daily Broadcast

When Being Good Isn't Good Enough, Part 2

From the series Jesus Offers Hope

Do you ever get the sense that there must be “more” to the Christian life? I mean, you’re doing all the right stuff, praying, reading your Bible, going to church, giving generously, but it’s just flat. Could it be that all those good things are actually keeping you from getting God’s best? Chip peels back the layers of what happens when being good isn’t good enough.

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Message Transcript

The last observation here is that elder brother’s lives are as miserable as prodigals – you know why? –  because of their joy-less slavery, there’s envy, there’s bitterness. When you’re on the performance track, when God doesn’t come through the way you want Him to you’re angry with Him.

When you don’t measure up – and guess what? – when you try and live out of performance, you won’t measure up. Then, you loathe yourself.

I remember, “Oh God, I sinned again. I said I’d never do that. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”  And on and on and on. And then pretty soon it gets so unbearable that you become a hypocrite. Because you know you’re projecting this, but the lust in your heart over this, and the envy in your heart over here – and I was miserable.  And so, I know about elder sons.  And this message is a serious, serious message because there are three groups of people that really need to hear it.

The first group is people that are absolutely convinced that you’re a part of God’s family and you are a lost elder brother. You are moral.  You may be religious; you may have been in church all your life, but you’re trusting in your goodness.  I’m going to give you some traits that, I want you to do a self-evaluation.

The second group of people is people like me. I genuinely became a Christian.  Maybe it’s your personality or your compulsive disorder or your performance orientation, but as you locked into the Christian life, you turned it into performing for God.  You’re missing the relationship.

The third group is wayward sons, you know, the younger brothers. Some of you don’t want to come to the father because you think what it means to be a real follower of Christ is people like I was. All the religious people you’ve met, you’re thinking, I don’t want to be like them—ever.  You need to understand that Jesus is saying: The progressives are wrong and the conservatives are wrong. I’m right. I want you to come to Me. I want to have a relationship.

And so, you’ll notice on the next page, I did something, I’m going to ask you to pull out a pen, and I’m going to go through them briefly, I want to help you understand: What are the traits of an elder brother?

By the way, I’m not judging anyone. I don’t know if you’re a part of God’s family. I don’t know if you’re a genuine believer who, kind of, has elder son tendencies and mindsets.

All I know, is there are a lot of Christians that are in chains and bondage and doubt and condemnation.  And I also know that the great majority of Christians don’t read the Bible. The great majority of Christians don’t give their money. The great majority of Christians don’t serve other people.

And I’m thinking, maybe a lot of people, if you feel dry and every time someone says something about reading the Bible – Oh, I ought to, I should, but I don’t want to – When people talk about loving other people, and anytime money is mentioned, you feel like, Oh brother, I can’t believe…. You know, I should do something but you don’t want to.

You know what? I just interviewed a guy, over sixty-years-old, who became a Christian, no one’s telling him to read the Bible. He wants to. You know why? His heart’s connected to the Father’s heart.

I just interviewed two guys last week that are in their twenties. No one’s telling them to read the Bible. No one’s telling them to start sharing with their friends and giving their money away. No one’s telling them to change their life goals.  You know why?

Something’s happening!

If you feel like those oughts and shoulds and down deep in your heart you ought-to, you ought-to, but you either are out of duty or you’re just not, God may have the most liberating message for you you’ve ever heard. The longer you’ve been in the faith, often, the longer you’ve been in the Church, the more, religious we become.

So, are you ready? Let’s look at the traits of elder brothers in their relationship with God--duty and obligation. That’s, what you feel and it’s characterized by a dry prayer life. You go through lists, numbing lists, and you feel guilty when you don’t.

We think that God owes us a good life. It’s a formula, like that elder son: I did this God, You have to do that.  When He doesn’t, you get ticked.

Guilt becomes how you feel because you never feel like you measure up.  I still remember, I was at this, like two, two and a half years, still wondering: How long are you supposed to pray?

The fact that that’s what you’re asking - How much do you have to read? How much do you have to give? How long do you have to pray?  How good? How much is enough?

Well, you’re supposed to pray for twenty minutes. Well, I heard some other people praying for thirty. Oh, gosh.  I heard some people say its gotta be an hour. Oh man, I can’t even do twenty minutes; can’t even do thirty.  You’re supposed to give x percent.  Well, no, it’s X percent. You can never land. It’s performance based.

Feeling pressure in your relationship with God. You feel pressure. It’s about rules. It’s about laws. There’s a legalism.

It’s not like, I’m loved by God. It’s not like, Oh, Lord, it’s so good to come into your presence. Oh, God, you love me. You’re a safe place. It is performance and feeling loved only when you’re doing all the stuff that you think you ought to do.

I still remember, oh, I missed reading my Bible and that’s why I got a flat tire. I should have given more money and maybe this girl would date me. I didn’t get that promotion because….  There’s this cause and effect wacko. You know where that comes from? That comes from thinking that your goodness merits God’s blessing.

