In that great theological movie masterpiece, “Caddyshack,” Judge Smails wants to know if a young Danny Noonan is going to stand for “goodness” or “badness.” Danny replies, “I want to be good.” More poignantly, at the end of “Saving Private Ryan,” a now old Ryan along with his family visits the gravesite of Captain Miller. Miller and others had died saving Private Ryan and with his dying breath Miller challenges the young Ryan to “earn” the huge sacrifices others made to save him.
The film ends emotionally with Ryan asking his wife to tell him he led a good life — that he was a good man. Ryan had spent his whole life trying to live up to Miller’s challenge to “earn” the sacrifices made for him. But even in his later years, after he had most assuredly led a good life, Ryan was not sure that he was good enough. He seeks validation from his wife. He wants to hear someone else say it.
Not surprisingly, the Bible has a lot to say about “goodness” as well as “badness.” But today, I want to focus on “Goodness.” It seems the older I get, the more I appreciate and even get emotional about people doing good to and for one another. It touches my heart when I see “random acts of kindness.” And I can’t help but notice the contrast between the way our culture defines the “Good” life and the way the Bible defines it.
Our culture would have us believe that the good life is all about the advantage we get when we have the “goods” on someone or perhaps more importantly the accumulation of “goods” or material wealth. The Bible says something different.
In Matthew’s Gospel, a young man famously askes Jesus, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus’ reply surprises us. “Why ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good. But to answer your question — if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.”
Later, when Jesus was asked about the greatest of all God’s commandments he replies in essence, “Love God and your neighbor as yourself.” We know this as the Great Commandment. The message is clear. The real Good Life is all about doing good by doing the Lord’s work (serving others) and being good — obediently loving and serving God by keeping his commands.
This raises two important questions: First, what is the Lord’s work? And second, how do you know when you’ve done enough? After Jesus fed the 5,000 in John’s Gospel, the crowds follow him, and Jesus urges them to “work for food that leads to eternal life that the Son of Man will give.” Understandably, the crowd then asks, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus’ answer is direct and to the point. He says simply, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
In other words, the work required of followers of Jesus is faith. But biblical faith is never just about head knowledge or having an intellectual understanding of something. Biblical faith assumes belief so strong, so real, that it actually changes your life. Biblical faith frees us to respond to the second part of the Great Commandment to love our neighbor. We are able to love others because God loved us first. God proved that by his atoning sacrifice on the cross.
Loving our neighbors (both near and far away) by serving others and doing random acts of kindness go hand in hand with loving God. And unlike Private Ryan, we never have to worry about “earning” the sacrifice God made for us. We never have to wonder if I’m “good enough.” Jesus is our “Good Enough.” He did for us what we could never do for ourselves.
The Gospel (Good News) for believers is that as Paul says, in Ephesians Chapter 2, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
I will close with this. It’s been my pleasure to share why “Faith Matters” with you these last two years. I have recently retired as pastor of Mountain of Faith Lutheran Church and today is my final column for the Transcript Bulletin. I pray God’s richest blessings for you and yours in the years ahead. Goodbye and God bless you.
Rick Ehrheart is pastor of Mountain of Faith Lutheran Church in Tooele.