You Don’t Have to Be Good

You don’t have to be good.

You don’t have to read through your Bible in a year. You don’t have to keep a journal or attend the all-church prayer meeting or help in the nursery two Sundays a month.

There is no continuum of holiness here. You can’t be “more” of a Christian, or “less” of a Christian.

There are no faith giants or super-heroes. There are no perfect Christians, and no one has it entirely all together. In the end, we’re just a hundred thousand beating hearts, torn and broken and made perfect by his Love.

You take grace like a garment, and it’s not like putting on a Girl Scouts vest. There are no patches to earn. Nothing to add.

You take it, and it is a clean white t-shirt. It requires no embellishment, no accessories, no scarves. You don’t have to dress it up or upcycle it or tie-dye it in the backyard. It is enough, all by itself, to cover your shame, your fear, your cold.

You don’t have to like Christian music or read Christian fiction or answer all the questions in your fill-in-the-blank Bible study.

You don’t have to eat organically or buy fair trade or go on mission trips to the other end of the world. You don’t have to sponsor a child in Ecuador.

You don’t have to listen to sermons on your ipod or read the “right” blogs or support the “right” political candidates. You don’t need a Jesus fish sticker on your car.

If you pray, do it because your heart is drawn to the heart of God. But there is no script here. No magic words. You don’t have to get up in the early morning and kneel on the floor. This is not a formula, and you cannot pray yourself into God’s good graces.

Listen, you are already there.

you don't have to be good

This is the only place in your whole world where there are no expectations; this is the one person you cannot disappoint. There is no test. God is not waiting for you to do some certain thing or to say some particular combination of words to give you Good Things.

Get up and pray if you can, because there is something here for you in this quiet. But if you can’t — if you are bone-tired, if you push the snooze button again this morning — you are not less beloved. There is no great, cosmic head-shaking going on in the sky.

God is as near as your sheets pulled up around you.

He is covering you with the quiet of his love.

You step into the Light, and then you are there, and you can’t darken it with your failure. You can’t diminish it with your disobedience or diffuse it with your doubt.

If you never read another Bible verse in your whole life, you will be loved just as endlessly, just as wildly, just as inexhaustibly.

If you never find your way back to church, if you never join another Bible study, if you never sing another worship chorus…you are still enough. Because he is Enough. Because nothing can separate us from the love of God – not even our own broken hearts.

There might be a time when you feel led forward out of your own cynicism or your own fear, and Lord, I hope you go.

But maybe you don’t. Maybe you take the long way around. Maybe you get on a boat headed in the other direction. Even still, you can’t outrun His love and grace. It is bigger than the sky, closer than your ragged breath.

And what I’m trying to say is that this is not some cosmic equation – good behavior + prayer = God’s love or God’s blessing or God’s presence.

In the end, the Gospel story is a shattering of all the formulas. It is a God who walks through the dirt, whose Love is big enough to cover the broken, empty places of the whole wide world. Whose Goodness is strong enough to cover our failures.

It is a God who died to make us enough and who defeated death to give us Life, and you don’t have to be good. You just have to step into it.

The day breaks, and it is grace, and you can’t earn it at all.

You are already here.

Stand in the middle of it and look up.

71 thoughts on “You Don’t Have to Be Good

  1. Amen and amen. Thanks for expressing this, Addie. We all need to be reminded all the time because it is so easy to forget! We want it to be “Jesus and…” But it’s not. It’s just Jesus.

  2. Spot on, as usual! This reminds me of what one of my professors told us years ago when I was in Bible college: “As far as God’s love and grace goes, you only have to be on the bus. Those at the back of the bus are loved just as much as those at the front. Unconditional means just that.” Grace: abundant and free!

  3. “If you never find your way back to church, if you never join another Bible study, if you never sing another worship chorus…you are still enough. Because he is Enough. Because nothing can separate us from the love of God – not even our own broken hearts.”

    You always find a way to speak directly into my life and the things that weigh heavy on my heart. I always feel so much lighter after reading your words. Thank you.

  4. Amen. Amen. Thank you. My soul has been aching for words like these. Because I am so tired right now, and have never been very good.

