The congregation sang, “You saved me, the sinner; with crimson red you washed me white as snow; how I love you Lord. You loved me, the mocker; with kindness you won my heart forever. How I love you Lord. And as I behold this mercy, I’m undone.

I couldn’t sing. Guilt choked my throat, tightening with every word. Images of all the times I had lost patience with Ellie (my daughter with cerebral palsy and a host of other developmental and medical challenges) and worse, grown angry with her, beat on my mind’s eye. My badness, my ugly sin, stared me in the face, daring me to claim God’s cleansing and mercy. 

I wondered inside, “How could anyone forgive that? How could Ellie forgive me? I can’t even talk to her about it, tell her that I know I failed her, ask her to forgive me, now that she’s gone. So how can a holy God?”

I like to think I’m pretty good. A good person, a good wife, a good mom, a good friend, a good daughter, a good employee, a good musician, a good writer.

There’s comfort in believing that I am good. Good people succeed in the end, reap what they sow, live happily ever after. Or so the stories go.

But good people don’t need a Savior. 

The Bible teaches that none of us are righteous and none of us does good (Romans 3:10-12).

When I deceive myself into thinking I’m good, I forget my need for Jesus’s sacrifice. I grow confident in myself and become oblivious to my failures. Failures which are very real… just ask my family. In fact, my failures are far more real than my delusions of goodness.

When I ignore my sin, my badness, I can pretend that I have enough goodness, that I don’t need a savior.

But God demands perfect goodness of us.

How does God define that perfect goodness? Romans chapter 3 goes on to say in verse 20, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

The law. God’s law. In simple form, Jesus summed it up like this:

Matthew 22:36-49
The Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.‘ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The expert in the law was probably referring to the Ten Commandments, though these are broken down into hundreds of smaller explanations and sub-commands in entire books of the Old Testament (for example, what it means to keep the Sabbath as a holy day). The Ten Commandments are given in Exodus and repeated in Deuteronomy 5. They are a fairly universally-accepted definition of goodness, no matter what religion.

Exodus 20:1-17

And God spoke all these words:
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.

  You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

  Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

  Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.


You shall not commit adultery.


You shall not steal.


You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.


You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

When I look at this list and ask myself, “Have I ever broken any one of these? Even once?” I know that I have. I bet you have too. Honoring and respecting God, his name, his day; honoring my parents, being 100% truthful at all time, not coveting what others around me have…. got me on all of those.

We are law-breakers. We fall short of God’s perfect standard. We are not good.

That is the point, as Romans 3:20 states: the law was written to make us conscious of our sin, of how far we fall short.

Even though we are ugly and without any redeeming qualities, completely undeserving, God has shown us unfathomable mercy.

Romans 3:21-29
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.  Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too.”

All sin has a penalty, but Jesus paid it in full. And now, God clothes me in perfect righteousness, perfect goodness, through my faith in Jesus Christ. When we confess our sin to God and ask him for forgiveness, he washes off our badness and covers us with Jesus’s perfect goodness. What an tremendous undeserved gift!

But I must see my badness, acknowledge it as real and true, to understand my need for Jesus’s goodness.


P.S. Some of you are probably thinking, “But once you are forgiven, you shouldn’t continue to be plagued by guilt over those past failures and sins.”

You are right. I have to remind myself of everything I just wrote (which is in part why I’m writing this today) and rest in the mercy and forgiveness of God. Learn what I need to learn, call on the help God provides, and move forward.

But I believe it is important to remind myself now and then just how much I was and continue to be in need of God’s righteousness made available to me by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

This post is part of the One-Word Blog Carnival on Goodness.

Also linked up at Tuesdays Unwrapped hosted by Emily at Chatting at the Sky.