By Jim Tune
I’ve often been asked, “Isn’t this the only thing that really matters to God in the end: whether or not you’re a good person?” This sounds great, and being good and doing good are central to what it means to be human, but this question masks a subtle belief system.
Just below the surface of this sensible and conventional way of seeing God is the flawed idea that God operates according to a merit system. Do the good or right or religious thing and you will get the points you need to get on God’s good side. This, of course, is not the gospel.
I am learning to live with gospel confidence. I am not good enough. The sacrifices I bring amount to nothing. Jesus alone is the perfect substitution, and faith in him is what pleases God. Every good gift the Father gives flows from the gospel and is received through faith.
Should we do good? Of course! But it’s no substitute for faith. Confused Christians get this wrong all the time—making the gospel about effort and good works. God doesn’t need sacrifices. If I may paraphrase the message of Isaiah 1:11, God is saying, “I have no need of bulls and goats. You are always missing the point! I am trying to show you how repugnant and how costly your sin is before me. Still, you do not feel the weight of that, you just keep doing what you are doing, all the while bringing me bulls and goats, as if that’s what I really want.”
The same thing plays out today. Christ’s work demands the response of faith, but we want to make donations. We want to offer God good behavior so he will like us!
Gospel confidence is about faith. Everything else is rubbish. Even works of righteousness, if not done through faith, become works of self-righteousness, and therefore, filthy rags.
This calls for great caution. We can go to church, read the Bible, say prayers, and help little old ladies cross the street and still miss the point. We end up truncating the gospel and seeking endlessly to please a Sunday school Jesus who says, “Don’t be bad; be good.” Some of us are so good we have deceived ourselves.
The gospel is the shocking good news that in our moments of greatest despair, failure, and weakness, God meets us where we are and announces, “I am on your side.” That’s gospel confidence!