How Good is Good Enough?


Comment taken from Stand to Reason’s blog ‘Basically Good’

I won’t judge who was and was not a believer, but it doesn’t sit right with me to see people thinking that God makes exceptions for “good people.” (Ally)

How is being ‘good’ an exception exactly? People have to work hard at doing their best moral behavior and refine that from year to year through-out their life – that’s no simple exercise. It takes time, patience, study, experience, etc.

The problem is the bench-mark for what is ‘good’? This seems to be the huge concern for Christians when they approach this topic – ‘how good is good enough?’. But the Christian teachings have this generic built in quality to them themselves – which is supposed to make us ‘question’ exactly like that.

For example, Jesus’ greatest 2 commandments are ‘Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself’…does anyone see anything ‘specific’ being asked there? If you said ‘no’ – you can read.

The fact is we decide what our thresholds and standards are in many regards – and refine the process as we grow/mature and interact with one another. How can we love our neighbor if we cannot love ourselves? What does it mean to love someone else – what actions do we take? What is too far? We are asked to address ourselves in those 2 commandments. Yet I never see a Christian asking ‘well, how much love is enough for my neighbor’?


16 thoughts on “How Good is Good Enough?

  1. Yep, I think this is a huge flaw that Christianity struggles with. We want to preach about good and evil because these things seem to matter to God, and they matter in society. However, Christian pride becomes exposed because we can’t handle non-christians doing better with good than we do. So we start playing definition games with “good” so Christianity can be superior.

    So religion becomes just another competitive game.

  2. “However, Christian pride becomes exposed because we can’t handle non-christians doing better with good than we do. So we start playing definition games with “good” so Christianity can be superior” (Andrew)

    I have seen you write on this topic quite extensively and I tend to agree with the assertions you are making – and this one makes sense. It’s becoming a defintion game wrapped around one simple doctrine – that of ‘works’ and where they fit in the Christian doctrines. In this case, the person did not value ‘works’ or quite mis-understood what ‘works’ means.

  3. “WOW. Your whole blog speaks to me. Thank you for being so real” (Jeff)

    Thanks Jeff, you have been added as a link and I will be chakcing you out from time to time!

  4. It’s never good enough. For tyhe law demands perfect obedience…all the time.

    We can’t do it. We don’t want to do it.

    That’s why Christ had to come. That’s why He had to break into the sewer line, and into this broken, fallen world.

  5. How much love is enough? I think Jesus is saying only as much as we want for ourselves. “In everything do unto others as you would have them do to you, for this is the law and the prophets” Matthew 7:12
    In this conviction, Christianity is the same as every other religion. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Confucians, pagans, and many athiests will agree with Jesus’ golden rule: Do unto others.
    Christians believe that “the work of the law is written on their hearts” Romans 2:15. God has put knowledge of morals into the hearts of all people, and deep down we all know Jesus (and Mohammad and Buddha and all the rest of them) are right when they tell us to love our neighbors.
    So Christians don’t have a unique claim to ethics by any means, although I would argue Christian ethical teaching has some distinguishing features.
    Moreover, to your question of how good we need to be, Jesus says, “Be perfect” Matthew 5:48. That universal standard of perfectly treating others as we want to be treated and honoring God as Creator and Sustainer forms a basis of Christianity. Christians believe the whole world has failed to be perfect, and we need to be saved.
    The Greek for saved means both rescued and healed, and that’s what Christians believe Jesus’ death does for all who do not reject that gift. We are rescued from the judgment we deserve but that God caused Jesus to suffer on the cross. We are saved because upon our reconciliation with God he slowly but surely changes us, helping us “go on to perfection” Hebrews 6:1 and become as perfectly loving of God and neighbor as Jesus. It’s hard work, but for the Christian (or the person who doesn’t reject Jesus Christ: “If I had not come to them, they would not be guilty of sin” John 15:22)
    So Christians really come full circle (and I apologize for this very long circle!). It all comes back to love. It’s good that your article discussed some Christian failings when it comes to love, because it’s really a central issue. Although all true Christians are saved from damnation, we’ll have to answer for those failings, I think, both now and in the life to come.
    I admire that you’re using your blog to examine issues of faith, since they’re the most important questions we can ever ask. I too live daily with many questions and doubts and struggles with God. How wonderful that we have a God who loves us and sustains us despite these spiritual wanderings. May God bless you on your wanderings, and may they lead you to Truth, which will set you and all who find him free. John 8:32
    Finally, allow me to apologize again for the length here. I think N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope, C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, Lee Strobel’s The Case for… books, Gary Habermas’ stuff, and anything by fellow religious seeker Kierkegaard are excellent on these sorts of issues, way better than me. What do you like to read? Judging by your blog, you must read a lot of interesting stuff.

