How Good is Good Enough?

What is the standard against which we measure ourselves?

Photo by Bjarte Hetland

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.

Ethel Catherwood in 1928    Photo by Antoinel

The men’s high jump record is 2.45 meters (8 feet) set in 1993 by Javier Sotomayor of Cuba, almost three feet higher than the gold medal jump in 1928 of 1.59 meters, or 5 feet 3 inches.

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 goodnessThe 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.

5 thoughts on “How Good is Good Enough?

Add yours

  1. Great topic, Judy! We will never reach perfection here on earth, but we are encouraged in the Bible to grow and become more like Christ. When we do, we are rewarded with a deeper relationship with our Creator and healthier relationships with others. Then we will be able to accomplish amazing things for God’s kingdom!

    “Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did” (I John 2:6).

  2. This is a tough topic for me, Judy. While I know in my head that no one is perfect…including me…I still hold myself to a “perfectionist” level. Of course, we should all strive to do and be our best, but the crucial question seems to be, “What do we do when confronted by our own imperfection…when we are struck by the idea that we are fallible?” I am haunted by the fact that no matter how hard I try to be perfect, i will never be. There is a wonderful book (at least, I think it’s wonderful) by Rabbi Harold Kushner (“When Bad Things Happen to Good People”) entitled “How Good Do We Have to Be? – A New Understanding of Guilt and Forgiveness”. I say, “I think it’s wonderful” because I have never been able to read it through…it hits too close to that which I struggle with most.

    1. I think this is a tough topic for most of us, Dan, myself included. Christianity is completely counter-intuitive in that it teaches us to give up our own will, pride, and efforts in order to accomplish anything of value. The world teaches us exactly the opposite. I struggle to find the balance between resting in God’s grace and in the power of Christ’s finished work on the cross and my own activity in his service. It is very easy to confuse the two! I’m reading a short but powerful oldish book by Watchman Nee called “Sit, Walk, Stand” and am reminded, once again, that for Christians “The all-important rule is not to ‘try’ but to ‘trust,’ not to depend on our own strength but on His.” Thanks so much for taking the time to share your honest reflections.

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