Especially around Christmastime, it seems the strive to be good enough mentality is magnified. We even have catchy jingles to incite such a season …
He’s making a list
Checking it twice
Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town
If you’re good, you get presents. If you’re bad, you get coal.
He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness’ sake
It sounds good, after all—to be good. It’s applauded to be (and to raise) kind, respectable, law-abiding citizens. But the problem with good is that we can start to wonder: What’s good enough? And that stress leads to a lot of striving. Maybe you’re trying to get all the right gifts and capture all the Insta-worthy moments and make it to all the holiday parties—even though your schedule is bringing you less joy and more chaos. Whatever it is, this endless cycle of trying to be good doesn’t feel good.
Now, let’s be clear. I’m certainly not trying to pick a fight with Mr. Kringle. Christmas traditions are great! But it’s a slippery slope from innocent child’s play to sugarcoating God’s grace with a false theology.
Good, but not Good Enough
I don’t share this with many people, but I’m a recovering “good girl.” Growing up, I never got drunk, never did drugs, never had sex. I never had an over-the-top rebellious streak and always frequented Santa’s nice list. In college, it wasn’t unusual for me to rescue my belligerent friends at 3:00am, but it was never the other way around. I made good grades and occupied various leadership roles. Overall, I wanted my parents, my teachers, and my God to be proud of me. I wanted me to be proud of me.
So, others began labeling me as trustworthy, responsible, and good. Which is fine—until it isn’t.
Though I had plenty of not good moments, I started to believe that my own goodness—or the lack thereof—mattered. That my self-attained righteousness could earn well-deserved points (or the opposite could stain my upright reputation) in this cosmic game of life. That my faith in Jesus could use a few supplements.
But herein lies the epic problem in the face of true Christianity: Self-attained salvation is not only not the Gospel, it’s impossible. Spit-shining a fabricated halo here on earth will not earn us crowns of glory in heaven. Most of all, Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good; He came to make dead people live.
Now, let’s be clear here too. In all of His wisdom and creativity, God crafted this breathtaking world and called it good. He breathed life into the lungs of the first man and woman, deeming His prized creations very good. Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit—an outward display of an inward transformation that’s only conceived by the supernatural work of God. Every good and perfect gift is, no doubt, from above.
Goodness is a wonderful thing and, by His design, God has shown us how life works best. But our salvation does not depend on us being good enough. We can save ourselves some heartache by implementing moral guardrails, but we cannot save our actual souls for all of eternity. Our right-standing with God has nothing to do with what we can do for ourselves. Our redemption wasn’t purchased by our own mediocre efforts, but by Jesus’ finished work on the cross.
Even those who seem good by earthly standards, still have their own sin-issues. Goodness can be misused as a façade, a disguise, a beautiful mask under which we can hide. And if we think for two seconds that we’ve “got this” on our own, pride will take root like a cancer in our bones.
But here is the truth about us:
… all our righteous acts are like filthy rags … Isaiah 64:6 NIV
… there is no one who does good, not even one. Psalm 53:3 NIV
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Romans 3:23 NLT
Maybe your slate seems clean and your record appears clear. But what about the more “respectable” sins?
Maybe you haven’t murdered anyone, but have you ever lied? Gossiped? Wished you had someone else’s house, beauty, influence, or exotic vacations? Had unforgiveness in your heart or struggled with lustful thoughts? Been judgmental? Been passive? Been selfish? Smudged boundaries or toed the line? Spent more time on Instagram, Netflix, or SportsCenter than in God’s Word? Griped about the maintenance of your many blessings? Stayed safe and comfortable instead of sharing your faith with those who desperately need it? Sought to please people more than Christ? Hello, my hand is raised on all accounts.
Well, okay then. The playing field is even—for all of us. For the stripper and the saint, for the prisoner and the pastor.
For whoever keeps the whole law but stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. James 2:10 NIV
Satan fell from heaven because of his pride. Because he wanted to be God rather than to serve God. Eve ate the forbidden fruit, not because she longed for evil and wickedness, but because she saw that it was “good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (Genesis 3:6 NIV). Her appetite craved autonomy—to be the god of her own world rather than trust in God’s promises. And if that’s not enough to get our attention, Jesus was much harder on the law-keeping Pharisees than He was on the prostitutes.
Thousands of years of human striving has only proved to be enslaving. Walking in grace, on the other hand, is powerfully liberating.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 NIV
Now, that doesn’t mean we should take advantage of His marvelous grace and live immoral lives to own demise. Rather, we should let God—the only one who is truly good—lead us into the life He intended. A life of joy and abundance. A life of partnering together on mission and dancing in glorious freedom. Goodness isn’t the goal, but a byproduct of God’s supernatural work in our lives.
Maybe, like me, you’ve been relatively good. Or maybe your past is littered with blatant sin, but now you’re working hard to make up for lost time—to tip the scales in your favor, so to speak. No matter your background, we can all get caught up in this ridiculous game of striving. Of working for approval. Of earning our own righteousness.
But I’m here to tell you, good is never good enough and bad is never a deal-breaker.
For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith—this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV
The real message of Christmas is tucked just beneath the sparkly lights, shiny packages, and even our best-intended efforts: Jesus alone can save us from ourselves and that is good enough.