Gods At War, Week 4 — The “Good god” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s sermon ….

  • Was related though different at our Moss and Zoar Campuses, as Chris Thayer preached live at Moss and I preached live at Zoar. We used different scriptures and different pathways to get to the same bottom line (see below);
  • In my version, jumped from Mark 10:18 to James 2:10 before settling in at Romans 5:15-19
  • Compared our “goodness” to ice cream sprinkled with dog droppings and ice tea with a dash of sewage. Really.
  • Landed at this bottom line: Why trust your goodness, which is flawed, when you can trust Jesus’, which is perfect?


So we’ve been talking about Gods At War at GS and over the last few weeks, we’ve looked at God’s jealousy, we’ve look at the gods of pleasure and even at the god of romance. But today, I think, is the most dangerous and insidious and harmless-sounding god of them all, which is the Good god. (Note what is capitalized and what is not.) This is not the God is great, God is good. Nope, that’s the real God. It’s instead the god we make out of being good. The god we make out of doing good. The god we make out of trusting our own sense of goodness for making life here and for gaining life in the hereafter. It’s the Good … god.
Think about it, moms and dads. This subject governs so much of your conversation with your kids … you want them to “be good.” Gosh, it’s the motivation behind a lot of Santa Claus talk … you KNOW you want your young uns to be on the “nice” side and not the “naughty”! It’s why a lot of parents bring their kids to church or to scouts or to both: Just teach em to be good, please! It’s even why when people get older it’s a great honor to be known as a “Good Egg”! It’s even why at my son’s rehearsal dinner awhile back, I lost it – LOST. IT.! – when one of his groomsmen toasted with “he’s a good man.” What more could you want? Yep, it’s good, we applaud, and we TRUST good. And sometimes we love our goodness so much it even becomes a god.
Because here’s the thing. It’s so harmless, so pleasant, so GOOD SOUNDING that many of us, consciously or not, trust that our goodness will earn God’s forgiveness, both in the here and now and the there and then. It’s sort of the mindset of good people go to heaven. Like, for a lot of you, if you were asked last night Where will you go after you die and why?, a lot of your answers would have included things like “Well, I always …” or “Because I never …´or even “I’m not perfect but I am better than most.” Now: some of you may not even believe there is an afterlife and if that’s you, I’m glad you’re here & hope today both helps & challenges you.
But it’s almost as if EVERYBODY knows that good people go to heaven and that’s even why God set up heaven & hell – to encourage the kind of goodness that makes this world a better place and then ensure you GO TO the even better place after you die. It’s interesting: a few years ago there was a poll on the afterlife and the kind of people respondents expected to go to heaven. Some of the results: (AV) Mother Teresa 79% (what about the other 21??!!), Oprah 66%, Michael Jordan 65% (before ownership of the Hornets), and Colin Powell 61%. But do you know who topped the list? The person taking the survey! IOW most of us believe that good people go to heaven and most us count ourselves as good people? Whose bad? Anyone worse than me. Yeah, I think we believe that most people end up in heaven because most people are good, and most people are certainly better than most people.
Now; the little logical quibbles? Who decides what’s good? Or HOW good do you have to be? Top half? Or at least a C (70)? Even a B? (80?) How good is good enough? And even though we don’t quite know the answer to that or other questions, we still cling to the believe that good people go and I’m not perfect but pretty good and I’m going to trust that my goodness will gain me his heaven. It just makes sense; it simply seems fair.
And then Jesus. Then Jesus, in an apparently INCIDENTAL line that turns out to be MONUMENTAL says this in response to a young man’s question about inheriting eternal life in Mark 10:18:

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.

Oh. The air just left the room. No one is good but God alone. Now: don’t hear what Jesus is not saying. Some people are, objectively, “better” than others. Gandhi is better than Hitler; the Dalai Lamai is better than Osama Bin Laden. Yet oddly, strangely, we’re NOT compared to each other when it comes to the standard for eternity. We’re not in competition with each other and the “best” or the “goodest” 50% + 1 make it while the rest are lost. No, not fighting each other for a place in glory.
Our comparison is, at the end of the day, with God. And, gulp, no one is in the same league as either his character or his standard. Then James helps us understand why in James 2:10:

10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

Ah, if break one, you break ALL. One sin, one step out of alignment with God’s will and God’s best, and you might as well have broken them all. With one sin, you forfeit the title good and embrace the little lost … even if you’re better than most. And all of you, without exception, got that first sin, that first step towards self-destruction, out of the way a long time ago and ever since then you’ve just been adding to the list.
Because trusting in your goodness to gain you heaven after you die is so much like being offered a dish of ice cream. And it looks good. And just before you take the first bite, the server tells you, “Well, we mixed in just a little bit of dog … waste … in it. Just a small bit. Shouldn’t change the taste too much.” Would you still eat it? Of course not! Or you go to a different restaurant and they offer you some lemonade and the server says, “It also has just a drop or two of sewer water. We think it adds to the taste!” Would you drink it/ Of course not! And that – ice cream with just a dab of dog doo or lemonade with a splash of sewage – that’s the BEST that your goodness will ever get you. Because the BEST person in here – and we’ve got a lot of fabulous people – that’s still how sin makes the whole dish of YOU toxic, unacceptable for God’s presence in the after life. Your Good god is never, never good enough.
But God. But God, speaking through Paul, crystallizes everything I’m saying in Romans 5:15:

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!