    This I love especially: “God is as near as your sheets pulled up around you.”

    1. “I am so tired right now, and have never been very good.” Yes. Me too. Thanks Beth.

  5. I could kiss you. I’m coming back to these words again and again – thank you for writing about what grace really looks like. You’ve refreshed my soul.

  6. This is an awesome, needful message that is truly liberating and freeing just as grace itself is. A breath of fresh Holy Spirit air we suck in greedily in relieved recognition. Yes, oh yes. He is enough. It’s not about our achievements or activities (or lack of them) at all. This is radical, life-changing truth we all need to hear. Thank you so much for a wonderful word that speaks deep to minister to our wounded, broken places. I sense His footprints and smile of approval all over this. I’ve added this to my task bar to return to again and again in case I forget! Bless you, Addie, for this powerful word 🙂 xx

  7. I think I held my breath through the entire reading and then sucked in a deep breath like it was the first one I’d taken all morning.
    Bless you.

  8. I love this one Addie. In particular the imagery of the white t-shirt compared to a girl scout vest… no earning of badges. What a beautiful picture of grace. Thank you.

  9. A most beautifully written piece, reminding me in the deep places that I can stop striving and enjoy Him. Thank you for speaking Grace and touching my heart today.

  10. Seems like all I ever do is tell you how you’re the best writer on the Internet and how much I like a certain post…

    Please write something awful so I can argue with you and tell you that you’ve failed to live up to your potential. Please?

    Gosh, woman. Please stop writing all this stuff that makes me think that maybe there’s hope for even me.


  11. Well done. I found this part a bit sticky though:

    “If you never find your way back to church, if you never join another Bible study, if you never sing another worship chorus…you are still enough. Because he is Enough. Because nothing can separate us from the love of God – not even our own broken hearts.

    There might be a time when you feel led forward out of your own cynicism or your own fear, and Lord, I hope you go.”

    I don’t necessarily agree with your premise. Just because a person decides, or perhaps realizes that they ARE the church and finds fellowship outside the four walls of a church building doesn’t mean they are cynical or broken hearted. It just might be that they come to the conclusion that in order to share their gifts: bringing a word, or a song, or whatever it is that The Lord has given them to share, it is not going to happen in a typical church service.

    1. Good point. I certainly wasn’t trying to insinuate that you have to be part of a church building or a typical church experience. Chalk it up to poor writing transitions. 😉

  12. I hate those fill in the blank Bible studies. I also struggle immensely with trying to be good enough and being confused about grace.

  13. I shared this at my church’s Celebrate Recovery meeting last night. We were talking about grace so it was a good fit. It’s the first time they’ve ever applauded after I was done. Several people requested copies of this or directions to your website. It spoke deeply to a number of them. Thanks for blessing us with your words!

    1. This made me so happy, Jen. So glad that it was encouraging to your group. Thanks so much for sharing it!

  14. So what you’re saying is – that it is perfectly ok to be a carnal christian and trample His grace. Salvation cannot be earned Eph 2:8,9. It is a gift of grace by God so that no one can boast. But true salvation shows itself in a believer’s life by it’s action. James 2:14+ – What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. Sure, you don’t have to read your Bible in a year, but you’re not a very strong Christian if you don’t. Yea, don’t attend church prayer meetings, but I tell you, you won’t see His power through believers if you don’t attend. If people truly understood God’s grace you would have to turn people away from serving because there would be so many volunteers at the nursery and education building that the leaders would be overwhelmed. True believers would be taking Deut 6: 6,7 and educating the next generation, seriously. How do I know? Nehemiah Chapter 8. After spending 70 years in captivity, the people stood for over 6 hours listening to Ezra reading from the book of the law. Most people in church today cry over the service being 45 minutes….. If any of the above situations makes you feel guilty or burdened then maybe you should ask yourself if you are truly a believer. Doing any of the above mentioned in the article can not earn you salvation, but if you claim to know Christ then all the above mentioned in the article should not be a burden. If it is, you are walking in the flesh not by the Spirit.

    1. I feel you may have missed the point. I think what she is saying is that no matter what you do or don’t do, God loves you.

