“But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him…”—Luke 15:28 (ESV)
Goodness is the mother of all addictions. From the day we drop onto the red dusty soils that cover this planet, as we huff and puff through the trenches of life with sweat streaming down our faces, until the day we become dust again, our quest for glory, recognition, value, worth, love, approval and salvation is expressed in our desire to be good.
For man, goodness is something to be done. And we do it. Membership clubs to build a classroom for an impoverished community, we join. Marathons to take clean water to the unprivileged, we run. Fundraising for a cancer patient, we contribute. Hashtags for peace in South Sudan, we tweet.
But that is not all. We post about it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Blogs and make them our Whatsapp profile pictures. Because at the heart of doing good, there is even a craving for credit. Goodness and credit are two demons which walk hand in hand, they also have the same mother—the Devil. You may not admit it but if you have done anything good, your innards feel a special sense of justification.
The older son in the Jesus parable of the prodigal illustrates this better. Unlike the young and restless son who only finds pleasure in beautiful girls (I wouldn’t blame him!), this older son is on a lifelong mission to please his father. How will he do it? By being good. It’s important to note that the two sons are the same, they just use different methods to get their father’s things, one through conformity and the other through rebellion but none of them wants the father.
Of the two, conformity is the most dangerous. For the best part, because it never appears as ugly as it really is. It’s the Devil putting on a white dress. The quest for goodness is never an end in itself; it’s a means to salvation. People who do good and need credit for their good deeds do it to justify their badness. A bad person is closer to home because he/she knows that he is bad, whereas the good person doesn’t even know the way home because he is living a fantasy in a land that doesn’t even exist and cannot see his/her badness.
As you read this and reflect on your life, I have both bad news and Good News for you: the bad news is that no good deed in your flesh can ever make up for sins. No toiling, pleasing, pleading, singing, helping, program by you can ever justify you before the Holy God—YAHWEH. The older brother is as fallen as his younger brother and this conformist will only be justified by the same divine hands that enfolded his rebellious younger brother in a hug.
It will only need the father’s initiative to bring him back home. Even when he embarrasses his father in front of his invited guests, messes with his father’s good moods, the father goes to plead with him. And that is the Good News. It is the father’s goodness alone that brings the older son home, the same goodness that sought and brought the young rebel home in the first place. It is what Rod Rosenbaldt calls “a one-sided rescue.”
God in Jesus has hugged you and kissed you. He has accepted you, approved of you, loved, justified you. He has given you His salvation free of charge. He has trashed your ill-intentioned goodness and given you His Life-giving Goodness. The Goodness that will never leave you (Psalm 23:6).
You cannot better it with your goodness and you cannot spoil it with your badness because it is not yours. It is God’s. No one can take it away because this Goodness is in God seated at the right hand of the Father. “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited to him as righteousness…”—Romans 5:4 (ESV). Notice what Paul says: It is God “who justifies” the ungodly, our goodness is not mentioned.
And he says to you today: ““Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires to take the water of life without price.”—Revelation 22:17 (ESV).
That is your Lifeline, AMEN.