Don’t try to be good? Mormons frequently ask this with disbelief and amazement after we tell them it’s wrong to base their standing with God on anything they do. “Are you telling me that God doesn’t want me to be good?”
It’s not just Mormons who react to the message that Jesus has done it all for us with a great deal of skepticism. Many others do as well. In fact, even Christians can be fuzzy about what role a person’s “goodness” plays in their relationship with God.
This confusion isn’t a result of a lack of clarity in the Bible. Rather it’s because the gospel so violently clashes with our human reason. As Paul said: “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
The Bible is clear.
- Absolutely everything done before faith is sin. “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
- Only works rooted in and resulting from faith are good in God’s sight. “But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (Matthew 13:23).
- Trusting both in God’s grace and our works ruins everything. “And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6).
The last point is so important. Trying and trusting don’t mix. I can’t say I trust somebody to do something but then still do it just to make sure. Trust isn’t a matter of both/and. Trust doesn’t employ safety nets. That’s why trust, at times, can be a little scary.
When it comes to trust, however, safety nets do more damage than good. Think of how a wife would react if after her husband told her he trusted her, she found out he had a private detective following her – just to make sure. Think of how Jesus feels when people say they believe he did everything for them, but just to make sure they will try to be good.
When it comes to salvation and our standing before God, the worst thing we can do is try to be good! That sends a message of doubt and not trust. That dishonors Jesus’ work and calls into question God’s Word. That angers God.
When it comes to salvation, it’s all about trusting and not trying.