He looked into my eyes, this person I loved, and said with conviction, “I don’t need God. I’m a good person.”
My heart sank. How could I help him understand? Yes, he’d behaved admirably the whole of his life. He was kind to strangers, generous in his giving, and always tried to do the Right Thing.
But was he good? Not according to Jesus, who said, “No one is good—except God alone” (Luke 18:19).
Oh dear. How do you tell someone you care about, “Your good isn’t good enough.” Sounds like the opposite of grace, doesn’t it?
Besides, aren’t we supposed to be good? Matthew 12:35 tells us, “Good people bring out good things from their good treasure” (CEB). So goodness must be possible, right?
It is entirely possible—but not without God. David the psalmist put it like this: “Apart from you I have no good thing” (Psalm 16:2).
So, if we’re not good, are we bad? Yes, we are. “There is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3). Doesn’t leave room for mostly good or fairly good. With God, it’s all good or nothing.
The time comes when we have to accept that we’re sinners, comparing ourselves not to each other—“Hey, she’s worse than me!”—but to the goodness of God.
Like the chapter title says, we have to “Embrace Sin.” We aren’t meant to celebrate it or wallow in it, just own up to it, so we can embrace the forgiveness we desperately need.
That’s where my loved one got stuck: he couldn’t see his own badness, so he saw no need for God’s goodness. Years later, my heart still grieves for him.
For all of us who’ve been there, are there, or know someone who is there, here’s a story meant to give us hope.
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. Mark 10:17
Matthew calls him a “young man,” probably not much older than thirty. And Luke calls him “a certain ruler,” so he’s a man of influence and means. Even so, he seeks out Jesus—in fact, “came running” (GW), then “greeted him with great reverence” (MSG), and “got down on his knees” (NLV).
Good start, right? Let’s see what he has to say.
“Good teacher,” he asked,… Mark 10:17
Or “Good Master” (GNV), if you like. This man calls Jesus “essentially and perfectly morally good” (AMP)—words reserved for God alone, as Jesus is about to remind him.
Then the man poses a question most of us have considered.
…“what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Mark 10:17
Whether his question is worded “can” (CEV), “shall” (KJV), “may” (YLT), or “should” (GW), the key phrase is, “I do.” He’s not asking for the gift called grace. He thinks this is all on him, that he has to do something to deserve “life everlasting” (DRA), “eternal salvation” (AMP), “the life that never ends” (ERV).
In good rabbinical fashion, Jesus responds to the man’s query with another question.
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. Mark 10:18
He’s still back at the man’s greeting—“Good teacher”—and sees an opportunity to reveal an astounding truth. “What sayest thou, that I am good?” (WYC) Jesus asks, then doesn’t pause, waiting for an answer. He has the answer. Better still, he is the answer.
“No one is good—except God alone.” Mark 10:18
Aha! He’s not telling the man, “Don’t call me good.” Instead, Jesus is pointing to his own divinity, admitting, “No one is good except God!” (CJB) That is to say, him.
Even though Jesus is in his third and final year of ministry, I suspect this statement flew right over his listeners’ heads. Ours too. We definitely believe God is good. But we still cling to the idea that, at least some of the time, we’re pretty good too.
No better way to undo that kind of thinking than to take a gander at the Law.
“You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” Mark 10:19
Right, we know all these. Some of the biggies from Exodus 20, plus one from Leviticus, 19:13, “‘Do not defraud.”
I confess, I’m in deep trouble here. In my lifetime I’ve broken all but one of the Ten Commandments. Yes, some of them after I embraced the grace of God.
I’m very sorry. But that’s the ugly truth of it.
Yet this young man is quick to say that he’s obeyed the whole list.
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Mark 10:20
How hard this man has worked at being good! He not only knows the Ten Commandments, he has also followed every one of them. “I have—from my youth—kept them all!” (MSG)
Wait until you see how the Lord responds.
Jesus looked at him and loved him. Mark 10:21
Oh, Jesus. You see right through him, don’t you? Just like you see through us. Our desire to please, our need to impress, our deep-seated longing to be good on our own is not hidden from you.
Yet it’s that second phrase that takes my breath: “Jesus felt genuine love for him” (NLT) and “his heart warmed towards him” (PHILLIPS). Compassion floods the Lord’s soul, like that of the father of the prodigal son, who started for home fresh from the pig pen: “his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him” (Luke 15:20).
Jesus not only sees us, he understands us, and so he loves us—not because we’re good, but because we’re in need of his goodness and grace.
Most of us can’t hide our feelings. When we love someone, it shows on our faces. The Lord doesn’t mask his emotions here either. “Jesus looked at the man in a way that showed how much he cared for him” (ERV).
The man has asked what he must do. So Jesus tells him and blows the man’s “righteousness” clean out of the water.
“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” Mark 10:21
Jesus is gently revealing the young man’s sin, and ours as well: the sin of thinking, “I’ve got this.” The Lord is showing us that, if we think we can earn our way to heaven with our own good deeds, that’s not going to cut it.
