At some point, each one of us becomes proud of our goodness. We become proud of a good thing we have done. We boast, even if only in our own minds, about the purity of an action, the extent of a sacrifice, the value of a gift. We elevate this good act as if it could be held before God as evidence that we aren’t really all that bad, or that we are working our way back toward goodness. We elevate it as if it is worthy of his attention, his favor.
These considerations of our goodness never come about in isolation. When we think about our own goodness, we always compare ourselves to others. It’s not that we are good by any objective standard; we are good compared to the parent, the neighbor, the stranger, the criminal. We choose our comparisons carefully.
Michael Kruger uses a helpful illustration to describe the futility of this kind of boasting, and he illustrates using the Grand Canyon. Imagine that you and I travel together to Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. We park and walk for a little while, and before we know it we are standing on the rim, on the edge, of one of the world’s natural wonders.
As we stand there, we get the idea to have a fun and friendly little competition between ourselves. We decide to see who can jump the farthest, who can make it to the far rim, or at least who can make it closest. You guess that you can make it all the way across. You back up a little bit, get a running start, and sprint off the edge. You are even better than you thought and make it nearly fourteen feet! Then, of course, you plummet to the bottom of the canyon and go splat. I take my running start and do even better with a tremendous fifteen-foot jump. Then I, too, hurtle to the bottom, my moment of triumph ending with a crunch.
If God’s standard of holiness is as wide as the Grand Canyon—eighteen miles wide at its widest point—it hardly matters whether I end up at ten, twelve, or fifteen feet. No matter how far I jump, I will still fall far, far short of the mark. It matters even less whether I can jump farther than you, because your jump and my jump both lead to an ugly end. These attempts to meet or match God’s standard of holiness leads only to death. All of our goodness goes splat.
The gospel makes this bad news even worse. It tells us that God’s standard of holiness is far wider than a mere eighteen miles. It tells us that I can jump far less than fifteen feet. In fact, it tells me that I can’t jump at all because I am dead, and dead men don’t jump. But it transforms the bad news to good when it assures me that Christ, through his perfect life and his atoning death, has bridged the unbridgeable, doing what I could never do on my own. It assures me that God accepts Christ’s standard of holiness on my behalf. I don’t need to jump at all; I need to simply trust and receive.
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