1. God's Law in the Heart & Conscience
The first, greatest, and deepest reason for the not good enough feeling is the law of God in the human heart and conscience. It is this God-given inner witness that keeps telling a person they are falling short of perfection, but, it also tells them when they do good and right and fulfill some aspect of that law. Why would our Maker place this largely incriminating legal witness inside us? And, if I am born-again in Christ, why is this witness still there and what do I do about it? Let's begin by reading the following all-important scripture carefully; it articulates God's law in our heart and conscience. Romans 2:15 (NIV):
...the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.
Paul's wording is carefully chosen and so very enlightening. He tells us every single person has God's law written or imprinted on their heart, and, their conscience bears witness or "speaks" for that law by accusing them when they do wrong (i.e., guilt, heaviness, not feeling good enough) or defending them when they do right (i.e., the warm fuzzy, relief, levity, moral self-esteem). What exactly is the conscience, and why did our Maker give it to every person?
The Lord did not make Adam and Eve with a knowledge of good and evil, what we could call the good-evil duality or joint knowledge of those two moral opposites. He made them morally perfect and with decisional freewill (Ecc 7:29), but this moral perfection was more of an unaware innocence, like puppies or infants (the idea of Jonah 4:11 and Isaiah 7:15,16). The Lord did not give them a conscience, nor did they need one. It was this very lack of awareness of the good-evil duality that Satan used to taunt and tempt Eve (Gen 3:5). Fastforward to the New Testament. We now can understand why the New Testament Greek word for conscience hearkens all the way back to the knowledge of good and evil issue in the Garden.
The New Testament Greek word for "conscience" is syneidesis. It is made up of two words: syn, which means "with, joint, co", and eido, which means "to know, perceive, recognize, see". Syneidesis, then, literally means joint-knowledge or co-knowledge of both good and evil. After the Fall, God programmed into all fetuses this syneidesis or conscience, an intuitive moral sense of the right-wrong duality.
The Old Testament does not have a precise word for conscience. Some Old Testament translations use the English word "conscience", however, the Hebrew is actually "heart" or leb. For example, six verses in the NIV use the word "conscience" (Gen 20:5,6, 1Sam 24:5, 25:31, 2Sam 24:10, Job 27:6), but the Hebrew is leb or lebab, which means "heart". The idea or reality of the conscience is certainly there in the Old Testament, however, the inspired writers attributed it to the leb or heart. Only in the New Testament would this subject be more fully explained.
Heart & Conscience, Law & Lawyer
Why does the Old Testament say the heart is the intuitive moral sensor, while the New Testament says the conscience is the intuitive moral sensor? Because both are involved, and Paul tells us exactly this. Back to Romans 2:15 (written out above). Paul said God's law is written or imprinted on the heart, while the conscience is the witness or speaker for that law by accusing us with guilt or defending us with levity. The heart and conscience are the law and lawyer inside. After the Fall, our Maker gave us this rudimentary moral sense for two main reasons.
To Regulate & Stabilize Human Civilization
I am sure you realize not everyone is a born-again lover of God growing in healthy, godly character. How, then, does human civilization not devolve into anarchy, animalism, and autocracy, seeing that every person is born with a sin nature and default solipsism? Well, God thought of that in advance: He wrote or imprinted His law on every human heart, a heart emanating a conscience that accuses evil, wrong, and injustice and defends good, right, and justice. In other words, the Creator gave humanity this intuitive moral sense to regulate and stabilize human societies.
Every people group, from the primitive tribe of twenty to the nation-state of twenty million, has a set of laws, norms, punishments, and rewards based on the law of God within each member urging them towards a social contract. The laws, norms, punishments, and rewards might not mirror God's law exactly, and some parts might be entirely opposite of it (like state-sponsored false religions, laws that oppress or discriminate, etc.), but nonetheless, in every people group you can recognize some semblance of God's law in the social and legal structure. Foreknowing that not every human would live life His way, God programmed the law into every heart and conscience to regulate and stabilize human civilization. This is why even a non-Christian or anti-Christian person can still have a strong sense of morality and conscientiousness.
Psychopaths & Sociopaths in Civilization
A distinct, recurrent feature of psychopaths and sociopaths (however you define them technically) is their peculiar and disturbing lack of heart and conscience. Scripture explains this phenomenon.
