I am part of a group of awesome writers who work together to produce a weekly column ("Soli Deo Gloria") for the Religion page of our local newspaper, the Union City Daily Messenger. Currently, we are working through the Heidelberg Catechism. While I'm "catching up" after a lovely holiday, here is the first of two articles that I wrote for the series, originally published last May. Tomorrow (or Monday), part 2.
AM I GOOD ENOUGH?
I was a straight-A student in high school. I loved learning, loved my teachers, and loved blowing the class curve on test day – why settle for a score of 100% when bonus questions offered more?
Then, I went to college.
I still remember my first calculus exam. I had attended class faithfully, completed all my homework assignments, and studied into the wee hours of the morning. Should’ve been a piece of cake, right? When Dr. Austin handed our papers back, I stared at my score in disbelief: a big red “54” circled at the top of the page. I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach. “Good enough” compared to my high-school classmates was nowhere near good enough compared to Dr. Austin’s standards. Clearly, I needed more than good intentions and my natural “best” to pass Calculus I!
Question 62 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks: Why can’t the good we do make us right with God, or at least help make us right with Him? Answer: Because the righteousness which can pass God’s scrutiny must be entirely perfect and must in every way measure up to the divine law. Even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin.
This question addresses a lie many of us embrace today: if I just work hard and do my best, if I do more good in this life than bad, then God will smile at my efforts and reward my good intentions with heaven. (Sort of like, “If I go to class every day, do the assignments, and study extra hard, then Dr. Austin has to give me an A whether I’ve mastered calculus or not – right?”)
I go to church every week, teach my children to say “Yes, ma’am”, and feed my neighbor’s dog when he’s on vacation. I don’t cheat on my taxes or talk bad about my dead grandma. I’m so much better than that sick, messed up dude in the mug shot on the evening news. Surely, God will weigh my relatively decent life in the balance and say, “Good enough!”
The problem with this way of thinking is that it assumes God will be satisfied with the best we have to offer. Sadly, because of our fallen nature, even our very best thoughts and actions are corrupted with sin and fall far short of God’s standards. Isaiah 64:6 bluntly states that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” In Romans 3, Paul tells us that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight,” because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Because God is holy and cannot even look upon sin, He demands better than our very best – He demands absolute perfection.
Jesus Christ is the only man who ever lived a life of perfect obedience and righteousness. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus willingly trades His record of perfect obedience for our record of sin when we trust in His goodness instead of our own. If we are to escape utter destruction when we stand before the holy God of the universe, our only hope is Christ – we must, by faith, be clothed entirely in Christ’s righteousness, not our own.