Especially around Christmastime, striving to be good enough is magnified. Maybe you’ve heard this classic jingle…
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 knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness’ sake
It sounds good, after all— it’s good to be good. It’s applauded to be kind respectable rule-followers. 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 Santa. 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, and never had sex. I didn’t have an over-the-top rebellious streak and always appeared on Santa’s nice list. In college, it wasn’t unusual for me to rescue my “naughty list” friends at 3:00 am, but it was never the other way around. I made good grades and was considered a respectable young leader. I wanted my parents, teachers, and God to be proud of me and for a while I felt like I was nailing it.
Others labeled me as trustworthy, responsible, and good. Which was fine—until it wasn’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 goodness could earn me points in this cosmic game of life. I also became terrified of falling short and losing my hard-earned points. I began to realize my faith in Jesus had some issues.
Why did Jesus come to Earth?
Here lies the epic problem of my old way of life: Self-attained salvation is not only not Christianity, it’s also impossible. Polishing a fabricated halo here on earth won’t earn us anything 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 beautiful world and called it good. He breathed life into the lungs of the first man and woman, calling His prized creations very good. Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit—an outward display of an inward change that’s only possible by the work of God. Every good and perfect gift is, no doubt, from above.
Goodness is a wonderful thing and God has shown us how life works best. But our salvation doesn’t depend on us being good enough. We can save ourselves some heartache by implementing good habits, but we can’t save our 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 efforts but by Jesus’ work on the cross.
Even those who seem good by our standards, still have sin issues. Goodness can be a mask we hide behind and if we think for two seconds that we’ve “got this” on our own, pride will take root.
But here’s 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 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, passive, or selfish? Smudged boundaries or toed the line? Spent more time on Instagram, Netflix, or SportsCenter than in God’s Word? 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.
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
Eve didn’t eat the fruit because she was evil. Instead, 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 freedom—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
Goodness isn’t the goal
Now, that doesn’t mean we should take advantage of His grace and do whatever we want. Instead, we should let God—the only one who is truly good—lead us into true life. A life of joy, freedom, and purpose. Goodness isn’t the goal, but a byproduct of God’s work in our lives.
Maybe, like me, you’ve been relatively good. Or maybe you feel shame from a sinful past. No matter your background, we can all get caught up in this game of striving. Of working for approval. Of earning our own goodness.
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 beneath the sparkly lights, shiny packages, and even our best efforts. Jesus alone can save us from ourselves and that is good enough.