  6. My issue with “good enough” and perfection is how it comes across in the “typical” Christianity.

    As I understand it, God is considered perfect. Part of that perfection is the inability to sin. He cannot sin. It’s impossible for Him, given His nature, which is a perfect nature.

    Then God creates Adam and Eve. They do sin, so obviously it wasn’t impossible for them to sin. So if perfection means an inability to sin, then we can’t say that Adam or Eve were created perfectly, as they did sin. And if perfection is also tied to goodness — as in, the only true person is one who is perfect, and perfect is someone who does not sin at all — then Adam and Eve were also not created good.

    If they weren’t created as a perfect, good creation, and neither was anyone else created perfect or good after them, then how is it just to condemn them for something that’s impossible for them to achieve? It would be like me punishing a child for failing to do calculus — calculus is beyond their ability.

    And to even say that God recognized this and thus sent Jesus doesn’t address the issue. How is it just to demand punishment be exacted against not only those who are incapable of living up to a standard, but those who weren’t created to do so in the first place?

  7. “How is it just to demand punishment be exacted against not only those who are incapable of living up to a standard, but those who weren’t created to do so in the first place?”

    Ypu’ll have to take that up with God when you get there.

    But that is what Holy Scripture says.

  8. I think the main problem with people is that we have free will. God decided, in his mercy and omnipotence and strange wisdom, to give us the choice to follow him or worship self. Perhaps he feels that if we can’t choose to disobey, obedience wouldn’t mean much. I think that perfection is not so much the inability to sin as in it’s physically impossible, but that we perfectly resist sin every time it confronts us.
    Jesus was sinless (Hebrews 4:15), yet was tempted to worship Satan (Matthew 4). In fact, he even asked God to keep him from dying on the cross (Mark 14:36) but ultimately decides to submit to God’s will. So his perfection was tested by very real opportunities to sin, which wouldn’t make sense if he couldn’t sin at all.
    Why God allows sin to infect the human race, or, in the story of Adam and Eve, all of humanity to be born with the sin of the old Adam, is at times a puzzling question. Why doesn’t God intervene when a person decides to take drugs for the first time or zap us in the foot each time we tell a lie or hurt someone’s feelings? I don’t know.
    God is so perfect, so much holier than people. I think we all tacitly confess this when we agree that there is a moral standard we should keep. Where else could that need to be moral come from? Not evolution. It violates survival of the fittest to have compassion on the weak or save a drowning person.
    How can we have a true relationship with Someone that holy? It’s like a serial killer trying to date Mother Teresa, only on an infinitely more extreme scale.
    We have an intuitive sense of justice; we know what’s rightfully ours and who rightfully deserves punishment. How can a just God accept less then perfection?
    God knows we can’t obey him or even come to him without his help, just like the serial killer would never be attracted to Mother Teresa without initiative on her part. So instead of ignoring sin and excusing it because we can’t keep his standard, he was perfectly just and perfectly loving by punishing Jesus instead. Winking at sin or sweeping it under the rug simply wouldn’t be real justice. If there were any other way, Jesus wouldn’t have had to die.
    If a student has to take a final exam, is it just for the teacher to make the test really easy simply because the student can’t pass it? Or should the teacher say, “Here, I’ll send someone to take the test for you. And I’ll help you pass it this time around”? (Admittedly an imperfect example, but how could an analogy perfectly portray complex spiritual reality?)
    Paul says it better than I ever could: “God has imprisoned us all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” Romans 11:32
    An analogy that has comforted me from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity is that people have been nourished by their dinners long before they understood theories of nutrition. May God grant that we never refuse the bread of life, Jesus’ sacrifice, because we don’t quite understand our need to eat.

