John Paul II became Blessed John Paul II on May 1, 2011. It was the fastest beatification in modern times, and likely just a precursor to his eventual canonization into Sainthood. As Archbishop Chaput led Denver in multiple masses celebrating the late Pope, there were more than just Catholics comparing their own goodness to that of His Holiness.
Many Christians aspire to reflect his goodness; or if not his, then the goodness of another Christian mentor or of Jesus himself. Trying to “be good” not only summarizes our Christian walk, it also many times becomes the church’s motto.
“Come join our congregation. We’re a good family of great people.”
Not surprisingly perhaps, this attitude drives people away when they quickly realize Christians claiming to be so good are actually just lying through their teeth. True, many like John Paul II are “good” by human standards, but that still is not the standard Christians are held to.
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.”
Mark 10:17–18 NLT
This upright man, who had essentially kept all the Jewish commands, sought Jesus’ wisdom on earning God’s favor, but Jesus hit too close to home when he quickly found the one way the man was not pleasing God. After he left, the disciples understandably panicked. If that moral, respectable man could not earn eternal life, then who could?
Jesus’ answer was simple: “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Paul told the Romans the same thing.
No one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands . . . We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.
“No one is good,” Jesus said. “God’s approval is given, not earned,” said Paul. In other words, people trying to fake goodness and portray their lives as perfectly ordered (hopefully) aren’t fooling anybody. Still, they do try.
If no one is good—not even Blessed John Paul the Great—why waste any effort either trying to hide our own faults or believing others are as saintly as they say? Instead, let’s be real with our screw-ups, past and present (and forecasted future). No sense trying to kid anyone; we’re all chronic sinners. Denying that will only lead us to superficial relationships to distract us from the hurts we insist on burying.
Churches model themselves as “good” to the world, hoping it will increase membership. Perhaps the best—and truest—depiction of church should emphasize our struggles, our weaknesses and our vulnerabilities. Rather than advertizing “Hi, we’re good people,” our message to everyone should be “We’re alcoholics, drug abusers, and sex addicts; we’re rude, self-centered, close-minded, insensitive, hypocritical people. But God is overcoming all that.”
There is a realness missing from many churches today. People too busy saving face refuse to show their real ones, an honorable motive if our self-worth lies in who we are. However, our value is not based on what we do ourselves, but on what God has already done in Jesus (the Word speaks louder than actions). What’s stopping us from displaying God to the world? We are.
Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.
2 Corinthians 12:9