Like everyone else, they too were given a heart and conscience by the Maker. Scripture says, however, that conscience became "seared" or cauterized into total deadness (1Ti 4:2). This happens when a person repeatedly ignores their conscience's accusations, and, by repeatedly ignoring the drawings and speakings of the Holy Spirit in their life. Hebrews says sin tricks a person in this way. It is pleasurable for a time (Heb 11:25), but in the quiet subconscious background of the soul it is concurrently hardening (3:13), numbing, and ultimately, deadening the heart and conscience. When a person reaches this level of sinful fullness, Paul says, they have "ceased to feel" (Eph 4:19 YLT).
It is important to remember these individuals are not the norm, they are the marginal. Because of the many TV shows, movies, and riveting news stories about sinister individuals like Ted Bundy or Jodi Arias or people like them, our minds can drift into a salience bias and lose a sense of proportion. Most people--Christians, non-Christians, and anti-Christians--coexist in human civilization without engaging in disturbingly sinister antisocial behaviors. Most people listen to their conscience on the really, really big stuff, like not killing or raping. I bring up this subpoint about psychos and socios only to amplify the larger point that God's post-Fall plan works. He gave us an inner law and lawyer to regulate and stabilize human societies, notwithstanding the marginal individuals that manage to sear and deaden their conscience.
To Drive Us to the Solution: The Savior
A second reason our Maker put a law and lawyer inside us was to drive us to the solution for humanity's fall into sin: the Savior. After the Fall, how would God convince fallen humans that they are sinners in need of a Savior? Humanity is filled with pride and self-sufficiency. That solipsism is locked into a person's ontology by the law of sin and death. So again we ask, how would God convince us that we need a Savior outside of ourselves?
One way God does this convincing is by His law in our heart and conscience. That law incessantly accuses, telling us we are not perfect or good enough as that law requires for salvation and restored fellowship with Him. If a human has to be perfect to be saved and restored to fellowship with Him, then we are absolutely, unequivocally, eternally hopeless! Never good enough! Every person has fallen short and is definitively imperfect, yet, how many people on earth would admit that or only vaguely agree with that? Maybe you know someone in your social circle. Maybe this was you at some point. How many people deny, avoid, or mitigate that admission? How many people humble themselves to God for a solution? You can see why God put a powerful prosecutor inside us. He is trying to convince us of what most people do not want to be convinced of. That they are not good enough to be saved, that they need a Savior outside of themselves.
God's law within tries to convince us of this, that we need an ultimate solution to this eternal, existential crisis. That ultimate solution is a Savior, one who could fulfill the criteria of perfection on our behalf. By accepting that Savior with unconditional abandonment, we are given the gift of perfection (positional righteousness) that restores us back to our Maker.
And so this law within incessantly accuses and incriminates only so we do not depend on ourselves to get back to God--which is impossible--but so we come through the Solution-Savior, Jesus, who satisfied the perfection required by the law. Through Him we are acceptable and accepted once again by a holy and perfect God, just as Adam and Eve before the Fall. Let's look at a few scriptures that articulate this exactly in concise statements.
Scriptures & Explanations
Romans 3:20, 7:7 (NIV) say, ...through the law we become conscious of our sin...I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law...
Here Paul says the law awakens us to the good-evil duality reality, regardless of whether that law is written on a stone, on a scroll, on paper, or on our heart-conscience. Same law of God. To use my vocabulary from the previous section, Paul is saying the law incessantly accuses and incriminates us so that we realize we are never good enough to be saved, and therefore, we need a Savior. Through the law we learn of personal sin, fallenness, imperfection, that we are simply not good enough. The law, in the Torah or in the heart, is an awakening and humbling mechanism. It is not supposed to ultimately make you feel good about yourself, but make you look for a solution outside yourself.
Galatians 3:24,25 (NKJV) say, Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
That first phrase is gold: God's law, whether on paper or in our heart, was only a tutor, a temporary teacher, a mentor, a nanny, to push us to Christ! It constantly told us we were not good enough, not perfect, only so we would look for an ultimate solution outside of ourselves in Jesus. Paul's last statement is that after a person is born-again in Christ, we no longer need that tutor because we are now in a restored relationship with Perfection Himself. Now He Himself, by His Spirit, can navigate us in the good-evil duality reality.