      It’s so easy to get lost in the Works side of Christianity that God calls us to do in response to this love that we can become like the Pharisees, focusing only on Works. So very often we forget that God’s love for us is most important and no matter what he loves us. Our works should be responding to his grace not trying to earn love or prove our faith or be good enough – because there is no possible way to be ‘a good Christian’. Who decides what that is?

      Let’s change focus from us to him and stop focusing on anything but his love for us. Works will surely flow from that in a way that focuses on God, not us, right?

  15. No, I fully understand what she is trying to say. I don’t think she expressed it correctly.

    Let’s just look at the opening statement. “I don’t have to be good, don’t have to go to church or even attend a prayer meeting, read my bible in a year or volunteer in the nursery two days a month”.

    Wow, I don’t have to be good. You know that means – I can walk out my front door, go over to my neighbor’s house and break in and steal those things I’ve been wanting for myself – Why? because I am cloaked in God’s grace and my salvation does not depend on what I do.

    1. No you don’t have to be good. And yes you can go and break into your neighbor’s house. His grace is cheap. Like I heard someone say once, “If it wasn’t cheap you couldn’t afford it.”
      Here’s how Martin Luther put it:
      “If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.”
      A Letter From Luther to Melanchthon Letter no. 99, 1 August 1521

  16. Dear Addie, it took me 6 days to get around to reading your blog and it was exactly the day I needed it the most. Thank you!

  17. “Instead of using “I’m human” as an excuse to walk in the flesh, try using “I’m saved as a reason for walking in the spirit”. ~I love that quote although I do not know the author of it. The above article way-lays the importance of the fruits manifesting of salvation in one’s life. If you lack the energy or desire to serve God and to live poured out for Him, than you actually may not have Him dwelling inside you. If you are His, you are a flow-through vessel to do and to be His hands, His heart, His lips, his feet. If you are His, you will have what it takes.

    1. “If you lack the energy or desire to serve God and to live poured out for Him, than you actually may not have Him dwelling inside you.” — I understand what you’re saying here, Rebekah, but I don’t think it’s quite that simple.

      As I person who has walked through seasons of Depression and anger and just…exhaustion and frustration with God and church…I think that the faith journey can be a winding one. I don’t believe for one second that God stopped dwelling inside of me during those hard times, but I was struggling to experience him in the way I’d come to expect.

      I think many of us go through those kind of “desert periods” or “dark nights,” and all I’m saying here is that nothing we do or don’t do changes God’s love for us.

      1. Amen! I’ve been there – the anger, the dark depression, the exhaustion and God was still there. Did I sense Him with me? Usually not but He was there otherwise He would have stopped being God. So many Christians don’t get the fact that you can be on your faith journey with God and still struggle with depression, anger, etc. These things don’t negate your Christianity but they can either make you or break you, draw you closer to Jesus or drive you further away. I’m weary of getting the attitude that if I would just be a better Christian and just praise the Lord more then I wouldn’t struggle with depression, etc. Okay, I’m just going to get down off my little soapbox for now. 🙂
        God bless you Addie and keep writing, your such a blessing to me!

  18. Beautifully written as usual, and also (as others have commented) great imagery in things like the Girl Scout badges… and “…you are still enough. Because he is Enough.” Powerful.

    Two things: a) I think those who are struggling with this message may not have struggled to the same degree with feeling that soul-burdening weight of what the Bible calls “condemnation”–often created in large part by those who ought to be helping to lift it! Perhaps a good verse for them to look to for context is Romans 8:1–“there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”–and its context. This message is Romans 8:1 expanded for anyone battling condemnation that she/he isn’t good enough for God’s love. It’s the message of hope to those ones!

    b) To take it one step further: you don’t have to be good–you actually have to be a sinner! And know you are! No–as someone pointed out–we won’t STAY that way when God’s spirit begins his gentle (sometimes amazingly quick and sometimes painfully slow) work of transforming us inside out. But we can’t ever lose sight of the fact that we can only come to Jesus as what we are–broken, hurt, sick, sin-crusted–and RECEIVE that grace you describe, here Addie. Amazing. Truly. Like he said–he came for the sick, not the well! If you’re sick and you know it, this one’s for you! Swallow it whole and let it renew! (lol that wasn’t meant to rhyme or anything…)

    1. Thank you for this clarification, Elisabeth. Wise and helpful. Yes, he comes for the sick.

  19. We waste a lot of time and effort trying to become what He has already made us. Our work is to rest in His. The Christian life begins with, “It is finished.”
    Watchman Nee, loosely paraphrased.

