The Sin of Being Good

Erik Cooper —  August 20, 2014 — 8 Comments

I’m a church kid. I admit it. Let all Petra listening, Michael W. Smith dressing, Amy Grant secular crossover questioning 40-somethings stand up and be counted! I’m not ashamed.

OK, maybe I’m a little ashamed (mostly of the Petra Praise phenomenon, but alas).

I was a good kid. I had a sensitive heart. I didn’t like to disappoint my parents, my teachers, my youth pastors, and most of all…God. And so I embraced the quintessential good kid persona. I went to church, abstained from sex, didn’t swear, never drank alcohol, avoided rated R movies, parties on the weekends, and hanging Metallica posters on my wall.

And I don’t regret any of it. In fact, if I had it to do over again I would attempt to play all my cards exactly the same way. Being good solves a whole lot of problems, rest assured.

But it doesn’t make you righteous.

And that’s where I fear many of us (myself included) often stumble. We’ve defined sin and righteousness as behaviors, actions, and outward tangibles we can measure and see.

  • Going to a rated R movie = Sin
  • Going to a church youth group = Righteousness
  • Partying on the weekend = Sin
  • Avoiding cuss words = Righteousness

(The list could go endlessly on).

And that’s no small mistake. Why? You may have some difficulty believing this, but our desire to be rebellious pleasure seekers and our discipline to be squeaky-clean rule-followers actually originate in the same place…

…our insatiable desire to be our own savior.

Yeah, I know. It was a hard one for me to swallow, too. But sin isn’t rooted in our actions, it’s rooted in where we find our identity. In whom we place our trust.

It’s easy to see the sin in pleasure-seeking and self-obsession. It’s harder to convince yourself it’s just as present in your line-towing and self-righteousness. But be honest, our motivation in “being good” originates in our insatiable longing to secure our identity in our works. We want to be in control. We want to prove we’re “better than them.” We want to save ourselves.

  • If I obey, God will approve of me.
  • If I follow the rules, God will do what I want Him to do.
  • If I do good, God will do good things to me.

I am the source, my actions are the trigger, and God responds to me. I find my identity in my work for Him instead of His work for me. I begin to trust in my “goodness” and not His.

And that, my friends, is sin. The sin of “being good.”

So what am I suggesting? Should we throw out our attempts to be good right along with those old CCM CD’s? Of course not (some of those albums will be collector’s items soon). Being good is good. It’s wise. I highly recommend it.

But it’s not righteousness. That can only come from one place, and it’s not you. The Gospel is for “good people,” too.

8 responses to The Sin of Being Good

  1. would you be willing to read this for radio? I’m about to restart my 80s-90s radio show as a retro show. You would likely have been a listener if you were local to one of our stations.

  2. Lincoln Thompson August 21, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    Ugh. This is so totally right. Crazy how we manage to flip-flop our places; which is to say, His & ours in the salvation equation. I’m totally guilty of this one all the time without even trying! It’s engrained in my performance based consciousness. We either can’t seem to accept grace because of that programming or we figure out a way to take advantage of it by combining both perspectives into a spiritual charge account. We feel pretty good as long as we keep up with the minimum payment! Point of interest: how do we deal with the dual truths of grace & accountability? I believe one ultimately leads to the other, which in turn leads to victory over the false premise of performance based righteousness you’re talking about. Ahgh, gonna start rambling. Another good one Erik.

    • Great question Linc. Grace doesn’t mean the “rules” (Law) doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s quite the opposite as I see it. If we have a HIGH view of the Law, then we will have a HIGH view of grace. God is holy. The Law reveals not only His demands, but His CHARACTER. The Law is good, but it’s incredibly high expectations are what drive us to the Gospel. Accountability is important, per se, but only as it drives us to the unmerited goodness and love of Jesus and His FINISHED work for us. That’s what we must continue to remind each other of…

  3. John Brockman Crane August 29, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Good word, Erik! (Next time, don’t forget to mention Stryper somewhere in there… 🙂

  4. Do you think religion evolves? not the faith but the way people find faith

    • That’s a fascinating question Jamey, one I’d probably be more apt to discuss over lunch (or maybe 9 holes). Tim Keller says, “Religion is in essence advice – this is what you need to do to connect with God. But the Gospel is NEWS – this is what HAS BEEN DONE for you IN HISTORY so that you can connect with God.” Religion is man’s way of searching for God – in ritual, good works, etc. None of those things are inherently bad, but they aren’t the way God intended for us to find Him. It’s HIS work, not ours that makes a relationship with God possible. So, to attempt to address your question….I do think religion “evolves,” in that man is constantly looking for the right “formula” to find God. But the truth of the Gospel is never changing. That’s what we need to cling to.

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