I’m a church kid. I admit it. Let all Petra listening, Michael W. Smith dressing, Amy Grant secular crossover questioning 40-somethings stand up and be counted! I’m not ashamed.
OK, maybe I’m a little ashamed (mostly of the Petra Praise phenomenon, but alas).
I was a good kid. I had a sensitive heart. I didn’t like to disappoint my parents, my teachers, my youth pastors, and most of all…God. And so I embraced the quintessential good kid persona. I went to church, abstained from sex, didn’t swear, never drank alcohol, avoided rated R movies, parties on the weekends, and hanging Metallica posters on my wall.
And I don’t regret any of it. In fact, if I had it to do over again I would attempt to play all my cards exactly the same way. Being good solves a whole lot of problems, rest assured.
But it doesn’t make you righteous.
And that’s where I fear many of us (myself included) often stumble. We’ve defined sin and righteousness as behaviors, actions, and outward tangibles we can measure and see.
- Going to a rated R movie = Sin
- Going to a church youth group = Righteousness
- Partying on the weekend = Sin
- Avoiding cuss words = Righteousness
(The list could go endlessly on).
And that’s no small mistake. Why? You may have some difficulty believing this, but our desire to be rebellious pleasure seekers and our discipline to be squeaky-clean rule-followers actually originate in the same place…
…our insatiable desire to be our own savior.
Yeah, I know. It was a hard one for me to swallow, too. But sin isn’t rooted in our actions, it’s rooted in where we find our identity. In whom we place our trust.
It’s easy to see the sin in pleasure-seeking and self-obsession. It’s harder to convince yourself it’s just as present in your line-towing and self-righteousness. But be honest, our motivation in “being good” originates in our insatiable longing to secure our identity in our works. We want to be in control. We want to prove we’re “better than them.” We want to save ourselves.
- If I obey, God will approve of me.
- If I follow the rules, God will do what I want Him to do.
- If I do good, God will do good things to me.
I am the source, my actions are the trigger, and God responds to me. I find my identity in my work for Him instead of His work for me. I begin to trust in my “goodness” and not His.
And that, my friends, is sin. The sin of “being good.”
So what am I suggesting? Should we throw out our attempts to be good right along with those old CCM CD’s? Of course not (some of those albums will be collector’s items soon). Being good is good. It’s wise. I highly recommend it.
But it’s not righteousness. That can only come from one place, and it’s not you. The Gospel is for “good people,” too.