"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. - Matthew 7:21
Each of us knows what good is. Even pagans have an idea as to what constitutes good character, and what doesn’t. We are created in God’s image, after all. We may quibble as to what a loving parent looks like, but the only reason we’re quibbling to begin with is because we agree that parents ought to love their children.
You didn’t become angry at the person who cut you off in traffic for reasons that are particular to your personal angle on morality; in fact, he probably would have become just as angry with you had the circumstances been reversed. The fact that he prioritized his schedule over yours, and endangered his safety and yours is not something that needs to be debated – it was wrong, plain and simple.
We know what good is. We know what a good person looks like. A good person is not only honest and true, but caring, personal, fun to be around, full of humour and generous with his or her time (for starters). A good person is someone that you would want to spend your free time with.
We call God good, we say that He is love. And yet we assume that all sorts of good qualities don't apply to Him. We have portrayed Jesus as a mystical, scarcely human prophet who gazes into the distance as if we weren’t even there. Satan has painted a picture of God in which He is some other variety of good, one which is mysterious, lofty, and beyond our comprehension.
What’s worse, many Christians have bought this fiction, adopted it, repackaged it, and tried to sell it to the rest of the world like a cheap trinket on the shopping network.
This is nothing new. Satan first duped humanity by convincing Adam and Eve that God wasn’t being entirely forthright about what happens when you eat the apple. He convinced them that God is holding out on us.
In ancient Palestine, he had the religious authorities reasonably convinced of the same narrative. God needed to be impressed, cajoled, bargained with, and bought. Religious authorities used this story-line to control God-fearing Israelites and rob them blind.
Then along comes Jesus with a scandalous and breath-taking proposition: God isn’t “good” in some ethereal or religious sense. He is wonderful. He doesn’t just love you. He is irreconcilably head over heels in love with you.
He is a shepherd who would risk leaving 99 sheep in the wilderness – even though those sheep constitute his entire life savings – in order to find you; you and only you. He is a giddy, lovesick father running down the road with tears streaming down His face because you finally turned away from your rebellion and decided to come home. He’s not concerned about the insult you gave Him by leaving in the first place; there is no thought to His own dignity as he races down the road yelling back at the servants to prepare the fatted calf. This story doesn’t finish with Him explaining how you’re going to pay Him back the inheritance you ran off with.
God is good. He’s braver than we are; He’s funnier than we are; He laughs more joyfully; He loves more tenderly; He suffers more deeply; He takes personal risks that we wouldn’t dare.
Jesus didn’t show us how to become the “diet coke” of humanity. He showed us that true humanity, real humanity as the Father always meant it to be is richer and more beautiful than we could ever have envisioned; we don’t have the slightest clue. We are the diet coke of humanity; Jesus is the real thing.
And yet, here we go again trying to attain God’s goodness for ourselves by abstaining from adultery, tithing faithfully, volunteering at church, and waking up at 4:00 in the morning to make sure we stay on top of our daily bible reading plan. Go podcast some sermons from around the world and you’ll find no shortage of Pastors who preach these things as if your salvation depended on them.
All of these things are beneficial and worthwhile endeavours, of course. But if we think that achieving and maintaining this sort of piety so much as walks us into the shadow of God’s goodness, we have been outrageously deceived, as were the Pharisees. If we allow ourselves to forget how amazing God truly is, we rob ourselves of unbelievable treasure, and we risk emaciating our ministry to the point of total redundancy.
Never think that Jesus' warning in Matthew 7:21 is is a call to ensure that we're taking our own religiosity as seriously as it deserves; we should hardly be thinking of ourselves at all.
The apostle Peter calls on us to be Holy because God is Holy (1 Peter 1:16). How absolutely essential it is, then, that we get this right. We desperately need God’s Grace to do so.
Colin McComb lives in Edson, Alberta with his wife, Gail, and their three lovely children.