For several years I worked in college ministry in the city of Chicago. Every year we would host various outreach events which were aimed at answering peoples’ questions about the Christian faith and introducing them to Jesus.
During one of these meetings I was approached by a young man who had a very good question.
I don’t know why Jesus is necessary. I mean…you guys keep saying that we need to believe in Jesus in order to be saved, but I just don’t know why. Why isn’t it enough to just be a good person?
It was a good question. It was an honest question. So I responded, “Well, what do you mean by ‘good’?” He then launched into an amazing definition.
Being good is about loving other people and putting them and their needs before our own. To be a good person means that we don’t lie, we don’t cheat, we don’t steal. Rather we serve others and work for their benefit. We put them first and ourselves second.
Honestly, it was a good definition. It was a beautiful definition. So I responded, “You know what? I think you are absolutely right. In fact, I think that your definition is one that any Christian can agree with. But it raises another issue.”
I then posed the following scenario:
Imagine that I had a camera that filmed all the twenty-one years of your life, both what you have done in public, but also what you have done in private. And imagine that this camera could not only capture what you’ve done, but also the thoughts of your mind and the impulses of your heart. If I played that video back to you, how well have you done living up to your own definition of what it means to be good?
Suddenly the young man’s attitude changed and the excuses began to flow.
Well…I mean…I haven’t always been that good. I mean, yeah, I’ve told a lie here and there, and done some stuff that I’m not proud of. But look! Nobody’s perfect, right?!
I responded, “Yes! That’s absolutely right! And that’s the problem. If we can’t even live up to our own standards, what makes us think that we can live up to God’s?”
You see, the Bible takes very seriously the calling to be good. In fact, I would say that Christianity has some of the highest standards of any ethical system on the planet. The reason is because we, as human beings, are made in the image of God. And because we are made in the image of God, God is the standard for all of our conduct and character. This is the reason Jesus himself says
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48 ESV)
That is the standard. God Himself is the bar by which we are measured.
One of the things that we hear over and over again in Scripture is that none of us can possibly live up to our own standards, much less God’s. In fact, at one point the apostle Paul collected and spouted off a whole host of passages from throughout Scripture about the ways in which we, as human beings, constantly fall short of God’s standards. At the end he summarizes it all with these haunting words:
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23 ESV)
And this is why Jesus is so necessary. We need Jesus because being good just isn’t good enough. This is why Paul wrote:
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 ESV)
In Jesus Christ, God Himself enters our world, lives alongside us, loves us, and, ultimately, dies for us on the Cross for all the ways that we have fallen short. Jesus lives the life we should have lived and dies the death we should have died, so that we – imperfect people that we are – can have new life with God. So that we can stand in His perfect, pure, and holy presence as His beloved children. When God looks at us, he doesn’t see our imperfections and our shortcomings. He sees the perfect life of Christ.
And for all of us who fall short, that is the best news in the world.