Are We Good Enough?


y grandfather, Irvin Temple, was an uneducated cotton farmer from northern Louisiana. He was a heavy drinker who loved to fight and carouse. For all of his faults, he had some good qualities. He loved his dad, who suffered greatly from rheumatoid arthritis.

When my grandpa heard a “healer” was coming to a nearby church, he picked up his dad and took him for prayer. My great-grandfather was not healed that night; the Lord had a different plan. Instead, my grandfather was dramatically, instantly saved, and was healed of a physical ailment he had been struggling with. He was immediately delivered from all desire for alcohol, baptized with the Holy Spirit, and called into ministry.

Why do some people get radically saved, while others never see their need for salvation? Why do some make a profession of faith and then walk away from it? Why do others go to the altar at every opportunity, profess to be saved, but never show any fruit of salvation?

Let’s look at three popular ideas which affect how the Gospel is received: (1) Good people go to heaven. (2) Try Jesus; He will make your life better. (3) Just repeat after me.

Good people go to heaven.

Ask anyone you encounter, “Are you a good person?” Almost everyone will say, “Yes, I am a pretty good person,” or “I am trying to be.”

This should not surprise us. Proverbs 20:6 says, “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness.” When we compare ourselves to those around us, we consider our better qualities against their worse qualities—and we come out looking good. Yet, the Biblical standard of comparison is not our neighbor, or the ruffian we went to school with; the standard is God himself, who says, “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

We fall woefully short of this standard because we are not good. We are sinners. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

We are depraved from birth, with a broken, twisted nature inherited from Adam, through his fall in the Garden of Eden. There is no good deed nor any religious ritual we can do to fix it. We are lost. Until we see our spiritual hopelessness, we will never see our need for a Savior.

Try Jesus; He will make your life better.

During a mission trip to Pakistan a number of years ago, I prayed with a woman whose face was a horrible mask of scar tissue from an acid attack. She had been assaulted simply because she was following Jesus. From an earthly standpoint, her life had become much harder after she accepted Christ. Psalm 34:19a was her reality: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” Her hope was not in a better life now. Instead, her hope was in the knowledge that her sins were forgiven and she would one day inherit heaven. Then she will realize the promise of Psalm 34:19b—“but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.”

Evangelist Ray Comfort of Living Waters Ministry uses an illustration I have appreciated in countering this false idea that Jesus came primarily to give us a better life. Imagine being on a plane and the flight attendant approaches you with a parachute. The attendant says: “Put this on. It will improve your flight. You will enjoy the movie more. Your meal will taste better. You will rest well. Give this parachute a try, and see how much better your flight is.”

As you ease into the straps of the parachute, you are hopeful. After a few minutes, though, you notice the parachute is heavy and uncomfortable. Your meal tastes the same as airplane food always tastes. The movie is no more enjoyable than it was.

Worse, some of the other passengers are pointing at you. They are laughing at your discomfort. When the flight attendant walks back up the aisle and spills hot coffee in your lap, you realize you have been lied to. Your flight has not gotten better. If anything, it has gotten worse. In disgust you take off the parachute, vowing to never put one on again.

If the plane was in trouble, I would put on the parachute. What about you?

Now imagine a somewhat different scenario. You are on a plane and a flight attendant approaches you with a parachute. “We have just received terrible news. This plane is going to crash. Somehow we are losing fuel, and we cannot go much farther. The stress has caused the pilot to have a heart attack. There is no way to safely land over these jagged mountains. We are not sure how much time we have, but there is no question—we are going to crash. The only hope for survival is to put on this parachute and prepare to jump.”

I would put on the parachute; what about you? It would not matter what food was served or how it tasted. I would not care about the move that was playing. It would not matter who was laughing and whether or not I was the only one wearing a parachute. And when the flight attendant poured hot coffee in my lap, it would only make me look forward to jumping out of the plane.

Jesus did not come with the priority of making our lives more comfortable. He came to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21).

Just repeat after me.

Why do some people make a profession of faith, yet are clearly not saved? Could it be that a poor methodology has contributed to making false converts? I have been in many churches where the “sinner’s prayer” was recited at the end of the sermon.

“Do you want to be saved? Then repeat after me. . . .” Usually every head is bowed and every eye is closed (except for those of us peeking to see who needs to get saved). The words are repeated casually, perhaps accompanied by yawns or the sound of gum-chewing. Then a declaration is made: “If you just prayed this prayer, congratulations. You are saved.”

Imagine a man who has betrayed his wife and wants to be reconciled and forgiven. Would he approach his wife accompanied by another man recruited to tell him what to say? Of course not. If he were genuinely repentant, he would not need to be fed the words of another. He would pour his heart out.

How would the offended wife receive an apology repeated from a third party? Would it move her to forgive? Certainly not.

Repentance is not a matter of words only, but a matter of the heart. “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18). He will never reject “a broken and a contrite heart” (51:17).

“There is salvation in no one else” (Acts 4:12 NASB).

Salvation is ultimately about the issue of sin. Christ came to save sinners, and the way of salvation is through Him alone. Romans 10:10 says, “With the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (NKJV). Jesus took our place by paying the penalty for our sins, the death sentence, so we could have eternal life (6:23). Though Christ never sinned, God the Father allowed Him to be treated as a sinner, so Jesus could make us acceptable to God (2 Corinthians 5:21). “For God hath not appointed us to wrath [which we deserve], but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

Like me, you are not a good person; you are a sinner. We put our trust in the resurrected Jesus not for a better life on earth, but for the assurance of sins forgiven.

Jay Temple is teaching and missions pastor at Nortonsville Church of God in Dyke, Virginia.