How Good Is Good Enough?
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
The story in our text reminds us, Jesus has more love than even His best disciples do. Never fear you will love others too much. Love them all you can, and you still won’t reach the level of His love for them.
Matt. 19:14a (Holman) Then Jesus said, “Leave the children alone, and don’t try to keep them from coming to Me,. . .”
We often do not want to be bothered by children. We did not learn this detachment from Jesus. It is wrong for a believer to make children feel they are a burden or in the way. Spiritual greatness spends itself on people who cannot pay it back. Even unbelievers are kind to people who can repay the kindness.
Children are under Jesus’ special care. Makes me wonder with chagrin, can we truly claim to be Christ-followers if children are afraid to play with us?
Matt. 19:14b “. . .because the kingdom of heaven is made up of people like this.”
Jesus said children were nearer to what He expected of people than any one else present was. The kingdom consists of childlike persons. Jesus loves their simplicity, innocence, humility, and trust (see Matt. 18:1-6). Life’s tragedy is, as we age we by nature tend to grow farther from, not nearer to, God.
Matt. 19:15 After putting His hands on them, He went on from there.
The parents rightly believed Jesus’ prayers would be effective. His touch was not magic or superstition. He touched the children as a sign of tenderness and love, as an acted out prayer. He prayed the children would be blessed.
Some say this is the most beautiful scene in the Bible. Jesus affirmed childhood by going through it Himself, and further blessed it by this act. The scene in our text is one artists want to paint. I heard of an artist who portrayed Jesus playing tug-of-war with children from Africa, China, Japan, Britain, etc.
Stories like this are why we believe a church’s nursery is a church’s jewel box, and why we sing “Jesus Loves Me” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”
Jesus loved children. He prayed for them, knowing the troubles they would face in life. Jesus loved parents. He knew to have a child is to take the heart out of its protected space and let it be hurt (Barbara Johnson). We live in tumultuous times for families. Pray, as Jesus did, for children and for parents.
Matt. 19:16a Just then someone came up and asked Him . . .
Parents and children were not alone in vying for Jesus’ attention. The story of the Rich Young Ruler is one of the Bible’s best known, most preached, stories. I preached it when I was a teenager. Now I’ll try my hand at it again.
Few stories more forcefully compel us to come face-to-face with the haunting question, “How good is good enough?” It’s a worthy theme, handled masterfully by Andy Stanley in his book of the same title. I recommend it.
If anyone was ever good enough to earn Heaven, surely it was the sincere questioner in our text. His story is told by Matthew, Mark (10:17-22), and Luke (18:18-30). We develop his composite profile by comparing all three accounts.
All three Gospel writers tell us he was rich, having no worries about lack. He had everything he could ever want to satisfy the senses. And yet, though he could buy anything, he had grown discontent with everything. Stuff had lost its luster. Being okay in this life was not enough. He wanted to be able to say he was also set for the next life. As a leading Jew, he would have been a tither, and a contributor to the poor, but he was wondering, how good is good enough?
Are we tempted to think we might be able to use our resources to buy our way into Heaven? I wonder how many people, consciously or subconsciously, think their gifts to a church or charity are gaining them eternal merit with God.
I doubt God is impressed with amounts. He was deeply moved with the widow’s mite, not because of the amount she gave, but due to the amount she had left after giving. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (PS 50:10b). Have you checked the price of beef lately? God is set financially. Does this mean we are not to give? No, we are to tithe and give our offerings, but they must rise from hearts rejoicing in Him, not from minds seeking to earn merit from Him.
This rich man was young (MT 19:20). Impressive. Twenty somethings are the USA’s most unchurched group. The young too often don’t care about the spiritual or the future, two concepts they often put together in their thinking.
They enjoy their youth, tasting and drinking life, feeling they have plenty of time left to marry, to find a career, to decide about God, and to worry about death. The young believe they will someday have time to cram for final exams.
Though the rich man in our text was young, he was not flittering away his life on youthful frivolities. He is to be congratulated for keeping his focus on higher things. His is a good model for the young. Ponder spiritual realities.
But still, even if this admonition is heeded, how good is good enough? Would it be enough if we showed deep heartfelt spiritual sincerity? Do any of us doubt the sincerity of the mass murderer in Norway? No. Would any of us say his sincerity would be enough to merit God’s favor? No. Millions are earnest in spiritual matters, but their efforts are pointed in the wrong direction.
You might say, “Many are obviously wrong in what they are sincere about; what matters is being sincere about a cause that’s right.” How do you 100% for sure know what’s right? Would we presume to dictate to God what He should decide is good, adequate to earn merit? How good is good enough?
Hear Andy Stanley. “If there is a level of performance that gets us into Heaven and God neglects to tell us exactly what it is, then you are not only good, you are better than God! That’s right. Think about it. You would never hold people you cared about to a standard you refused to reveal” (page 27).
The rich young man in our text was also a ruler (Luke 18:18), a man of high station. No lack of popularity or public esteem here. He was a leader in a local synagogue. This was no small accomplishment, especially impressive due to his youth. The Jews honored age. The fact this man had become a leader in his younger years proved he was well-bred, top class, a true blueblood.
This was a public official of good character. He had lived an upright life, was not straddled with a burden of guilt, but something vital was missing. He wanted assurance. A nagging question haunted him, how good is good enough?
One of life’s hardest lessons to learn is, moral integrity can never earn us Heaven. If good deeds were enough, the sacrifice of Jesus would have been unnecessary. If we can make it on our own, there’s no need for Calvary. Dare we stand at the foot of the cross and say, “We don’t need this; it’s superfluous”?
Don’t let your good morals be your downfall. It’s sad how far some can progress in upstanding behavior without being saved. It is possible for people to have their hands on the doorknob of Heaven, and yet go to Hell.
Our goodness or badness will not determine our everlasting destiny. Eternity hinges on what we do with Jesus. He has died to take away the sins of the world. He offers redemption freely to all based on their repentance.
Andy Stanley helps us again here. “Is Christianity fair? You’ll have to decide that for yourself. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is beyond fair. What could be fairer than this? Everybody is welcome. Everybody gets in the same way. Everybody can meet the requirement” (page 90).
How good is good enough? Only Jesus was intrinsically good enough. He alone has extra merit to share with sinners. God, in His grace, lets us make the great exchange. He is willing to account Jesus’ goodness as ours if we will receive Him. The Father “made the One who did not know sin (Jesus) to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 C 5:21). When the good we do is to yield to Jesus as Lord, then the good is good enough.