You might wonder why we put these two objections in the same blog when they seem so opposite to one another. One person thinks they are good enough for God and the other thinks they are so bad that God wouldn’t accept them.
But in reality, both of these objections have the same problem. They both assume that being right with God comes from how good we are. One person assumes that they are already good enough and the other that they could never be good enough, but both people think being good enough is what matters!
The answer for both is God’s grace.
When we look at the stories in the Bible it’s obvious that salvation is not just for good people.
Think of the criminal who was crucified next to Jesus. We don’t know precisely what he had done, but we do know that the Romans only reserved crucifixion for the worst of the worst. So it’s safe to say that he wasn’t a good person. The story can be found in Luke 23:39-43, “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”
It’s clear that he didn’t have to do anything good to be saved. It was his faith in what Jesus could do for him that made the difference.
Then there is the story of Paul. In 1 Timothy 1:15 Paul says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Think also of how Paul persecuted the early church before he was saved. And yet God forgave him and transformed his life. The good he did as an Apostle didn’t earn his salvation—it came after he was saved. The reality, Paul says, is that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”, not righteous people.
What does the Bible say about the people who saw themselves as “good” and thought they were religious enough to be accepted by God?
They were the Pharisees, extremely good people. They kept all the laws, they gave to the poor and seemingly never did anything wrong. But in Luke 18:10-14 we can read this story: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’”
Then there is the story of the rich young ruler. The story is in Mark 10 and in it the young man says in relation to keeping the commandments “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” His keeping all the rules and being a good person did not mean that he was justified before God.
We can see from these four stories that there is no such thing as being too bad to be saved. But neither is there such a thing as being good enough that you don’t need saving either. Remember that when we are justified by faith and we say that nothing we do will ever get us into heaven, well the opposite also has to be true—nothing we do can ever disqualify us from heaven! It’s not what we do, but what Jesus has done for us that matters.
When you talk with someone who feels they are good enough for God, simply share one of these stories with them and ask them where they see themselves in the story. Talk with them about what God’s grace means. Take them to Ephesians 2:8-9.
If you feel comfortable, talk about your own life before you were saved. Some of the struggles you had, or some of the things that you felt made you a good person. Your personal testimony can make more of an impact than even you think!
When talking with a person who feels they are too bad for God, these same stories will serve you well. Ask them if they identify with the man who cried out to God, so aware that he was a sinner. Share with them about Jesus’ cry from the cross, “It is finished”, and assure them that he finished paying for the sins of the world, including theirs.
Share the meaning of grace that uses the word as an acronym: GRACE = God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.