What if I don’t deserve to come back to God?
The other day, someone asked me, “I want to come back to God, but I have done some really bad things. What if I don’t deserve to come back to God?”
Religion propagates a lie: you come to God based upon your own merit.
At face value, that might seem like a completely reasonable statement. After all, isn’t that what most people believe? This is why people say things like, “If I ever went into church the roof would collapse!” or “If she doesn’t get into heaven, then no one will.” These statements reveal a false belief that if people can just tip the scales in their favor they will have earned God’s forgiveness.
The conversation that I had reveals a theological dysfunction. By saying, “I am not good enough to come back to God,” the person is revealing that he believes God will only hear him if he is good enough.
Ironically, the person who posed the question was right about something - he isn’t good enough to come back to God. As a matter of fact, no one is good enough to come to God. This is a clear teaching of scripture even if it makes people uncomfortable.
In a beautifully poetic passage, the prophet Micah describes the reality of the human condition: “...there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net. Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well; the prince and the judge ask for a bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; thus they weave it together. The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge.” (Micah 7:2-4)
Micah is arguing that even the best people you know aren’t good enough. They might be better than the next guy, but compared to the surpassing holiness of God they are about as upright as a thorn hedge. If you or I are banking on our good deeds to merit our right to come to God or come back to God, we are in trouble. Jesus summed it up this way, “No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19).
The point is this: there’s nothing that you can do to please God enough to where you have any merit or deserve to come to him. That’s the bad news.
The good news is this: you don’t have to. As Christians, we believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. What that means is that on the cross he became the incarnation of sin - sin made manifest. He became a curse. All of the wrath that sin deserves, God poured out on his Son. His Son took the fall. Jesus took the blame. God’s own Son took the punishment so that mankind would have an option to be forgiven.
No one comes to God because they are good enough. The only way we can come to God is through Jesus who was good enough. This is why Jesus so bluntly states, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). We do come to God based upon merit, but it isn’t based upon your own merit. We come because of the merit of Jesus - who lived a sinless life yet was crucified as if he were a guilty man.
So how do you come to God? Through the meritorious good work of Jesus Christ. You aren’t good enough to come to God and you aren’t good enough to come back to God after a long absence. If you were, then you would be coming to God in your own name. We don’t come to God in our name, we come in the name of Jesus. In other words, we come to God because of Jesus’ faithfulness, Jesus’ obedience, Jesus’ righteousness, and Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Far from God? Close to God? First time coming to God? Returning to God after a long absence? The gospel is still the same - “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
How is Jesus’ burden light? Because he is the one who carries it. The gospel frees you from the burden of work. You don’t need to be good enough to come back to God. Just throw yourself on the grace of Jesus and be carried back.