“‘For myself,’ she continued, ‘. . . I believe that what’s right today is wrong tomorrow and that the time to enjoy yourself is now so long as you let others do the same.  I’m as good, Mr. Motes,’ she said, ‘not believing in Jesus as many a one that does.’  ‘You’re better,’ he said, leaning forward suddenly.  ‘If you believed in Jesus, you wouldn’t be so good.’”

Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood (New York, 1949), page 225.

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4 thoughts on ““If you believed in Jesus, . . .””

  1. Reader says:

    Ray, can you explain to me what Mr. Motes’ comment means in this situation?

    1. Ray Ortlund says:

      Thanks. When we are justified by faith alone, we can stop insisting we are so good. Our goodness is irrelevant to our justification, because our goodness is replaced by Christ’s goodness for us. We can finally own up to what we really are.

      1. Reader says:

        Thanks for the explanation. I was hoping that was what he meant, but the sentence structure seems to suggest that he is saying, “If you believed in Jesus, [then] you wouldn’t be so good.” So, you know, more cause and effect, especially since he is directly calling teh female speaker “better” without a sense of irony. But since I am not aware of Motes’ character, I couldn’t tell from this small snippet what he was implying. I didn’t recall anyone in Wise Blood being an actual believer, but I haven’t read it in a long time.

  2. pete says:

    Guess I read it a little different Ray – also not having read Wise Blood -. It hit me that it could mean that if you were a believer you would realize that due to the depth of your sin (not so goodness) you needed a savior.

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Ray Ortlund


Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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