There is an eternal difference between doing good and being good.
Like many people, I grew up in an environment of work-based relationships, which led to years of being disillusioned, dissatisfied, and dysfunctional. I was frustrated and hopeless. When I was four years old, my dad had an affair that ultimately led to my parents getting divorced. Although I did not have the maturity to articulate my feelings, I can tell you that I believed that I was at fault even at that young age. I thought that perhaps if I were a better kid, my dad would not have walked out of my life to start another family.
A few years later, my mom started dating a new man. I am told the first time her boyfriend came over to meet me, I rushed to the door, hugged his legs, and asked, “Are you going to be my new daddy?” From that point on, I was determined to do everything in my power to please him, to work so hard that he would never have a reason to leave me as my biological dad did.
Eventually, my mom married this man, and I quickly discovered that he was the smartest, strongest, and most talented man in my world. The bar was set high in this work-based relationship! My new dad was a third-degree black belt in taekwondo, so I decided to earn his love by taking karate lessons. Unfortunately, I was the clumsiest kid in the world—the one who often fell putting on his pants and occasionally fell going up the stairs! During one karate lesson, I attempted to do a roundhouse kick that I had seen in a movie, only to face-plant on the mat in front of all my classmates. I was so embarrassed that I quit studying karate.
My stepdad was also an Eagle Scout, so I joined the Cub Scouts and decided to work my way through Boy Scouts to achieve the same rank. After a few months, our Cubmaster called my parents for a meeting to discuss my poor behavior. That put an end to my Scouting career.
My stepdad was also a bicycle racer—at one point, he was even sponsored by 7-Eleven. One day, I visited his bike workshop and asked if he would train me. As I waited with the group for the horn to blow at my first race, I proudly looked to the sidelines to see my mom and stepdad cheering me on. I think I made it one mile into the five-mile race before I pulled off to the side of the road and leaned my bike against a tree, struggling to catch my breath. I will never forget that old Chevrolet Chevet pulling over, my stepdad loading my bike on the rack, and the three of us driving home in complete silence as I sat in the back seat, defeated once again.
Since my stepdad held a master’s degree from Penn State University in acoustical consulting, my last effort was to excel academically. No matter how hard I tried, report card after report card was sent home with consistent D’s and the occasional C, which were met with constant groundings and reprimands. After a fifth-grade parent-teacher conference confirmed to me that I was worthless, I gave up on that path as well. I realized I would never work hard enough to win my stepdad’s approval, acceptance, or applause.
Things didn’t get any better. Over the years, counselors lamented that I would never amount to anything. Teachers reviewed my work and declared that I was no good. Adults discounted me as worthless, and other children shunned me as damaged goods. In a world where doing good was rewarded, my trophy shelf remained empty.
I wasted many years of my life trying to do good to please those around me: my parents, family, counselors, teachers, bosses, and friends. All of these folks came at me from different directions and perspectives, their well-intentioned voices echoing the same sentiment: “Tom, do good!” And for many years, I felt like a failure for not living up to that expectation. I never dreamed that one day I could be good.
I have learned a valuable lesson over the years; if you are trying to do good without being good first, you will always come up short and fail. We simply lack the desire and power (Rom. 7). That is the fundamental problem with every religion, save one. They all tell you to “just do good” as if anyone is capable of meeting such high expectations. You will always fail because you will never be good enough, strong enough, ethical enough, or moral enough to complete the wheel of Buddha, keep the laws of Judaism, erect the five pillars of Islam, or follow the tenants of Hinduism. Every religion is a works-based relationship; you do good, and the god or goddess of that religion will be pleased with and possibly even love you. However, when you fail, that same deity will exact vengeance, and their anger will be kindled against you. This is where Christianity rises above them all; while it is a works-based relationship, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, did all of the works for us; He took our place on the cross where the winds of God’s wrath blew so that we can have acceptance and love from God through Him. We just need to receive His sacrifice and love. And, when we surrender to His love for us, He fills us with the desire and power to be good, so that doing good just happens (II Cor. 5:17).
Scripture: “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.” -Psalm 37:3, ESV
Question: Do you find yourself believing that your works determine your admittance to or rejection from Heaven? As a follower of Jesus Christ, do you ever try to work harder to receive more love from God?
Prayer: Father, please help me to see there is nothing I can do that would compel you to have a greater love for me, and nothing I can do that would ever separate me from your amazing love. Thank you for loving me where I am and thank you for a love that never leaves me there. Instead of trying to prove my love for you, or earn my place in heaven, may I just bask in presence and enjoy your company. Thank you for loving me and may I learn to enjoy, and be grateful for, what I have not earned. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.