall way short of God’s. God says “no-one is righteous”, no-one measures up. “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, we all miss the target. God’s standard is a life lived with God’s glory in mind, with God’s priorities in place and God’s rule established.

I’ve never played rugby at anything other than school level. What would happen if I suddenly found myself playing for England against the All Blacks in a few weeks time? I guess it wouldn’t be pleasant to find out, and would involve a substantial period of time taking food through a straw. Why? Because I am just not up to their standard, I could not stand the pace, the sheer intensity would find me out and leave me broken. To even be on the same field would place me in danger because I am just not good enough.

One day we will stand before God and we can bring our coupons of goodness with us, but we will realise that they are worthless that we do not know what goodness is. That our definition of good is not on the same plane as God’s standard.
Why isn’t being good, good enough? Because God says so. But also because

2. God shows so (24-6)
What would you be prepared to die for? Just think about that for a minute.

If your death would secure world peace would you willingly die? What about if it would end the conflict in Iraq? 2000 Americans have considered their lives worth it. What about if it would save the life of a child who is stood in front of a bus? Is the sacrifice worth it?

We only make a sacrifice if we consider it worth doing. If the benefits outweigh the cost, that’s true in every small sacrifice, like giving up chocolate to lose weight, or going out jogging to keep fit, let alone in the big decisions. I wouldn’t be prepared to sacrifice my life unless I had to, unless it was absolutely necessary, unless I was convinced it was the only way to save somebody.

Well if being good is good enough then why did God sacrifice his son?

Surely God only paid such a high price because it was the only way to save us. The cross is such a radical rescue package that it screams out you can never be good enough. It is the only way to make us good in God’s eyes, otherwise why would Jesus go through it. That is why God’s Son veils himself in humanity, that’s why the creator submits himself to the blows and indignities rained down upon him by the creation, that’s why God’s Son experiences his Father’s just anger against all rebellion against him.

Every blow, every insult, every second of bearing God’s judgement, says there is no other way. Jesus atones for us – he does what we can’t do, he meets God’s standard on our behalf.

John 18:1-11 shows us Jesus arrest, what stands out as you read the account is that Jesus is in control. He is not being swept along by events, merely reacting to circumstances, he is orchestrating them. He identifies himself to his would be captors not once but twice, he secures the safety of his followers, he prevents his disciples fighting for him. Why? Why doesn’t he escape when he can? Why doesn’t he fight his way heroically to freedom?

Because he must drink the cup the Father has given him. He must face the cross and God’s anger against sin as God’s obedient son because we cannot do face it. Only Jesus death can pay the bill, I can never be good enough; I need Jesus righteousness – Jesus total obedience to God to be credited to my account.

If being good is good enough then Jesus death is pointless. The cross stands over history and God points to it and says look at the lengths to which I will go because I love you and you could never be right with me. You can never make yourself good enough but look at the price I am prepared to pay.

Why isn’t being good, good enough? Because God says so, and because God shows so in sending his only Son to die for us to make us right before him.

I just want to spend a few minutes thinking through the implications of that:

1. I had better understand God’s standards.
If what the Bible says is right then there is no point trying to live up to our own standards of right and wrong, no matter how high you set the bar it falls short. God’s standard is the only one that counts. If God’s verdict is “all have sinned and fall short” “There is no-one righteous” If I fail to meet those standards I had better find out if it is possible to meet God’s standard.

Maybe you’ve never thought about this before, maybe you don’t know what you believe about Jesus. Perhaps you accept looking at your life that you aren’t good enough, even by your own standards let alone God’s, but you want to look a bit more at who Jesus is.

If you want a place to start read Mark’s gospel, or even better join one of our Christianity Explored courses and see how Jesus says you can be right before God.

2. I better examine God’s solution
Perhaps you realise you can never be good enough, that God’s standard is far above what you could ever hope to meet. Maybe tonight you have realised that Jesus is the only way to be made good enough, that you fall far short of God’s standard and he has met that standard for you. That Jesus died for your sin, to credit you with his right standing before God. If that’s the case speak to the person you have come with or with someone else before you leave. Don’t go home without doing something about it.

3. I better warn others
There are millions of people who will go to sleep tonight thinking that even if, on the off chance, there is a God they are OK. If they were to be face to face with him they have a back up plan, they lead pretty good lives and that’s good enough isn’t it?

There are others who believe in God but think that being good is the key to heaven. That if they can show their giving, their being nice, their kindness, their goodness that will get them in. That God will accept them.

But the key to heaven is cross-shaped.

If being good isn’t good enough someone needs to tell them. Who will you tell this week, who will you warn.

Why isn’t being good, good enough? Because God says so and because God shows us so.

What are we going to do about it?

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