He knows we cannot manage goodness on our own, just like he knows this rich young ruler cannot bring himself to sell everything he has.
We all need Jesus. Period. He wants us to be united in him, made one in him, wholly dependent on him. He prayed to his Heavenly Father, “I in them and you in me” (John 17:23).
When we embrace the reality of our sin, we embrace the need for a Savior. That’s where I’m parked every day of my life. Help me, Lord. Forgive me, Lord. All day, every day.
As for our wealthy fellow, Jesus offers him an invitation.
“Then come, follow me.” Mark 10:21
Uh-oh. “Then” means after the young man sells all he owns and gives it to the poor. Otherwise, he can’t follow Jesus.
At this the man’s face fell. Mark 10:22
Just as Jesus didn’t hide his emotions earlier, neither does this man now. It’s obvious by the downward curve of his mouth and the tight knot in his brow that he’s genuinely “upset” (ERV). Even more, he’s “dismayed” (CEB), “shocked” (CJB), “disheartened” (ESV), and “stunned” (HCSB).
No wonder. As Eugene Peterson puts it, “This was the last thing he expected to hear” (MSG). Knowing something of the Lord’s generous mercy, this guy surely expected to be handed a free Go-Straight-to-Heaven card.
Instead, he’s been reminded of what the disciples have done, leaving behind their nets, their boats, their families, and their homes to follow Jesus.
He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Mark 10:22
This is so descriptive: “He walked off with a heavy heart” (MSG). Our hearts are heavy too. Even if we don’t have great wealth, we all have stuff we’d rather not sell, habits we’re rather not give up, sins we’d rather not confess.
This guy “owned much property” (NASB) and “had many possessions” (CEB), making his sacrifice greater. Yet we’re reminded of that verse, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:25).
It comes down to this: are we ready to give up everything, our pride most of all?
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” Mark 10:23
The young man didn’t only have a boatload of stuff; he had a boatload of self-righteousness. He didn’t come to Jesus the way the tax collector did, beating his breast and saying “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). No, the young man came confessing his goodness, not his sins.
Painful as it may be, when we come face to face with our sin, we’re finally looking in the right direction. “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up” (James 4:10).
When Jesus elaborates on the difficulty of entering the kingdom of God, the disciples are taken aback, and say to one another…
“Who then can be saved?” Mark 10:26
That’s really the question, isn’t it? Clearly we can’t be good enough. Who can hope to be humble enough?
Get ready, because you and I have heard this before.
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27
Oh. My. Word.
I chose this story before I knew the punch line: “with God, everything is possible” (CJB). He clearly keeps putting this truth in front of us, week after week, because we still haven’t fully grasped it.
Help us with our unbelief, Lord.
I promised you this story would offer us hope, and indeed it does. What are the chances he will open the doors of heaven for you? “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it” (MSG).
Now, it’s your turn:
When I wrote Embrace Grace in 2006, I’d imagined a very personal book read by one sister at a time, rather than a Bible study read by a dozen women, let alone an online blog read by thousands of women.
Today, looking at these closing questions, I’m thinking, Oh my. Can we be this honest with each other?
Yes, beloved, I think we can. Often the very act of committing our truth to words on the screen helps us move forward spiritually and emotionally. That’s what Embrace Grace is all about. Might you respond to one of the three questions below, adding your answer under Post a Comment?
How—and how often—do you confess your sins? Do you pray about them? Write them out in your journal? Share them with a trusted friend?
My heart’s desire is to confess to the Lord my sinful thoughts, words, or actions as soon as I commit them—or as soon as I realize what I’ve done, which sometimes takes a little while. I tell the Lord in prayer first, then ask forgiveness of others when needed. That’s definitely the harder part for me. I hate wounding or disappointing anyone, ever.
Still, I’ve learned ignoring a sin or trying to justify it is pointless. The Holy Spirit is going to keep gently prodding me until I fess up. The sooner I confess my sins, the sooner I can move past the shame/guilt stage into the repentance/gratitude stage.
Are there secret sins in your life that no one knows about? Might you be willing now to whisper them, knowing that only the Lord is listening?
I’m whispering, Lord, though you already know what I’m going to say. Thank you for listening. Again. Thank you for forgiving me. Again. Most of all, thank you for strengthening me, so there won’t be a next time.
An old Scottish proverb states, “Open confession is good for the soul.” How might going public with our past help our hearers? And how might it benefit us?
From the beginning of my Christian walk I’ve aired my sins in print and on the platform—sharing my Former Bad Girl testimony, and being open about my weaknesses and stumbling blocks. I know well the power of confession, and pray that it not only sets me free, but far more to the point, sets my sisters free.
As I say in Embrace Grace, “When we confess our sins, they no longer exert any power over us.” In being honest with God and with each other, we defeat the enemy of our souls and douse his fiery darts. As David prayed, so can we: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:2).
The forgiven life is one of freedom. How I long for you to embrace that truth with your whole heart this week!
Your sister, Liz
Coming February 27…