What makes you good enough? When exactly are you good enough? I’m guessing I’m not the only person who struggles with this issue.
You see..from the time we’re small, we’re trying to be good enough…a good enough student…..good enough athlete…a good enough musician….a good enough friend… we’re trying to look good enough for our peers’ approval…and be good enough for our parent’s approval…
And then we grow up…and it doesn’t change. We’re still trying to look good enough – be good enough..as a person…as a parent…as a worker…as a Christian.
Always, we’re trying to measure up. Are we smart enough? Are we healthy enough? Are we accomplishing enough? Are we making enough of a difference? Are we using our time wisely enough? Are we kind enough? Are we working hard enough? Are we good enough for our kids…our neighbors…our spouse…for God? Are we enough?
And if you’re like me….it’s easy, when you’re having a rough day…to follow that trail of insecurity down a rabbit hole that leads to shame and guilt and all kinds of “should”-ing on yourself…you know..the “should”ing…..the “i should have done more” mantra that plays like a broken record over and over.
So…that’s kind of what Paul is addressing here….what makes us “good enough” in God’s eyes?
Paul is a zealot at heart…one of those gung ho type A folks that wear me out just being around them. Whatever he is doing, he is always going to be the best. He’s the guy you compare yourself to and feel like you come up short, right? So obviously, when Paul was a leader among the Jewish pharisees….he was the most ardent, most observant, most “right”. He gave his all to the cause of keeping the faith pure…even if it meant enforcing the laws in the harshest fashion…as in the stoning of Stephen. He followed every jot and tittle of the law…and believed that was what made him good enough in God’s eyes.
But then, when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus and was literally blinded by the light and knocked on his keister — he realized that he had misunderstood. Being “perfect” according to the law…proving how “right” he was according to the law…according to Torah…. was not the way. Jesus was the way. Jesus was the son of God, the Messiah, and it turns out Paul didn’t have to prove anything to be good enough for God. Jesus simply loved him and gave his life for him…and he was part of God’s family, not because he was “right”, but because God said so.
Of course, Paul didn’t stop being “type A” after this new revelation. He was still Gung ho and on the move and in his new life as an apostle for Christ — sharing God’s love in Jesus to Gentiles all over the place. He accomplished amazing things.. He started churches throughout the Mediterranean region. But now he understood… none of it was what made him “good enough”. It was only grace that did that. Only God’s love that did that.
Of course, the reality is…the Jewish faith already understood that at its heart. The Torah wasn’t written to make God’s people good enough for God. The law was given to them as a covenant because God chose them and loved them…and it was to be a sign… a mark of their life together.
A reminder that God was a part of everything they did. But that wasn’t how Paul had understood his Jewish faith. He was convinced that he needed to prove he was worthy….he was convinced that the law was the only way to know God. And so, when Paul rejects the law…it is that understanding he rejects. One of the heartbreaking realities of Christianity is that people have used Paul’s letters to justify the worst of antisemitism….pogroms and holocausts and acts of cruelty and hate for centuries. We miss the point entirely if we read him that way.
We need to read it in context…and in this letter Paul is writing to a church in Galatia that was primarily made up of former Gentiles….but now some folks who were Jewish have come to visit them and they are insisting that the Gentiles in Galatia should start observing the Torah in what they eat and wear and how they observe the Sabbath …getting circumcised and all the rest. Why? Well, because Jesus was Jewish and he did all that….so they should too. And Paul is livid. Because basically they are telling the Galatians they aren’t “good enough’ the way they are. And Paul insists that there is nothing they have to “do” to be part of God’s family….Jesus already did it. They are part of the family of God because Jesus loves them and gave his life or them.
It’s not that the law is bad — the Jewish Christians are free to continue to follow the law as a sign of their relationship with God as Jews. But it is not a mark of the faith in Christ that is for all people…whatever their religious background or cultural heritage. People from all sorts of cultures and ways of life can share the love of Jesus. And Paul knows that if they impose their observance of Torah onto the church, they will just start to travel down that slippery slope again…thinking that what they do…how right they are….is what makes them “good enough” for God…or “justifies” them, as Paul says.
But it’s not. It never has been. What makes us good enough is simply what God says…what God does. God chooses us…loves us…and calls each and every one of us “enough”. Just as we are.
The church that Jesus birthed simply doesn’t have just one way of being in the world. It has many ways…and it will continue to change and become more diverse as the centuries roll on. But its message will always be Jesus — who loves us and gave his life for us.
Here’s the thing, though. How often does the church find itself trying to impose one culture or one way of being in the world onto Jesus? I think of centuries of missionaries who brought the love of Jesus…only to attach it to a Western way of living if you were going to be “good enough” for God that decimated cultures and families. I think of Christian movements that share the love of Jesus…but insist it’s your faith in Christ, your conversion, your reciting of a certain prayer…that makes you “good enough” for God. I think of so many churches that share the love of Jesus…but are sure that anyone who doesn’t agree with ther “pro-life, anti-gay” culture is not “good enough”.
Paul says, all that law…all that trying to get it right so I could be good enough for God –it killed me. And it will kill you. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God, he says. I did it all…I tried to live for God …I gave myself up to try to be completely right. Just like so many of those missionaries…so many of those Christians and churches that gave up everything to share Jesus. But in doing so…they abandoned grace…and that means Jesus’ life and death and resurrection…they mean nothing.
Paul says instead — I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.
All that proving, all that anxiety…all that giving up everything to prove I was good enough…That’s dead. Now, I simply live my life with nothing to prove….but to simply be a child of God in the world. I live my life in the flesh…my real, ordinary life…trusting simply that Jesus loves me. That God gave himself for me.
Here’s the problem with trying to be good enough. While we’re doing it…we are insufferable to everyone around us. There is no grace in trying to be good enough — no grace for others. And no grace for you. And grace…that’s what it’s all about.
My favorite image, when I am feeling like I am exhausted from trying to be ‘enough” …from juggling all the balls, trying not to drop anything…trying not to fail…is to remember that when I let all the balls drop…when I quit trying desperately to keep my head above water and let myself sink…I sink into the loving arms of God…who holds me. In whose expansive lap all the balls are held. That, my friends, is grace. Because you are simply enough. Christ is in you. You belong to God. And there is nothing you can do about it. May we never abandon the grace of God…but simply live knowing the rock bottom truth –Jesus loves us. Amen.
Jesus loves me! this I know, for the Bible tells me so;
little ones to him belong, they are weak, but he is strong.
Jesus loves me! he who died heaven’s gates to open wide;
he will wash away my sin, let his little child come in. (Refrain)
Jesus loves me! he will stay close beside me all the way;
when at last I come to die, he will take me home on high. (Refrain)