It was a conversation I've had with several people before. I'm always cautious about it and feel the need to explain the meaning of the question. However, it really does appear true that some people try too hard to be good Christians. The way it came up was in a conversation with a young friend last week who was distraught over some impure motives she saw at work in her heart.

Just to set the record straight, Becky (not her real name) is one of the finest and most genuine people I know. Everyone else in her family and the circle of friends who know her best would tell you the same. But that, you see, is the root of her problem. She is so authentic and earnest about things that she is on the verge of driving herself crazy! If the problem with some people is that they are devoid of introspection and conscience, hers is the opposite. She tries too hard.

The gospel of Jesus is the good news that we have released from our past and hope for our future because of WHAT HE DID. It is not the bad news that we might climb out of the pits we have dug for ourselves and find a way into God's heart if we master all our character flaws and resist every temptation all on our own.

Becky is too introspective, too self-critical, and too unwilling to give herself the benefit of the doubt that she would give a total stranger. And it is making her miserable. Perhaps even spiritually neurotic.

Jesus offered pardon and peace to his followers. Becky has turned his offer on its head and lives with a constant sense of judgment and fear. About the only thing I can think of that would be worse would be for her to decide she has conquered all her flaws. She just might turn into a self-righteous prig who couldn't stand those of us who still struggle.

Surely the better way is to walk with a lighter step and happier heart. Yes, we are sinful people — but people who have been loved, redeemed, and secured to God through the work of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Yes, we still name and confess our sins — but with gratitude for pardon rather than in fear of rejection for Jesus' righteous sacrifice that forgives our sins and cleanses us of ALL unrighteousness (1 John 1:5-10; 1 John 2:1-2).

Don't presume on grace; be grateful for it.

Don't be cavalier about failure; confess it and move on.

Remember the story Jesus told about the man who tried so hard to be holy and could name the steps of progress he had made — thankful that he wasn't like the sinful other man in the story? The other person in the story was anything but holy, but he went home at peace with God for confessing his unworthiness! His confessional and prayerful attitude seems to be at the heart of true holiness — the holiness that God himself seeks and honors in us (Luke 18:9-14).

We must not take our sin lightly. Neither must we try to earn God's grace.
Remember the three beautiful stories about the joy of salvation when sinners are found, returned to where they belong, and turn from their past life of rebellion and are welcomed back into the family of God (Luke 15:1-32)? They were told to sinful people who were drawing near Jesus to hear him and turn their lives back to God (Luke 15:1-2)!

We must not take our sin lightly: the cost paid to forgive our sins was the blood of Jesus.

Neither must we live as if we can or must earn God's grace or be forever rejected by God.

The apostle John said it this way:

My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous (1 John 2:1 NLT).

So keep trying. Just don't try "too hard": it could be your downfall.