Romans 10:4 (NKJV) says, For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
What a simple summary statement. Paul is saying the same thing here with different vocabulary. In Galatians 3:24,25 he said the law was a temporary tutor, no longer necessary after we are born-again. It becomes an anachronism. Here in Romans 10:4 he says Christ is the "end" of the law for the born-again person. He/she receives the gift of perfect righteousness that satisfies or "ends" the perfect requirements of the law for that individual. Paul said the same thing with different wording yet again to Timothy in 1Timothy 1:9 (NKJV): Knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless... In other words, the law is not made for the born-again person in Christ. It ends or is satisfied for that person when the perfect righteousness of Christ is gifted to them at salvation. It becomes an anachronism.
Hebrews 10:14 (NIV): For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
This verse addresses the perfection issue. Though we could never be good enough to fix our imperfection problem before a perfect God and His perfect law, through Jesus' sacrifice "he has made [the born-again] perfect forever."
Problem solved! The law, in the Torah and in the heart-conscience, drives us to the solution: the Savior.
I'm born-again, I struggle with the not good enough feeling. Now what?
Chapter 1, God's law in the heart and conscience, is our first realm of inquiry and diagnosis on the not good enough feeling. Keep in mind, there are several more realms of inquiry we will look into. If this chapter hit a nerve center inside you, then it is relevant to your uniquely-configured struggle with this. So let's get applicational.
Deeply understand the anachronistic purpose of God's law inside you.
I expounded on this point in the previous section, To Drive Us to the Solution: The Savior, so let's practicalize. Step 1 in transforming the not good enough feeling is deeply understanding the anachronistic purpose of God's law in your heart. It was supposed to nag you, accuse you, incriminate you, prosecute you...until you came to Jesus for salvation. After your born-again experience, the law became an anachronism, a leftover of sorts, that now needs to be transformed into a new law. Understand the previous section deeply and thoroughly. That foundational theological truth is the basis for the next point.
God overwrites the old law with a new law via our intimacy with Him and spiritual growth into the New Covenant.
The writer of Hebrews says, in the New Covenant, God would write a new law on the hearts of His people (those born-again in Christ). Hebrews 8:10 (NIV): ...I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts...
A few verses later, the writer says the old law "is becoming obsolete and...is ready to vanish away" (v13 NKJV).
What we get from these two important statements is that God is overwriting the old law in our heart with a new law in our heart. What is this new law or laws? The context of Hebrews 8 tells us it is the New Covenant and its liberating spiritual concepts. In legal language, Paul's calls it "the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2, 1Co 9:21) and "the law of the Spirit" (Ro 8:2), while James calls it "the law of liberty" (Jas 1:25, 2:12).
It is this new law--the New Covenant and its derivative laws (new and liberating spiritual concepts)--that God is writing on our hearts. This new writing happens conditionally and progressively, though, in conjunction with our proactive intimacy with Him and proactive spiritual growth. James 1:25 emphasizes this conditionality. As we are intimate with Him everyday in concentrated worship, prayer, and listening, as we grow into New Covenant realities through deep Bible study and practice, the overwriting of the old law becomes faster and faster and deeper and deeper in our hearts. The not good enough feeling from the old law becomes obsolete and eventually vanishes.
God's presence supersedes our heart as it is being overwritten with the new law and updated information.
1John 3:19-22 is an enlightening scripture about how our heart can "condemn" us (accuse, prosecute, make us feel not good enough, etc.) while we are still in the process of God overwriting the old law and updating our heart. Please read the passage before continuing (NIV):
This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.
This is an important passage regarding the not good enough feeling as it pertains to the old law in our heart. John is saying here that we have to seek and pull on God's presence to set our hearts at rest when it (falsely) condemns or berates us. We cannot let it run wild and snuff out our joy for God and life. However, we are powerless to stop the heart's accusations while it is still in the overwriting process, which is why we must prioritize spending time in God's presence daily. His presence supersedes and quiets the heart by illuminating present tense truth or by simply washing over the heart with a flow of peace. Do not become lazy or negligent about your daily meeting with God. Do not fail to seek His presence when your heart prosecutes you; call Him before you call a friend. Only He is greater than our hearts, only He knows everything, only He can quiet that heart and set it at rest. Only He can overwrite its old law with a new law and updated information.