Evangelical Culture Myths: #3 I’m Not Good Enough for God

Today I continue a long term series called “Evangelical Culture Myths.” I invite you to submit various sorts of cultural myths that we evangelicals tell. I’d love to cover some myths that you are interested in: either theological or practical in nature. Send them to me via email, FB, or Twitter (to tweet ideas, use this #EvangelicalMyths and “@kurtwillems”)!

“God is love.” Or so the writer of 1 John tells us. And for those of us who grew up in the church, our regular Sunday school refrain reinforced this belief as we sang: “Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so.”

Why then, is it that at various points in my life and in the lives of many people that I’ve known, that we begin to distort our own picture of God? Many projections of God creep their way into our consciousness.

Sometimes we live as though God is a police officer with a sin speedometer ready to catch us in an unsuspecting moment. Or perhaps you’ve never thought of God as a cop but have fallen in into a mindset that views God more like a grandpa. In this view, God becomes a jolly old man in a rocking chair swaying back and forth from heaven’s porch, nonchalantly sitting back as he spits sunflower seeds, watching the world from a long distance away. And of course there is the other image, that God is a wrathful and angry judge who cares more about appeasing the letter of the Law than loving us. God the angry judge desires nothing more than to hold our insufficiencies against us, culminating in final damnation.

Although we probably know, theologically speaking, that all of those projections of God’s character and disposition are inconsistent with how God is revealed in Scripture, we sometimes live as though they are true. These views of God myths we theoretically disbelieve and yet often embrace experimentally.

I doubt that very many evangelical churches actually preach about of God like that (although sadly some do), but amongst Christians immersed in church culture these notions are more true than we often realize. We often live into the myth that we are not good enough for God. And perhaps this would be true of the fake gods listed above, but not of the biblical One!

The letter of 1 John paints an entirely different picture. For the Christians in John’s community during the 1st century, they needed a reminder that God is love. In chapter 3 it states:

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3.1

The God of the Christian Scriptures lavishes love all over us! As children of the heavenly Father, we don’t experience God from a long distance. We encounter a God who desires to lavish love. Think of a desert wanderer who is dying of thirst and suddenly discoverers an oasis pool. When the wanderer dives into the water, the immersive reality saturates his whole body. This is a picture of the way God desires to lavish or saturate us with beautiful Divine love.

John can’t stop talking about the sort of love that God offers us:

7 Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. 8 The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. 10 This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins.

11 Dear friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us. 13 This is how we know we remain in him and he remains in us, because he has given us a measure of his Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the savior of the world. 15 If any of us confess that Jesus is God’s Son, God remains in us and we remain in God. 16 We have known and have believed the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. 17 This is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have confidence on the Judgment Day, because we are exactly the same as God is in this world. (1 John 4.7-17)

God truly is in essence love! That is the core of the Divine Being. Everything about the Trinitarian God revealed in the Bible flows out of love. This is an intimate love, one that ultimately was it expressed by the self-giving love of the cross of Christ. It’s a love that meets us in the realities of daily existence. It’s not far off in the sky and God is not out to get us. Those are mere myths that deceive us into believing we’re not good enough for God.

In youth culture there is a newer paradigm threatening to diminish the way in which God is love. Their picture of God is what some scholars call “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” It breaks down something like this:

  • Moralistic – Christianity is about living as a good or moral person
  • Therapeutic – I feel good when I live like a good person
  • Deism – God is far away from our lives except when we need him to fix our problems

One who holds to this sort of perception of God, has bought into a lie. Young people (and many adults) living in this way have in an ironic fashion decided that they are not good enough for the biblical God of love. Here’s how the book Soul Searching describes this god:

“[God is] a combination of a Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he’s always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps people feel better about themselves, but doesn’t become too personally involved in the process.” (Soul Searching, 171)

That god doesn’t compare to the One who is love. The true Deity is not merely concerned with people living up to a moral standard. Nor is this God a “feel-good pill” to swallow down when we are feeling blue. Neither is God a sort of magic genie who stays out of our lives except when we have problems that we want fixed. God is love in its purest form and desires to lavish that love all over our lives!

If you are reading this and have bought the lie that you are not good enough for God remember that the God of the Bible is in love with you. All of your imperfections, failures, and beauty are embraced by that 4-letter word. Let’s allow God’s love to be so lavished on our lives that we begin to saturate our small corner of the world with the essence of the Divine.

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  • Thanks, Kurt. Love is center to God’s nature. This quote from Richard Rice from The Openness of God fits with your theme in this post very well.

    “Love is not something that God happens to do. It is the one divine activity that most fully and vividly discloses God’s inner reality. Love, therefore, is the very essence of the divine nature. Love is what it means to be God.”

    That’s love.

  • Pat68

    After being raised in the Church and then being away from it for 10 years, the lie of not being good enough is what kept me away. But fortunately, through the Spirit and a Christian co-worker, I overcame that and rededicated my life some 18 years ago and have never looked back.

  • Eric Taylor

    Thank you Kurt,
    I don’t know what led me to this article, but whatever it was, I’m glad I arrived here.
    I don’t know why, but I have been grappling with this question for many years.
    After reading your words I have begun to understand that it is not that I’m not ‘good enough’ for God, but that I haven’t understood that He loves me unconditionally.
    I have always believed in Him, and the Trinity, but I guess I was always of the understanding that I needed to be perfect to be ‘good enough’.
    Every night I thank Him for the Blessings with which He graces my family, but from tonight I will also thank Him for the Love with which He graces me.
    Thank you for your guidance.
    Eric Taylor