It’s a lie. It’s an elder brother mentality.  And then ultimately, it’s that right living is the means to getting what you really want from God.

Can I ask you, you’re in Luke, can I get you to turn just to a couple books ahead to Romans chapter 4.  Just a couple books over, I just want you to look at it with me. Romans chapter 4, I’m going to read verses 20-22.

Speaking of Abraham, it says, “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had the power to do what He’d promised.  This is why it is credited to him as righteousness.”

The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us to who God will credit righteousness. “For us who believe in Him, who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”

His point in this whole passage is that no one will be justified by the law. No one will ever come to a right relationship with God by keeping the rules or the law in this book, or any set of rules that any group comes up with anywhere.

In your relationship with others, it’s characterized by feelings of superiority. When you’re working this hard, then you become critical and you have prejudice and you’re judgmental.

Ultimately, it’s rooted in insecurity. If people look different; if they’re not in our little group; if they believe doctrinally about something that’s just a little bit different; we gotta know who’s in and who’s out.  They need to look like us—and, “look like us” can be different for different groups. There’s this air of superiority and it’s rooted in insecurity – that, We’re better-than, when you’re an elder son—and, people can feel it.

The legalistic letter of the law is focused on, not the Spirit.  You get in a conversation, and, “Well, [conversation effects]. What’s it say right here? It says right here that on exactly the certain day, of a certain thing, you need to do exactly this.”  Instead of, “Well, why is it said that….”  And, “What’s the heart behind it?”

Elder sons in their relationship with others champion God’s justice, not mercy. “This is right. This is true.” They’re righteousness champions. They want justice for everyone but my observation is when we mess up, I mess up, when you mess up: Oh, God, be merciful to me.

But instead, these kind of groups come and picket and tell everyone that they’re out to lunch and they’re terrible.  They have signs that are condemning and they champion God’s justice--miss God’s mercy. These people repel irreligious people. I did. I mean, that was what that girl was telling me?

Could you be more criticized for your faith than, “I don’t know what a really committed Christian looks like but if it looks like you I would never want to be one.” I mean, that’s like in the ultra non-compliment arena.

Can I ask you something? Name your four or five top non-Christian friends.  Go ahead. In your mind. Irreligious people - people that drink too much; people that are workaholics; people that have had an affair but you know because you’re friends and they understand they can share that with you.

People that log on to the internet and you’re a friend at work and they know you’re a Christian and you’re non-condemning and they feel safe around you? Who are your non-Christian friends? My guess is, for some of you, you can’t come up with one or two fingers.

Instead, you listen to talk radio, and we’re this little huddle, and, You know what? What’s wrong with the world is all those immoral people.  And what would change the world is if us moral people get things right; so, you watch only certain stations that agree with your view.

I thought we were here to be salt and light and integrated. Never compromising on the truth. Never budging in the absolutes of our morality. But loving lost people, where they’re at, the way Jesus did. They were attracted to Him.

These groups espouse correct doctrine but act in unloving ways. By the way, this happens in families all the time. This is that Dad or that Mom, “I tell you what, you’re going to be in church and this really matters, and not this movie and no we can’t do that.”  Instead of asking them, “What do you think God would want?” Teaching them to make decisions; giving them responsibility, it’s always a boat-load of rules. And I’ll tell you where they go. The moment they can get out of your house, they run from you and they run from God because the Spirit gives life, but the letter kills.

Finally, there’s struggles often with depression and there’s often secret sins. In groups, whether they’re fundamental groups that are hyper or whether they’re in places where there’s a doctrine of works orientation.

The scandal in the Catholic Church.  How could that many priests be involved in sexual immorality? How could these tele-evangelists that have such a broad sweep have such immorality? How do these pastors that preach about justice and pound away, and tell them, “Everybody else is wrong!”  And then we find there are secret sins of alcoholism and pornography and sexual affairs. I will tell you why: No one can live under the burden of being good, and so what happens is, the pressure of being good, as it starts to explode, they find a release valve.

And for some of us, it’s alcohol or prescription drugs or eating or workaholism or pleasing people.  And what you have is just a varied view of different ways to try and cope with the fact that your righteousness, and your goodness, and this image projecting that you’re this really good person.

Could it be that your trusting in, and absolute commitment to, never breaking any of the rules, and the pride and superiority rooted in that, is actually keeping you from God?

And can you hear something?  Because I’ve been on a thirty-year journey here.  The Father says, “Come in.” You know what? Now in my life, I don’t feel like I have to read the Bible. There are mornings that I think, God what does our relationship need? Do I need to write and process? Do I need to sit and listen to worship music and rest and sit and get nothing done?  Do I need to read three or four or five or six chapters and just let Your truth renew my mind? Do You want me to read the gospels before I go to bed so You can draw me near to You?  Do You want me to go out for a run? Do You want me, for a while, so I can focus on You to not eat this or not watch that, but know that Your love has nothing to do with any of those things? Lord, it’s been crazy. I’ve been in hospital rooms, here, here, there.  I don’t think I’ve read the Bible in two days. Thank You that You love me.  Thank You that everything about how You relate to me has absolutely nothing to do with what I could ever earn.

