Listen: Christian Growth with Simon Manchester. (Airs 8am Sundays on Hope 103.2 & Inspire Digital.)
Many people believe Christianity is an unreasonable and irrelevant faith, even intolerant and hypocritical. In a 5-part series, Simon Manchester responds to these claims one by one.
Part 5: Is ‘Good Enough’ Good Enough for God?
Sermon 7 – Is “Good Enough”, Good Enough for God?
[Prayer] – Our Heavenly Father, we thank You for a new morning and an opportunity to stop and to look at Your Scriptures and think about things which are eternal. And we pray that you would help us as we do so to understand what you’ve said, to appreciate and respond in a way which is pleasing to you and good for us – and we ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.
I know you’ll forgive me – many of you have been here for a long time – for telling an old story of a young minister who was sent to a very tough part of town which is run by two Mafia brothers and soon after he arrives, one of the Mafia brothers is killed. And the other one comes to him and says to the young minister: “You’ll take my brother’s funeral and you’ll say he was a saint or we’ll kill you”. This young minister thinks, “What will I do, what will I say – the truth and therefore I will die for that, or will I tell a lie and I will save my life?”
Now comes the day of the funeral he gathers in a church like this, completely packed with the worst people that he’s ever seen in his life and he stands up and says: “We are gathered here to remember a man who was basically a thief and he was a crook and he was a cheat and he was a violet man, and he was a womanising man, and he was a drunk type of man. He was a heartless scumbag. But compared with his brother sitting over there, he was a real saint!!”
I tell you that this morning because the question I want to answer goes like this: It’s not the question “are we good enough for others?” We can almost always find somebody to say we’re good; somebody will speak at our funeral and say something pretty good. Nor are we asking the question this morning “are we good enough for ourselves?” Because we can flatter ourselves and we can fool ourselves. The question we want to ask is… “Are we good enough for God?” Is our ‘good enough’, good enough for God?
I think this is a massively important question for Australian people today. I think that most people in Australia today and some people in the church do think they’re good enough for God, and that I think is one of the biggest objections to Christianity and the Church and religions: you just don’t need it if you’re good enough for God. We’re spending our Sunday mornings looking at some of the big objections to Christianity and I reckon there are lots and lots of people in this country who will say basically I’ve nothing to do with Christianity, I don’t need it, I’ve nothing to do with God, I don’t need him, I’m good enough as I am.
I think therefore this is one of the most common and one of the most dangerous objections to the Christian faith. One guy in the Good Weekend [magazine], a few weeks ago, called Ian, said: “I’m not religious, I believe if you’re honest with people, you don’t lie and you don’t cheat, why do you need religion?” In other words he says “I’m fine, if I meet God I’ll be fine”.
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At Funerals We Hope People Were Good Enough
You know this comes out also at funerals because you just imagine the funeral you’ve been to and somebody stands up and gives the eulogy and at some point in the eulogy they say something like this: “he/she was loving and kind and thoughtful and a great member of our family and a great friend and now he/she is in a better place”. Or they’ll say: “he/she is up there now looking down at us having a drink, having a laugh, looking down at us because he/she is fine, he/she made it. They were good enough for God”.
If you’re insensitive enough to jump up in the middle of this eulogy, crazy enough and call out to the person –
“could you please tell me how you know they’re fine?” I imagine that somebody could come back and say “well God is love, what do you expect? Why would He reject someone, especially why would He reject someone who has been doing their best? It is a basic rule of decency that you don’t reject someone who has tried to do their best”.
In fact somebody else might say: “those people who say ‘not good enough’, parents, teachers, they’re the people that raised demoralised, insecure, unhappy children. So if there is a god,” says the person at the eulogy, “we do the best we can, that’s all there is to it! It’s not good enough for God? Well that’s too bad! We don’t need religious people telling us that they’re better than we are. We don’t need religious people telling us that they, because they are so pious and go to church and are going to have front row seats in heaven, and we won’t”. I think that’s the sort of thing an objector to Christianity might say.
Now in the face of very strong feelings on this, very common feelings on this, I don’t want to tell you this morning what I think and I don’t (and I say this politely) want to hear what you think! I want to ask what does Jesus Christ say, because He’s the expert. He’s the expert on heaven and I hope that as we look at these few verses this morning, you’ll see what a genius He is. I hope that you’ll change your thinking. I hope that you’ll love what He says and of course it will be bad news for you if you’re a proud sort of person and you’re closed but it will be wonderful news if you are humble and you’re open and I have two small points this morning.
