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how good do you have to be

When I was in high school, someone gave me a copy of Rubel Shelly‘s book, “I Just Want to be a Christian.”  For the uninitiated, Rubel Shelly was an iconic figure in 20th Century Churches of Christ.  (For the record, he’s still very much alive in the 21st Century … check out his blog).

When I’m asked about the books that have been most influential in my faith development, this one still ranks in the top five.  Here’s why: it offers a clear and compelling call to simply be Christians and not sectarian or denominational.  For one raised in the Church of Christ, it provided a flashlight in the darkness of legalism.  The flashlight was powered by grace.

Shelly shares a conversation he had with his father as his father was dying.  They discussed life and faith and matters of the church.  His father looked at him and said, “I hope I’ve been good enough.”

Good enough?  Here was a man whom Shelly had long considered to be one of the most godly men he had known and he was wondering if he had been good enough for God.

Where that idea came from can be debated but its’ effects are obvious.

Children who must be good enough to earn their parents approval or affection are loved conditionally.

Christ-followers who must be good enough to earn their way into heaven will discover that they can never be good enough.  Then they quit, giving up any attempt to be good enough.   Or worse, they’ll decide they are good enough and become judge and jury over who else is (or isn’t) good enough.

How good do you have be?

On the one hand, the Bible is filled with passages about holiness and the call to moral living (cf., 1 Peter 1:13-20; 1 Thessalonians 3:13).  God saves us as we are but has no intention of leaving us there.  Discipleship matters.  Becoming like Jesus is the goal of every Christ-follower.

It is one thing to believe in discipleship; it is quite another to believe God will only love us when we are good enough.

I’ve met many people through the years who wanted to go to church but didn’t think they were good enough.  Right or wrong, the church (and not all churches) may have given them that impression.

Romans 3:23 is the great equalizer: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  No one has met God’s standard of holiness on their own.  Our best efforts will always fall short.  The fact is it’s not our goodness but God’s grace that reconciles us to him.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:8-10).