  9. Jessica,

    **I think that perfection is not so much the inability to sin as in it’s physically impossible, but that we perfectly resist sin every time it confronts us.**

    I’m not quite sure what you mean here, because I’m reading this as you’re defining perfection as: to perfectly resit sin. But it’s using the word to define the word. Not only that, are you saying that God is capable of committing a sin? Because I’ve always seen perfection defined as the inability to sin, and tied to the concept of goodness. God is 100% good, without flaws, or defects and so forth. But there is nothing in God that would ever be attracted to sin. There was something “designed” in people to allow them to be attracted to sin, or Eve never would’ve eaten the fruit.

    **So his perfection was tested by very real opportunities to sin, which wouldn’t make sense if he couldn’t sin at all.**

    But if you’re saying that Jesus is God, then Jesus could not have ever been tempted by sin in the of him wanting to sin. God can’t want to sin, as sin is the opposite of His character. If Jesus is God, then Jesus also could never want to sin, as that’s an affront to His character.

    **So instead of ignoring sin and excusing it because we can’t keep his standard, he was perfectly just and perfectly loving by punishing Jesus instead. **

    But this is not justice. Regardless of who takes the punishment, it is not a just situation to demand punishment from someone who cannot fulfill the obligations. To go back to my calculus example — even if someone who could solve calculus stepped in and offered to take the punishment from the child, it doesn’t make the situation just. The situation is still unjust, because of the standards applied.

  10. “Then how can God be considered just if that setup violates the definition of justice? How do you reconcile the two?”

    All I can say is that God’s ways are not our ways.

  11. Theoldadam,

    My difficulty is that if the response is that God’s ways aren’t our ways, then how can someone describe God in a way that has any meaning? How can God be described in any sort of way that’s understandable? Such as the word “just.” If that means essentially whatever God wants it to mean, then the word has become meaningless.

  12. Where is that “God’s ways” scripture? It just seems that it’s common, and trump card, use runs against everything else we know about God in scripture. As OSS says, it seems to make everything else one might say about God meaningless… so why not just bag the whole thing and get on with life until God makes himself “known”, like by actually showing up.

  13. God demands perfect obedience. Anything less is deserving of wrath. (read Romans)

    But God in His love, descended to us, becoming one of us, and sacrificed Himself tp pay the price of all our sin.

    That’s not our way. We exact revenge. He dies and forgives.

  14. I read through all the comments (thank Jessica, Steve, Oss, and Andrew for the whole discussion) – I really like the thoughts being processed in there.

    Here is my trump card – we are human and we do not know the ways of God…how can we trust anything we believe from the ‘word of God’ as accurate? Honestly, Steve is making the assertion ‘just trust it is all true’…I am asking ‘who’s version of that truth is accurate?”.

    If no human can understand ‘God’s ways’ then I am pretty sure OSS and Andrew and Jessica and myself may all arrive at varying conclusions and yet all be ‘right’.

    However, I don’t hold to such an idea that passages in written scripture cannot be figured out – one needs to remember ‘men’ wrote as ‘inspired’ by God – humans wrote these things and leave traces of what they mean in the context of a letter (compared with historical contexts of that era). We might not get it all correct – but we work towards a full understanding of many doctrinal areas.

    I agree with OSS 100% at this point in my life – because it makes sense. The perfection argument is just not based on anything with strong validity (definitely not in comparison with the Jewish beliefs about the Torah). Which is where this argument starts – since Jesus in Matt 5:17 pretty much claims to be following Judaism outright (Matt 5:48 is the perfection passage).

    Even within that Matt 5:48 passage there is not a single hint none of what Jesus taught is ‘impossible’. If there is a hint of this – someone can show me where he says ‘I taught you none of this was possible and you will never live up to this standard’. That passage does not exist.

    I will ask this ‘how much is too much for those you love’? Anyone making a standard to stop how much we care about people? The teachings are basically doing just this – and yet we have someone telling us we cannot follow such ideas? That person is yet to reach for the stars and actually reach his dreams (my opinion). With God, nothing is impossible.

    I think we need to start facing the fact we have to develop standards for our lives and live by/in them. The bible states we have been given help – commandments to follow and urge us in the right direction.

    Are we so scared to be judged by what we have done? Do we think we could have done more? And that’s where this all gets interesting…because just like we cannot love someone enough – we always think we can do more (human psyche). Let’s just do enough and live by ideas the invoke the peace of God on our planet.

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