What is the standard against which we measure ourselves?
In athletics, it is the latest world record. This is nicely demonstrated by the AT&T commercials in which a young athlete watches a record-setting race on her smart phone, writes down her new goal, and resolutely walks out the door to swim or track practice.
We define excellence and success by living up to or exceeding the prevailing best, but it is a moving target.
For example, in 1913 the record time for running a mile was 4:14.4, set by John Paul Jones of the United States. By 1999 the fastest time (Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco) was down by half a minute at 3:43.13.
How high is high enough? How fast is fast enough?
How good is good enough?
A young man who had cleared high bars of economic and religious expectations came to Jesus and asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17) In other words, “How good do I have to be to get into heaven?”
Jesus responded by challenging his assertion of good. He must have surprised the young man by his answer; “No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments…” (v. 18)
Undaunted, the young man assured Jesus that he had faithfully kept the commandments all of his life. He was wealthy, successful and religiously observant. Surely he was eligible for eternal life. He was good.
Well, there’s one more thing, Jesus said. “Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (v. 21)
Uh-oh. That is an awfully high bar. Who would meet that standard? The young man could not, and “he walked away sad, because he had great wealth.” (v. 22)
When it comes to eternal life the standard of goodness is not another person or the prevailing notion of acceptable morality, but God’s goodness. The bar that we must clear for entry into eternal life is nothing less than perfection, goodness as defined in God himself.
Jesus went on to say that it is essentially impossible for a rich man (or woman) to enter the Kingdom of God, a statement that should give all prosperous church-goers pause. The disciples had the same incredulous reaction that we have: “Well, then who will be saved?” No one can clear such a high bar of goodness.
Except God himself.
Which is exactly what Jesus did for us. He lived up to the impossible standard and offers us his record-setting goodness in exchange for our recognition that we have not lived up to the necessary standard and that we agree to trade our sin for his righteousness. It’s an excellent offer. Take it.
Our performance, even a reasonably good effort, will never gain us entry into eternal life. It is impossible. But, thankfully, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)
Even eternal life for the likes of us.