OK, contrast the FIRST Adam who failed with the SECOND who did not. Paul goes on in 5:16:

16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.

Note the imbalance there. ONE SIN leads to condemnation (because in solidarity with the first Adam we repeat his story over and over) whereas MORE SINS leads not to more condemnation (like you’d think) but instead to salvation. Grace brings this imbalance. And then 5:19:

19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Ah, there it is. Jesus’ obedience, Jesus’ goodness, it is not FLAWED, it is not TOXIC, it has no dog waste or human sewage mixed in with the ice cream, it is instead perfect and pure. So really, Romans 5:19 presents us with a choice when we think of forever. You gonna trust YOUR goodness to get you there or his?
I ask that because if you’re trusting your goodness – either through a decision you’ve made that I’m good! or because you’ve never really thought about it deeply but figured that good people go – I need to ask why? Here’s a question with gods at war within us and for you who have been bowing to your own version of the Good god: Why trust your goodness, which is flawed, when you can trust Jesus’, which is perfect? Look at 5:19 AGAIN!!: READ OUT LOUD TOGETHER. Why would you ever trust in your obedience to get you there when you KNOW that your obedience has been disobedient? You can trust Jesus’ obedience which as you KNOW was perfect – through every pounding nail, every drop of blood, every anguished cry, every insult endured. His obedience was WITHOUT FLAW. And it’s HIS OBEDIENCE that I’m trusting with MY SOUL. MY goodness? Occasional. His? Eternal. Why trust your goodness, which is flawed, when you can trust Jesus’, which is perfect?
See, it makes me think of Muhammed Ali. He wasn’t just good, was he. He was THE GREATEST! But look what he said within the last 10 years or so of his life, once he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s: “I always liked to chase the girls. Parkinson’s stops all that. Now I might have a chance to go to heaven.” Do you see whose goodness he is trusting with his soul? His. Oh, way too much pressure there. You can’t perform will enough or consistently enough. It’s not performance for him; it’s position in him. Why trust your goodness, which is flawed, when you can trust Jesus’, which is perfect?
Or it’s like Dennis The Menace (AV) who was talking to his friend about why Mrs. Wilson gave them cookies. Listen, he said, Mrs. Wilson doesn’t give us cookies because WE’RE nice. It’s because SHE’S nice. And that’s our God. He doesn’t open up heaven to us because WE’RE good but because HE is. His obedience, to the Father, on the cross, and through to the resurrection, was perfect. I’m hitching my star to his wagon. Why trust your goodness, which is flawed, when you can trust Jesus’, which is perfect?
Even that question you may have asked: why do bad things happen to good people? Want to know the real answer? I don’t know. It’s only happened once. And he volunteered for it. Yes he did. Hallelujah, he volunteered for it. On our behalf. Why trust your goodness, which is flawed, when you can trust Jesus’, which is perfect?
What about you? Are you trusting YOU? Your goodness will be good enough, your obedience will be just obedient enough. And it just sorta makes sense that God saves the good and if there is even a hell, it’s for the bad. The really bad?
Listen: take your goodness, your performance, your “better than,” off this mantle up here. Remove the god you’ve made out of being and doing good. It will get you nowhere except the gates of hell. Your goodness is actually not very good. His is perfect. Why settle for yours when you can trust in his?
The truth is, when you trust in HIS goodness, your living is an act of grace and gratitude. You stop fighting FOR his love and you start living FROM it, which is liberating indeed. The “best” people I know are not the ones trying to be good; they’re the ones living life as a long thank you to the God who gives them life. It’s the best antidote to self-destruction … it’s why every alcoholic in this place will tell you that when they leaned on themselves, they drank. When they admitted they were powerless – that the goodness and healing and sobriety was God’s, not theirs! – then serenity came. Why trust your goodness, which is flawed, when you can trust Jesus’, which is perfect?
It’s like this note I received:

I was a very vocal non-believer just six years ago. I started coming to GSUMC after our son was born with the idea that I would let him make up his own mind. Sometime later that changed. It was on an Easter Sunday and y’all were talking about ‘get off the fence.’ I know it happened almost instantly. I no longer needed tangible proof of the Savior we call Jesus. I just knew that he was there for me and that I now belonged to him. Not sure what shape I would be in now without that peace of mind.