One of the lessons from our recent class on Christian Ethics was this: study of ethics reveals that we do not and cannot behave well even according to our own standards, much less approach the perfect purity and goodness of God. We cannot by our own efforts make ourselves acceptable to God. But there is no need to despair. God has promised his own Spirit to live within us, not to make us perfectly good (we will never be that) but to make us part of himself. When we surrender to God and rely, not on our own merits, but on God’s free gift (through the death and resurrection of Jesus) then we become acceptable to Him. It’s both easy and hard. Easy because the work has been done for us, hard because we cannot rely wholly on God unless we smother our pride.
So why go to church? In our liturgy we remember and confess our unworthiness before God and we remember (and more than that, mystically connect with) the sacrifice of Jesus that made us acceptable to God. We experience a foretaste of our hope: to live in love with God forever. Church is not a bunch of pretty good people getting together for mutual congratulations, it is (as it has been said) one beggar telling another where to find bread.