The theme song for the hit show COPS was one of the 90’s most distinctive sounds. The lyrics weren’t great, but the lines became legendary. “Whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do, when they come for you, bad boys, bad boys?” I remember sitting in front of the television as a kid watching silly people do stupid things, thinking to myself, “How can anyone be so dumb?” The problem wasn’t just that the criminals were bad. The problem was that they were often so bad at being bad. At that time, If I’m honest, I thought I was a little better than they were. In fact, I was sure of it until I had an encounter with the law myself.
I didn’t go to court, but I did stand before a judge. To my surprise, at seven years old I found myself tried and found guilty for the crimes I had committed. I was mortified to discover that the prosecution was pursuing the death penalty. Worse still, I knew I deserved it. My crime–I lied. That was it. I had lied many times, but once was enough to earn me a death sentence. You may be thinking, “Oh, you had me there for a minute. I thought you really got arrested.” Honestly, I did, just not in the way you’re thinking. It wasn’t black uniforms backed by blue lights that had tracked me down. It was far worse than that. God Himself had cornered me, and He had enough evidence to put me away for eternity. I thought I was pretty good, but standing in His presence was enough to convince me I was actually pretty bad.
As long as I compared myself to the bad boys on the screen, I could brush my shoulders off and feel fairly good about myself, but God wasn’t buying that defense. You see, His standard of goodness was far better than mine. He wasn’t comparing me to people who were worse than me. He was comparing me to someone far better than me, His Son Jesus. I could boast that I wasn’t as bad as some people, but I couldn’t even begin to argue the case that I was as good as Jesus. Jesus was and is perfect in all His ways. He never said, thought, or did anything that displeased God or violated His law.
Therefore, God does not measure us by us. He measures us by Him.
When compared to Him, even our good looks bad. God doesn’t just look at what we have done, but why we did it. He examines our motives, not just our actions. The slightest hint of selfishness or falsified information is incriminating. The good deed we thought would take the stand on our behalf often becomes evidence for the prosecution. When I found that out, I knew I was in trouble. It wasn’t just that I was going to be tried for my bad deeds it was that I was going to be tried for my good deeds as well. Suddenly I realized that my best had left me in worse shape than I could imagine. I was just another bad boy in big trouble, and I wasn’t alone. The truth is, I found a lot of company in my holding cell. As I looked around, I realized, there are actually no good people. We are all basically bad. Even our good deeds are tainted by selfishness and pride. Listen to Gods assessment of humanity:
2 God looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
3 Every one of them has turned aside;
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one.
According to God, who always gets it right, we’ve all got it wrong. Yet, it’s our bad that makes His gospel good. The gospel is the true account of Jesus. God’s own perfection demanded that He judge sin, and before we think Him harsh, we should be careful to admit that we ourselves believe justice should be served; just not against us. Most of us have an inner sense of fairness that forces us to believe if you do the crime you have to do the time. We believe that crimes must be paid for, but we are shocked to find out how much our own sin cost. The fine for every crime is the same, execution. The only catch is that the punishment doesn’t end there. Death is just the beginning. The real punishment is a life sentence in hell, without the possibility of parole. Make no mistake, even this proves the goodness of God. He is so just He cannot and will not overlook even the smallest crime against the crown. Every crime gets paid for, one way or the other. The bad news, that God is good, is also the best news we could hope to receive.
God isn’t just the judge of what’s good, He is also the justifier of those who are guilty. God didn’t just require a payment for sin; He made the payment justice required. The only Good Guy gave Himself as a ransom for all the bad boys. He was shackled, punished, and executed in our place. The law demanded blood, so Jesus gave His. The exchange was bigger than just pardon; it also meant purification. In His death, Jesus not only took our rebellion, He offered us His righteousness. All who come to Him by faith are not only forgiven of the charges against them, their record is expunged, and all past crimes are completely erased. The beauty of the gospel is not just that we can be forgiven and free. No, the beauty is that we can be clean.
When we come to God through Christ, He doesn’t only take our bad away; He gives us His good. Literally, Jesus trades our orange jumpsuit for His white robes. He gives us his righteousness. When we get that, then and only then can we understand what makes the gospel so good. The gospel is the good news that, though we were bad, Jesus is always good. It’s through our badness we see His goodness most clearly. Jesus didn’t come to save good people; He came to save sinners that could never save themselves.