  20. No one can be good. Everyone is a sinner and there is no one who is righteous before God. Rom 3:23. Not even an “innocent” baby.

    He who has been forgiven little loves little, but He who has been forgiven much loves much. Pray that God will show you how much you have been forgiven. If you understand how much you have been forgiven, then everything expressed in the article above will show you true joy, peace, strength and grace.

    Jesus calls his followers to die to self. When you die to self it is then that you find new life. Jesus calls us to pick up our cross and follow. You will always find new mercies every morning. Some people want all the blessings of God without the sacrifice He insists upon.

    Some people act like Pharisees in dealing with God’s grace just like there are Pharisees in dealing with a works mentality. The sin of self-righteousness.
    They show up to the church for a worship service, but instead of a worship service they turn it into a worship SERVE US. They show up expecting everyone to meet their needs instead of serving God’s need first. If everyone shows up at a service expecting to be served by others nobody has their needs met. Usually, people like that get their feelings hurt and don’t go back again.

    Yes, God loves us like crazy, and His Grace is abundant, but mind you he will not put up with WILLFUL disobedience. There is a difference between willful disobedience and just struggling with sin. You will always find grace to help if you are struggling with sin. He will always correct and discipline just as Rev. 2and 3 say. If you find yourself willfully disobeying look up, but when you look up, confess your sin and rebellion or what ever it is and realize that is exactly what Jesus died for. He died for your sins and broke the power of your sinful nature so that you could be free TO obey him. Then you will find such on outpouring of grace from God. But God does not give his grace without confession and repentance of sin – that is what Hell is for. He may do things in spite of your disobedience while He is patiently waiting, but he will discipline and correct.

    How do you expect to conquer those sins in your life like depression, cynicism, anxiety, anger, fear etc., etc. IF you do not read His word, pray, go to church, worship, serve or establish good spiritual habits in your life? God’s word renews your mind but you can’t renew your mind if you’re not exercising your faith. You have to fight the good fight of faith.

    1. Wow,

      Anne Sweeney, what you have spoken is the truth! You clearly have been reading your bible. The dangers of not reading the Word, and not going to church, and/or seeking God’s face is that we can unknowingly drift off course and not even notice. 🙂 If that happens God will (like you said) be patient and call us back even in our disobedience, but at some point, as evidenced in the word and in the lives of so many we know, He WILL eventually discipline you for it. And it’s in THAT day and hour that the neglect we had been paying to our relationship with God becomes startlingly evident. 🙁 And even then, in his true mercy, He moves our hearts to true repentance and gives us the grace to get back into the fold (so to speak). NOT that we have lost our salvation, but that He loves us too much to leave us in a state of no repentance, no victory, and near ineffectiveness.

      It also needs to be said that ‘REPENTANCE first’ is one of the most critical things Jesus preached on. Then, all power and mercy can come flooding in after that. We need to be certain that we are always listening for our Good Sheppard’s voice, and to do that we need to stay “plugged in.” How? Through His word and the meeting together with other brothers and sisters in Christ. Those things do not in and of themselves “save” you, but they are products of the deep-heartfelt desire to please God. Love on Him, and thank Him for such a great mercy and forgiveness! And it also helps us to become refreshed and realigned in His purpose, always.

      You are so right Anne, when we truly begin to comprehend JUST HOW MUCH we have been (and are being) forgive of, our hearts can not help but exude loving kindness, and gratefulness. And the greatest of which is love–as it sums up all the commandments. If we allow the Lord to get it into our spirits JUST HOW MUCH God loves us, and just how much we have been forgiven of (and He truly LOVES even the one who knows enough about themselves to believe they are the WORST sinner ever–murderers, idolaters, cheaters, lairs, etc…) then we can be FREE. Free to rejoice in our salvation! And free to love and be loved in return.

