Am I good enough?
With much enthusiasm, a man took a job.
It was the job of his dreams. He’d worked hard, moving up the corporate ladder, to earn this spot, this privileged position. For years, he’d waited. And now, the longing of his vocational heart was filled.
The days and weeks went by and the work piled up. At first, he didn’t mind. He’d worked hard for this job, labored long, and had finally arrived. A heavier workload was simply the byproduct of the job he wanted.
One particular project took much time and effort. It was a project directed from the CEO to him. That was quite an honor and a privilege, for the CEO had bypassed his boss to come straight to him. He was the man to get the job done!
When the project was finished, he went to a meeting of the board, with the CEO present, and revealed his work. He knew it was exactly what the CEO had wanted. The project conformed exactly to what he had been directed to do and he had done it with excellence.
But no, the board tore his project apart. The CEO, to the man’s surprise, joined in. The project was a disaster, he was a failure, and as quickly as they let him leave, he was back in his office with the door shut.
Weeks went by. He occasionally got some praise from the CEO and other executives. He got more projects from them. He did exactly as directed but, most of the time, the projects weren’t good enough. There was usually something wrong, some big flaw.
Was he wrong somehow? Was he misinformed? Was he not listening well? He worked on his skills, trying to do better, but instead, the complaints, critiques, and condemnation continued.
After six months on the job, he started to wonder to himself if he was really up to the job? He couldn’t keep anyone happy. Anyone. No supervisor, no executive, no CEO, no board member could stay happy with him long. It was a roller coaster.
All he could think to himself was, “Am I good enough?”
Am I good enough?
Let’s read Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae, chapter 1, the first fourteen verses.
Am I good enough?
Paul encourages the church in Colossae to keep doing what it’s been doing. He’s never visited there, but he’s heard reports through Epaphras, the founder of the church and his friend, that the church is doing well. He, with Timothy, rejoices in this fact. Paul has much to thank them for, much about them to give thanks to God for, and wants them to know how pleased he is at how they’re living their lives.
Paul seems to have that rare quality that many of us admire: the ability to help others flourish.
Here, we see that on full display. His encouragement is meant to help the church flourish even more than it already is. He notes the fruit they bear, stating that he hopes that they will continue to bear fruit as they increase in the wisdom and knowledge of God.
That must be comforting advice for those in Colossae because being a church at this point in the history of Christianity was tough. First, there was no such thing as Christianity. There was nothing organized about this new faith. It couldn’t even be properly called a religion at this point. There were only loosely-defined followers of Jesus, people who believed that he was the promised Messiah and the fulfillment of all of Israel’s longings. But what that looked like in practice depended on the teacher you followed.
This is what made early Christianity particularly challenging. Many different teachers went around the Roman Empire, and beyond, teaching different gospels. Get circumcised, don’t get circumcised. Keep the sabbath, don’t worry about it. Keep kosher, eat all the pork and shrimp you can muster. It was a confusing time to be a church. What teacher were you supposed to follow? For that determined what gospel you followed.
With so much focus on the teacher a church chose to follow, life as a church centered around the writings and lessons of that teacher. So, many churches concerned themselves with keeping that teacher happy with them, acting like the man in our opening parable.
So, if you’re the church in Colossae receiving this letter, it would be tempting to compare how you believe against what Paul writes to you. I can hear the ancient Christians asking themselves: is Paul happy with us? Are we doing what we’re supposed to be doing? Thus, is God happy with us? Is Jesus happy with us?
Am I good enough?
Don’t we all do that? We see the people around us who seem righteous and think that we should be doing better. We see the people around us who always have their time with God in the morning, who talk about a rich and abundant prayer life, who are always volunteering here at the church. They are good Christians. They are good enough.
Which can only cause us to reflectively ask ourselves, “Am I good enough?”
Am I a good enough Christian?
It’s an easy and pervasive question across our faith. We ask ourselves this question even without meaning to, sometimes without even realizing that we are.
When we feel a pang of guilt because we hear something in a sermon that we’re supposed to be doing, and know that we aren’t; that’s the same as asking, “am I good enough?”
When we think we should be doing more, whether in our faith lives or for the church, we’re really asking ourselves, “am I good enough?”
When we see others who seem to be ahead of us in their faith, we wonder, “am I good enough?”
This question was widespread in the faith that raised me. Everywhere, there were standards to maintain. As a teenager in my youth group, I was to make sure I had at least thirty minutes of quiet time in the morning. Every morning. And that quiet time was to include bible reading and prayers, but not any prayers, I was to praise God and then ask for what I needed. Then, I was to have a devotional book I was also reading. This was the formula. It was to be followed.
This was the standard upon which I was graded to find out if I was good enough.
For me, I kept my discipline, I made sure I checked all the boxes, because I was terrified of not being good enough for God.
So I made sure I was the best of all the youth. I was so successful that I got an award from the church. They made a big deal about it one Sunday morning. I got this huge plaque, largest plaque I’ve ever gotten.