- Why Good is Irrelevant
- Why Grace is so Relevant
Why Good is Irrelevant
Why Good is Irrelevant – that’s our first point. Here is Jesus’ story – Luke 18 – we heard it read for us a minute ago. I’m just going to read three of the verses:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and another a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself – “God I thank you I’m not like other men, a robber”, etcetera. The tax collector stood at a distance and he would not even look up to heaven but beat his breast and said – “God have mercy on me, the sinner.”
I want to tell you some things about these two men. First they are very different men. These men unfortunately in the 21st Century have lost their shock value. Just like if you hear The Good Samaritan in Jesus’ Day was like a drug dealer. Today, when you hear ‘Samaritan’, you immediately think a bit of a ‘Saint’.
So let’s think of a Pharisee of being like a fireman. A fireman I understand has the most popular community job. So this man is a fireman, he has 6 children. Let’s imagine he’s respected and loved by everybody. He runs the youth programme at the church and this is how he prays: “God I thank you I’m not a bad man. I’m not like that man over there, I do plenty of good things”. What’s interesting about this fireman’s prayer is that it is exactly right – it is true. On a social scale he’s a very good man, he feels like a good man, he’s thought to be a good man, he’s not afraid, he’s not worried, there he is in the temple, he’s probably up the front and he’s pretty confident.
“The tax collector is like a man who goes to his doctor and says: ‘Doctor, I’m dying’.”
Now think of the tax collector as a bit like a petty criminal. He keeps strange hours. He’s very unsociable, he’s untrustworthy, he’s disliked, he’s unwanted and he prays like this: “God have mercy on me the sinner”. That’s his prayer and he’s absolutely right – he needs mercy and he feels like he needs mercy. He’s probably up the back of the temple. He’s probably in the doorway. He’s got his head down. He feels completely desperate. He’s got no answers but God. They are very different men.
Secondly, they have got very different estimates of their need. The Pharisee has no sense of need at all. He’s there at the temple to tell God I’m basically a good man. The tax collector has a huge sense of need. He knows he’s not a good man. He knows the temple is where God may listen to him.
One writer says – we should imagine the Pharisee as being like a man who goes to the doctor and waits in the waiting room and when he gets into the surgery, he says to the doctor: “Doctor I’ve come to tell you that I am in triple-A-plus health – and I just came to tell you!” And the doctor just sort of scratches his head and thinks “Well what does he want me to do? Is this parade day for the healthy? What am I meant to do with this man? Am I meant to applaud him? I could examine him and probably scare him but what does he want me to do? He doesn’t want me to do anything.” So the patient turns around and goes home exactly as he came.
The tax collector is like another man who goes to his doctor and says: “Doctor, I’m dying”. The doctor examines and helps him, examines and fixes him and this man goes home very differently.
Two Different People, Two Different Prayers, Two Different Outcomes
It is possible, you see, to come into a building like this, into a church and feel absolutely no desperation with God, no need for mercy. A person could come in and feel that there are no big issues between them and God. All is well. They go home exactly the same. But it’s also possible because of God’s kindness for a person to come into this building, or to be anywhere for that matter, they could be in the park, they could be at the beach, they could be at the shops and they’re suddenly completely aware that God is perfect and they are not, there is a huge need and they call to him and say “I’m conscious of a huge need, a huge gulf, eternal gulf, please help me!” That person is wonderfully listened to by God and wonderfully transformed by God. So there are different estimates.
Thirdly, they have different prayers. The Pharisee of course mentions God in his prayer. He is very thankful but it’s basically a little hymn all about himself. One Bishop called Bishop Ryle says this is a prayer that would suit an angel. It’s not a prayer that suits a sinner. It’s a very self-confident prayer. “God I thank you I’m not a bad man, I’m not like that man. I do good things”. It’s not a prayer that really looks to God and it’s pretty boastful. What he does, he lists some ritual that goes way beyond what God expects of people.
“The Pharisee just says some words, the tax collector actually prays with meaning.”
Now the tax collector’s prayer actually calls on God and he asks for something that only God can give. He asks for mercy. It’s not obvious as you read this in the English but he’s using a word that has to do with “God I’ve come into the temple. At the temple the sacrifices are offered. An animal is killed in place of the sinner. On the animal goes the penalty. To the sinner who asks goes the pardon. I’m coming to the temple God because I know that sacrifices are being made to save me. I’m asking for the pardon”. That’s the way the prayer of this tax collector goes.
So the Pharisee just says some words, the tax collector actually prays with meaning. The Pharisee does not connect. The tax collector connects. Different prayers.