      It’s never too late to turn back to God, face Him, cry out and repent for putting so much ahead of our relationship with Him. We will not be condemned if we miss it/screw up. We ALL WILL miss it. But where we miss it, God’s grace abounds. But, “Willful sinning” requires repentance so that we don’t end up with a seared conscience and hardened heart that walks away from God. If we are still breathing, we still can repent and turn from what’s been distracting us from our loving creator, and ask him to forgive us, and HELP us to live a life that is pleasing to Him and get in line with His will. 🙂

      If all this seems scary or stressful to try and catch up on now, it won’t continue to be. I say this, because I have SOOO missed it, and found myself way off the mark and was scared at how I had gotten there. At those points, I know it can suddenly feel very spooky just how far we’ve unknowingly drifted. 8- But again, God’s mercy and grace had already made provision for that too, and He gently took my hands and helped me through my fears and doubts and brought me back to where I was under his wing (and ultimately into His perfect will again). It took time, sometimes not real long, other times much longer, but He stayed with me faithfully and I am SO happy to say, “I may not be where I am going to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be!” And, “I’m okay, and I’m on my way!” <–those last two statements I need to credit to Joyce Meyer by the way. They are not mine.

      There is a tremendous sense of relief to believe that we can live carnally our whole lives and still somehow stay Christians, but God doesn't want to leave us stinking just like the world. That's ineffective, and skating dangerously close to apostasy (walking away entirely). If Jesus was just like the world, the world wouldn't have had a problem with Him, much less received anything from Him. Jesus preached REPENT, turn from your sins and follow Him. And ultimately there is a greater freedom in that (because it brings lasting PEACE–which is priceless). We can make this decision all over again, no matter how many times we've sinned and missed it, by asking His forgiveness. But then, we, in love, must purpose to follow Christ, or we will continue to sin willfully after having been forgiven so much.

      Peace be with all of you. And good posts Anne!! 🙂 The Lord bless you!

  21. Sins like depression, fear,….Ummmm. I would gainsay that those who engage in such keep some pretty good company, both Biblically and historically.

    The same Paul who wrote, “Rejoice always” also wrote that he despaired of life itself and was pressed out of measure. Christianity is not the affirmation of one and the total negation of the other, but both coexisting: one hand on the plow and one wiping away the tears.

    More Nee thoughts.

  22. Ok, so it’s a month and a half after this post went up, but due to my dark April I somehow missed it. Which made the finding so much sweeter, in a way, cause I was so tired, and looking for something, and there was that sentence:
    The day breaks, and it is grace, and you can’t earn it at all.
    So, dear girl, thank you for reminding me just what I needed to hear this night. The tree frogs, and the lightening bugs(well, that’s what we call ’em here in the South) and this grace, not daybreak grace, but eventide grace, I might just make it.

  23. I’m not “works based” or a Pharisee, but I would like to point out that the Bible does point out a few things.
    “We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will.”
    “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”
    God will no doubt have mercy on those who ask, but I wouldn’t expect much in the way of any kind of meaningul relationship with God. I believe that ‘seeking’ is very much an active thing on both the part of God and those who He seeks. You may find your own peace and comfort in quiet moments and bed sheets, but I don’t believe you’ll find the heart of God in those things…or anything if you’re not seeking Him. With that said, we don’t avoid sin to avoid punishment, but because it brings pleasure to God that we might give up ourselves and our wants and ‘needs’ in order to please Him.
    My 2 pennies and all that

    1. Thanks for the comment Arthur. I agree that there is definitely an element of seeking involved. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that you don’t have to be good for God to love you. That nothing you do or don’t do can change his love.

      I feel like if we give ourselves and one another the freedom to start there than that seeking will begin to evolve from the safety and security of that love…rather than a means to attempt to earn it.

  24. Thank you, Addie. I’m actually crying as I write this. I don’t think I need to say anything else other than that. Thank you.

  25. I love this so much I actually have it bookmarked to re-read it time to time (like today). Thank you so, so much for this.

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