But just a couple of months later, I discovered that I was empty inside.
Even for all my discipline, for all my hard work, my soul was empty.
I checked all the boxes, I did all the disciplines, I was the model Christian youth, and it mattered not for my heart and soul. All I was doing was rushing around checking boxes, trying to keep my youth group, my church, my parents, and ultimately God, happy with me.
And that feeling of emptiness made me think that, even for all that work and discipline, I must not be good enough.
When asking, “am I good enough?” The answer was no.
Isn’t that a terrible, tyrannizing, way to live? Always asking yourself if you’re good enough? Never measuring up to the standards of others. Always trying to keep people happy and never fully succeeding.
It’s a tyrannizing way to live because it’s an impossible way to live. You can’t keep people happy. They’ll always find something to complain about. They’ll always find some deficiency to poke at. That’s certainly true when leading a church. There’s never a moment that everyone is happy with me. I’m sure that’s true in your jobs, with your families, in your business dealings, and with your friends. We can’t keep people happy.
And yet, too many of us keep striving to.
Then, we take that same attitude and put it on our faith. We think that if we do the right things, say the right things, we’ll keep God happy with us. We try to check boxes, live our faith life in the right ways, so that Jesus will approve of us.
That’s really what we seek. Approval. From others. And from God. It’s why we keep striving to keep others happy with us, to keep Jesus happy with us, even though we know deep down inside that it’s an impossible task.
We keep trying, striving, seeking to get an answer of yes to this question:
Am I good enough?
It’s notable, then, how Paul encourages the church in Colossae.
He doesn’t congratulate them on doing a great job following his teachings. He doesn’t tell them what a great example they are for others at following doctrine. Their beliefs aren’t the thing that he puts on a pedestal and gives thanks to God for.
Nor is their discipline the thing he gives thanks for. Nor any specific behaviors.
Instead, all Paul has to say, all Paul gives thanks for, is that they are bearing fruit and growing in wisdom.
And isn’t that freedom?
Because that’s God’s standard for living the Christian life. Are you bearing fruit? Are you growing in wisdom?
There’s no comparison against others. If you’re a Type-A personality, this is the anti type-a model. There’s no way to achieve this. There’s no way to figure out how to be so good at bearing fruit and growing in wisdom that you keep God happy.
In fact, there’s no way to answer the question, “Am I good enough?”
Because God’s standards make that question pointless.
When you were born, you were good enough. The Psalms tell us that before you were in your mother’s womb, God knew you and loved you. Before you were born, you were good enough.
But what about sin? Sinning starts after you’re born! True, but Paul notes that great reality of our faith in verse 14: in Jesus we have “redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” And remember, forgiveness is to release from debt, from having to do something to atone for our sins. In Christ, you’re already free of the sins you’ve committed. You are good enough.
God’s standards for being a Christian are simply this: are you bearing fruit, are you growing in wisdom?
That’s freedom. There’s no tyranny in that question because you’re already good enough. We don’t bear fruit and grow in wisdom in order to keep God happy with us. We don’t do it so that we can keep our church happy with us. We don’t do it so we can look good compared to others who seem less righteous. We don’t do it for any achievement-oriented reason.
We do it because we’re in love with God and we want to know God better. That’s the standard. If you’ve said yes to Jesus Christ, accepting that offer of forgiveness that’s always there, then we naturally, in our souls, want to know the love of Christ better. And as we get to know the love of Christ, we naturally bear more fruit and grow in wisdom.
That’s freedom from the tyranny of asking ourselves, “am I good enough?” You are good enough. You have always been good enough.
So stop asking yourself that question.
Stop trying to keep God happy with you.
This morning, confess that you are striving to keep God happy with you and accept the freedom that comes from the love of God.
And that freedom goes beyond just our relationship with Christ. If we know, deep in our souls, that we are good enough and have always been good enough for God, we will also stop striving for approval from others. We will cease trying to keep others happy, trying to please people. We will stop worrying when people don’t like us, when they don’t approve of us.
That’s the answer to our parable this morning. If the man had known he was good enough because he is loved by his Savior, he would not have worried what the bosses thought. Their rejection would not have caused him to wonder if he was good enough. Perhaps he wasn’t up to the tasks of his job, but not being able to do a job is a far different reality than not being good enough.
We are all good enough because God loves us.
So stop asking if you’re good enough. The answer is yes, you are.
Are you in love with God?
Do you know that you’re good enough?
Or are you spending time comparing yourself against others, thinking you should be doing more, wondering, “am I good enough?”
Give yourself permission this morning: forget the question. Adopt God’s standard: bear fruit, grow in wisdom. Stay in love with God.
No longer be tyrannized by trying to keep God happy. God is happy with you. Go, then, bear fruit, grow in wisdom, knowing that God was, is, and always will be fully pleased with you.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.