Then fourthly there are two different outcomes. “One of them”, says Jesus, “goes home justified”. And here is Jesus, this is what the word justified means – Jesus is giving this man the verdict from God’s law court. Jesus is stepping in and saying – “I’m the judge of the world and I’m telling you that this man who has called for mercy has been given by the Law Court of God a clean bill of health. He’s been forgiven and he’s going to be treated as righteous.”
You Want to be Okay on Judgment Day
Now friends, this is a very astonishing thing because everybody knows that if there is a judgment day, you want to be OK on the judgment day. Most people assume they will be OK on the judgment day because if you’re like me, you’ve always got away with things. When you were a kid, you knew how to sort of get around a teacher and get your way through and explain things to your parents. Most people think that when they get to the judgment day they’ll just be fine, it will be fine, let’s be optimistic, it will be fine. The Bible says you’ll need to be perfect in God’s Court Room. There’s only two ways to be perfect – one is to be perfect like Jesus, which none of us has done, the other one is to call for mercy and to be given by God justification which means you are now washed and made clean.
If you’re going to survive the Court Room of God, I say, you need to be perfect. Nobody is perfect. Here’s a man, the tax collector, he’s not perfect but Jesus declares that he is justified, not condemned, justified is the opposite of condemned. You see therefore that Jesus is not interested in good or bad. He’s not interested in whether you are good. He’s not interested in whether you are bad. He’s only got one question for you today and that is “have you been justified?”
Good/bad is irrelevant to him. He does not measure us as we measure ourselves. He does not measure as we measure other people. He doesn’t reward as we like to think we get rewarded. No. He gives justification to the person who asks for God’s mercy.
What Does God Say About You?
Now friends if you understand this, you will understand Christianity. The crucial assessment, you see, if you want to know what God thinks of you, is not what you think of yourself. It’s not what other people think of you. It’s what God says about you and you can therefore pass through this world and the world can applaud you and you can applaud yourself but if you find yourself in God’s Court Room and He says “condemn” it’s all over.
On the other hand, you can pass through this world, reviled by the world and happy with yourself and yet you land in God’s Court Room and He says, “Welcome. You are a justified person. You called for mercy. I gave it to you. I made you fit and ready for this day and you are ready forever”. Well why does God do this? Not because He feels generous, not because we are owed it, He does it because He took our condemnation and He put it over on Jesus. That’s what happened at the cross; Jesus got the condemnation that you and I deserve. Now God gives to those that call to Him for mercy the pardon and the new start which Jesus deserves and He gives it at Jesus expense as a gift.
That is why good is irrelevant. The question is: “Are you justified, are you made washed, righteous?”
Why Grace is So Relevant
The second point this morning Why Grace is So Relevant.
Someone sent me not long ago the brief speeches which had been made by Tony Blair and Barack Obama at a meeting in Washington to discuss the subject of faith. Both of these men are interested in faith as a vital force today. What amazed me as I read the two speeches is that Blair and Obama both would call themselves Christians but neither of them can bring themselves to say that the object of your faith really matters. If you were to read the papers that they gave, they’re basically saying that if you’ve got your faith, put it anywhere, if you’ve got your faith put it in anyone because the object is basically nowhere in their papers.
Now I want to say to you that the object of faith is crucial, absolutely crucial. That’s why grace is so relevant.
“When the object of faith is the God of the Bible, and you call to Him, you get everything you need for salvation.”
First, it trusts in God. The Pharisee has put his faith not in God. He has put his faith in himself and therefore misses everything that God could possibly give him. The object of faith is crucial because if you have got massive faith at the top of the Blue Mountains and very great peace about the car that you are about to step into but the car that you step in to has no brakes, it doesn’t matter how much faith you have and it doesn’t matter how much peace you have, it is fairly likely that as you head down the mountains, the car will crash because the object of the faith is crucial.
On the other hand, you could be up in Katoomba and you could be filled with fear and you have no faith whatsoever in the car and you could be lacking in peace totally and step into a car that is mechanically perfect and the chances are, the likelihood is that you’ll drive down that particular road and you will survive well because the object of your faith is everything. When the object of faith is God, the God of the Bible, and when you call to Him, you get everything. Everything you need for salvation.
Grace Faces the Truth
The second thing about grace is that it faces the truth. The trouble with people who think of themselves as being good but have no time for God is not that they are not useful; they are useful. It’s not that they are not helpful; they are helpful. It’s not that they’re not nice people; they are nice people. It’s not that they lack peace; they may have peace. It’s not that they lack faith; they may have faith in themselves. The problem is that they just ignore God’s greatness. They think that his standard does not matter. Does God say ‘perfect’ is the standard for heaven? Well we don’t care. It’s going to be good, good enough will do. But God won’t change his standard. And so good people can be incredibly proud because they act as if God is irrelevant and they act as if God is non-existent and all the time they are living in his house and they are eating his food and they are drinking his water.
