In six days, Genesis depicts how God created everything – and saw that it was good. But a few chapters into the story of God’s people, they have chosen sin over and over again. They are no longer defined by their “goodness” as God’s creation but their brokenness. Thousands of years later, we’re still chasing good – and society tells us over and over again that we can get there on our own.
We are asked how we’re doing and we glibly respond, “I’m good.” We are afraid that if people saw cracks in our veneer, that the true essence of ourselves might be exposed. So we move forward, telling ourselves that we’re good – because we’re better than others, like goodness is a sliding scale. We throw up comparisons as ways of simply ignoring our sin. We are inclined to artificially create goodness by comparing ourselves to others, like watching Married with Children to feel better about our own relationships.
Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability has been watched millions of times. But her sociologist perspective has insights that apply to how we see ourselves as we relate to God – and to each other.
“We are ‘those people,'” she says. “The truth is… we are the others. Most of us are one paycheck, one divorce, one drug-addicted kid, one mental health diagnosis, one serious illness, one sexual assault, one drinking binge, one night of unprotected sex, or one affair from being labeled ‘those people’ — the ones we don’t trust, the ones we pity, the ones bad things happen to, the ones we don’t want to live next door.”
In The End of Me, Kyle Idleman builds on those thoughts – highlighting how we think doing will somehow make us good.
We are the people who ignore the hurts of others, as long as someone else takes care of us.
We are the people who yell at one another in the car on the way to church, then climb out with sunny smiles to demonstrate it’s all good.
We are the people who think God is somehow more impressed with us because we make up our own rules and follow them.
We are the people who work fifty-plus hours a week, trying to prove our worth.
We are the people who spend hours a day on social media, trying to convince people that our lives are better than theirs.
In the pursuit of good, God looks at us – not at how we rate compared to others.
The other lie we can tell ourselves about our worth – especially our goodness – is our drive toward filling our schedules completely. Our days are busy, spent running here and there, trying to keep up but always falling a step behind. We have become convinced that if we would just do enough, that everything would be alright. We have bought into a “works righteous” behavior, a direct contradiction to what Jesus taught.
We know somehow that this can’t be all there is but … we need convincing. We are so inclined to buy into the American Protestant work ethic where we pull ourselves up by our hard work and grit that we almost can’t expect failure. In June 2012, the New York Times ran an article called “The Busy Trap,” citing from a general perspective how busyness was an artificially generated device to help us avoid reflecting on our own souls:
Busyness serves as a kind of hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. People are busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.
What would happen if we stopped being busy for busyness’ sake? If we actually stopped and looked at ourselves, examining who we are in the mirror of God’s grace?
In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul says it this directly: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
There’s plenty of truth there. One, it’s God’s grace that puts you where you are. Two, you obviously need saving. Three, it’s your faith that saves you not your own actions because Jesus already did the heavy lifting. Four, it’s a gift which you cannot earn. And five, you can’t take any credit for it, so stop comparing yourself to others.
In the pursuit of good, God will show us grace.
God points us to something different than comparisons or busyness. God says that everything can be used for God’s glory – even the things we’re inclined to throw away, like they can be replaced within forty-hours using Amazon Prime. God says that he doesn’t throw away, discard, or abandon anything. God is constantly in the business of taking the broken and making it better.
In Jeremiah 18, God shows Jeremiah this through a field trip to the potter’s house. God tells Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house, where Jeremiah watches as a pot proves to have a defect in its creation. But rather than being burned up or thrown away, the potter continues to work to shape the pot until it is exactly as it should be. Jeremiah can see the pot from the outside – he knows it’s cracked – and can appreciate the beauty of its reformation. God always sees purpose.
In Tramp for the Lord, Corrie ten Boom’s ‘other’ book, she tells the story of an old Russian woman who had worked to help other Christians during the 1960s and 1970s as they were persecuted. Physically held back by multiple sclerosis, the woman used the one finger she could move – the index finger of her right hand – to type out passages of the Bible translated for others to read. While it was painful for her – and for others to watch – she held this acute perspective: the government ignored her because of her handicap, and so she was able to minister to people undetected by the police.
In the pursuit of goodness, God will use the unexpected.
But in the pursuit of “good,” sometimes, the biggest problem is that we can’t see we’re cracked, regardless of what method we’ve used to muddy the water. St. Augustine said it this way in his Confessions: “My sin was all the more incurable because I did not think myself a sinner.” We delude ourselves again and again into thinking that our problems are mere mistakes, not an outward sign of our inward selfishness. It’s another coping mechanism to battle seeing ourselves – and getting past ‘good’ on a sliding scale.
While all of this might seem depressing, hard to accept or wrap around our minds, the truth is that it highlights the greatest grace of all: God’s gift of his son Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins. While Isaiah 64:6 says that “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away,” we have reminder after reminder that God doesn’t see us that way.
Isaiah goes on to say: “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).
Whatever paradigm or analogy you want to use, God doesn’t see your sin when you find faith in Jesus.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). We’re NEW creations!
“And to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). We have a new holy self like God’s.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). We’re created good in Jesus, like the initial creation in Genesis!
Colossians 1:22 puts it distinctively like this: “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation!”
You ARE good. Not because of your work or even your faith but because Jesus took on all of your sin and died for it. It’s not yours anymore. It’s washed away…
like the ground after a perfect snow fall…
like the shore after the tide rises and falls…
like a pot that has been re-molded into something new…
Jesus died once and for all so that we would be sheltered, protected, shielded from the effects of sin that we should receive. It’s like a cloaking device in Star Trek where the ship becomes invisible to those things which would destroy it, only in this case, Jesus’ sacrifice doesn’t just White Out the sin but removes it from our soul.
God’s love for us through Jesus is life-preserving and life-giving.
I read a story online about a forest fire – about a scorched earth moment where everything in this area of the woods was destroyed. A ranger found this bird literally petrified in ashes on the ground by the base of a tree. He has gently moved the bird with a stick and when he did, some baby chicks scurried out from under their dead mother’s wings. It was explained that the loving mother, aware of the fire about to descend upon them, carried her chicks to the base of the tree and gathered them under her wings. Though she would have instinctively known to get some place high to escape the rising toxic smoke, instead of flying to safety and saving herself, she covered her chicks with her wings and saved them (Tim Burt).
Friends, while we pursue the Fruits of the Spirit, I am struck by this.
None of us are good.
But thank God, Jesus is, was, and always will be.