The righteous will live by faith.  I want to get where we celebrate the humility that it takes--because it takes way more humility for a religious, moral person to admit, Yeah, I’m squeaky clean and I don’t really love people. And you know what? I try and pray but I’m praying through lists.

And if your spiritual experience is a lot of guilt and a lot of condemnation and a lot of not feeling close to God, and a lot of got-tos, and ought-tos, and shoulds, I want you to know, your Father says, “Why don’t you come in? Why don’t you let Me put My arm around you and let’s not focus on all those rules. Let’s focus on our relationship.  And from the inside out, I’ll change your desires.”

What if you could believe, and we could have testimonies of people: “I was a Pharisee.” And the Father loves Pharisees as much as prostitutes, and what He wants is our hearts as much as their hearts.

On the back page, I’ve given you some specific steps that I’ve been working through in my own life and I want you to listen. I don’t know where you’re, but I pray that as I’ve described what the text says, you’ll self-identify as:

Maybe I don’t have any desire for the Bible, or any desire for God, or I thought just being a good person and intellectually believing in Jesus – that’s not, maybe, the ticket. Maybe I’m lost.

For some of us that are born-again and have the Pharisee mind-set. I read a book called Tired of Trying to Measure Up by Jeffrey VanVonderen. I read Brennan Manning’s, The Ragamuffin Gospel. I read Henri Nouwen’s, The Prodigal.

And I understand some of them have a little doctrine here and there. But, those people came out of systems where they understood their righteousness, or their attempts, were keeping them from God and they talk about grace. I needed to hear that and filter the rest.

How do elder brothers experience God’s love and forgiveness?

Repent of good works as the basis of the relationship with God. Repent. We need to change our mind about our good works and our performance.

Repent of our self-seeking motives. At the end of the day, it’s using God: God, You’ve got to do this because I did that. 

Third, it’s repent of our desire for men’s approval. At the heart of the Pharisees couldn’t believe in Jesus because they wanted the approval of men more than the approval of God.

It becomes an image management issue. Some of you today will not come to the Father because you would have to admit that what is really going on in your heart isn’t near as close to what you’ve been projecting. And that would be a very humbling experience and you’re not willing to go there.

You want to keep pretending. I pray it’s not true. But having done that and been there, for many, it probably will be.

We have to repent of our pride, and humble ourselves. We have to dmit our need. I’m not proud that I was a Pharisee. I’m not proud but I still have those tendencies. But, I’m going go public and say: I need the Father. I don’t measure up. I blow it.  I have all the struggles that you have.

Along with that, refuse to compare yourselves with others.  When you’re a Pharisee, the way you keep your equilibrium is you keep finding someone who’s not doing as good as you and you keep comparing yourself with them.  See? See? See…I’m doing this and they’re not.  I read the Bible more. I gave more than them. I’m doing this…I’m…You don’t need to compare yourself with anyone.

Refuse to judge others. It’s one of my greatest “wows!”  If you saw what happened in my heart over the years and how I look and have looked at people not knowing anything about what’s going on inside. The level of repentance that I’ve had to go through and ask God to give me His eyes to only view others the way He views them - to not make any assumption, ever, about another person’s motives.

Then we have to draw near to the Father just to please Him. No deals. Just, I mean, are you ready? God, the Son, came to the planet and lived a perfect life and died on a cross because He did nothing wrong and rose from the dead because He just wanted to connect with you.  He wanted to love you. He wanted to have relationship with you. He wants to help you--not so you could turn into some religious robot who would perform.

And finally, submit to God’s authority in our lives. You see, this is really, really hard to admit but this is the core.  When I’m a rebellious, wayward, sinful, do my own thing, “I’m not going to do what He says… If I want to sleep around, I’m going to sleep around; I’m going to put in my body what I put in my body; I want rules and traditions and I’m going to do my own thing. Guess what? I’m in control.”

By contrast: I keep the rules, I’m good, I set the standards, I’m going to control God, and I control God and I’m not going to really do what He says; I will decide how the rules work, and I will be superior to others and at the end of the day, I use my religion to do exactly the same thing that the wayward younger son does.

And you know the scary part is leaving all that junk and becoming spiritually naked and saying, Father, I’ll do whatever You want me to do. I’ll humble myself. I want a relationship. I want to feel and know and experience Your love. I want Your purpose for my life and I want to love You. I want You to create those desires in me and I want to align my life around the things that will allow me to experience Your life. And, I desperately need You. It goes back to surrender, doesn’t it?