Good people also can ignore the unspeakable generosity of God in giving His Son to pay for our sin. What could be worse than to turn your back on the greatest, kindest thing that has ever been done for you in the universe? So the question that good, non-Christian people ought to ask is, and they ought to answer this satisfactorily: “Why did Jesus die if He didn’t have to die? Because He could have easily got out of it!” But He didn’t get out of it because He wanted to make a payment for you, and you need it.
That’s why He died and when we face the truth of God and we realise that both the men in Luke 18 in this story Jesus told, both of them deserve to be condemned as we deserve to be condemned as well, but one of them faces his need and calls to God for mercy and is wonderfully given justification, washing, new start and that man is able to live with the verdict all his days.
Grace Appreciates Jesus
Then grace is also relevant because it appreciates Jesus. Everybody who ever thinks seriously about God says, “How can I know?” God says, “I’ve given you the Scriptures”. Everybody who ever thinks seriously about God says, “How can I relate to God?” God’s answer is, “I’ve acted”. Jesus has died to save you, to build a bridge from you to me and this Word of God and this Work of God are both finished, the Word and Work of God is finished. They have been done as the Bible says, “once for all”. What God does now is He impacts people and causes them to hear the Word and say, that’s for me. And to understand the work of Jesus and say, that’s for me and when you say, that’s for me and you ask, you receive and you stand right with God for eternity.
I notice in England next year that they have taken a leaf out of the Sydney book and they are planning a kind of Connect-09, and their year about outreach is going to be called “Passion for Life’. I think that’s a very clever phrase because you know that when Jesus died it’s called “The Passion” and therefore it’s because He did the Passion, a person is able to get eternal life. Because He took the suffering, you’re able to escape; because He took the judgment, you’re able to get the reward. Passion for Life.
The last thing, this morning – grace is relevant because is just asks to receive.
The Pharisee unfortunately is a DIY man. He says, “I’ll do it myself”, and he stays cut off from God forever. The tax collector is an SMS man – Save My Soul – and he’s wonderfully reconciled to God. The billion dollar question therefore is not “how are you going, how are you living, how are you feeling, how are you thinking, how are you believing?” The billion dollar question is “Who do you trust, who do you look to for your salvation, who do you call to, who have you cried out to?”
The Billion Dollar Question
Friends, if you believe that that’s important, your kids will know. If you believe that that’s the billion dollar question and it is, you won’t be here just once a term, you be here every week. You’ll find a little Bible for your kids and you’ll be reading it to them and you’ll be helping them to understand the greatness of the Lord Jesus. Those of you who are regulars here – if you believe that’s the billion dollar question, you also will cause your children to know this is the Big Issue. Bigger than the school they go to. Bigger than the education they get. Bigger than the university degree. Bigger than the car they drive. It will be: do they know and stay close to Jesus the Saviour?
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that immediately after this parable there is the story of the children coming to Jesus and they come so humbly. They teach us a lesson, don’t they? They know how to receive. They don’t stand proud.
Could I close by giving you one more illustration? Those of you who have ever seen a Communion Service, a Lord’s Supper take place in a church will know that in the traditional church, what happens is that a person gets up from their seat and they walk up to that rail at the table and they normally kneel at the rail. We’ve stopped doing it in this church because there is just too long a queue – but normally you would kneel at the rail and then what would you do? You would put out an empty hand and somebody holding the piece of bread would say to you, “Take”, and you would take.
That is an excellent illustration of salvation. We kneel before God, we hold out an empty hand with nothing to boast of and nothing to claim and God says – not, “take a piece of bread” – “take my Son and you will be his forever” and you receive Him and from that day forward you belong to Him and you’ll always belong to Him. He’ll shepherd you and protect you and provide for you all the way to glory. That’s why there is no more important message in all the world.
Good enough for God? Impossible. Jesus came down and died for us but when we call to Him we are ready to meet Him.
Let pray together – let’s bow our heads,
[Prayer]: Our gracious God, we want to finish at this moment by lifting up our prayer to you, not just empty talk but to say to you that we are so thankful that you didn’t leave us to ourselves but you have sent your Son and you have given your promise. We thank you what He achieved and we thank you for what we are able to receive. And we pray that you would give to the children of this church and the youth and the adults the prayer of the tax collector to call for mercy, to receive it, to rejoice in it, to go home right with you and to be everyday in your fellowship until we meet you face to face.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name.
- For more in this series, head to ‘Facing Up to Disbelief – A 5-Part Christian Growth Series’.