Shirley Temple doll

Better than Shirley Temple Goodness

Hearing that Shirley Temple Black died this week sent me back to my childhood years. The Shirley Temple from the 1930s movie screens had an influence on my early life in the 1950s. Even though there were no reruns on television, nor channels like TMC and AMC to play all her movies, and certainly no DVDs, I somehow knew about Shirley Temple. And, her portrayal of goodness.

Looking back at pictures of me as a young girl, I wore Shirley Temple style dresses, with my hair in fluffy blonde curls. Like many girls my age, I played with a Shirley Temple doll,complete with outfits from some of her movie roles. When my parents took me out to dinner with them, having a “Shirley Temple” drink (ginger ale, orange juice, and grenadine syrup with a cherry on top!) made me feel rewarded for being good like she was.

My concept of Shirley Temple was that she represented a little girl who was always good. In her film roles, she consistently portrayed a character with goodness. As one article put it, “constantly cheerful, smiling, optimistic and pure-hearted.” And, I wanted to be a good girl. I thought that if I played the part of being cheerful and following all the rules at home and school, everyone would consider me “good.” And, if I were good enough, not only would my parents love me but even God would love me and be pleased with me. Sounded like a great strategy. One problem, though. A really big problem! I couldn’t keep that goodness up all the time. No one can!

No one can be good enough on her own to please God 100% of the time from birth to grave in order to earn His love and acceptance. The Bible teaches that truth. The last part of Romans 3:12 says, “there is no one who does good, not even one (NIV).” That’s from God’s perspective. No one!

God is the ultimate perfectionist. He determines what He considers good. Not me. Not you. None of our little checklists measure up. God knows how we get stuck in our woefully insufficient attempts to measure up to His standards of goodness (or change them to what we set up as our own). Oh, we can look good on the outside in front of people, like the characters Shirley Temple played in her movies. That “role-playing” is described so well in 2 Timothy 3:5, “having a form of godliness but denying its power (NIV).” Looking good on the outside but with selfish hearts. When we are intellectually honest with ourselves, we recognize this to be true.

But, there’s good news for all of us who think we can be good enough on our own to please God and earn His love and acceptance. Give up! Yep. Stop it! The only human who was ever good enough for God was His Son, Jesus. But, the moment we say “no” to our own attempts and say “yes” to trusting in Jesus and His death on the cross to take away our sins—all those not-so-good things we can’t help doing, God clothes us with Jesus (Galatians 3:27) and His goodness. My confidence is this: when God looks at me now, He sees Jesus’ goodness. So, I am always completely loved and accepted by God. That is huge to a recovering perfectionist like me!

My motivation for being “good” now is not to earn acceptance with God. Rather, my heart is filled with love and gratitude for what God did for me. That’s why I want to live a life that pleases Him as He Himself describes in the Bible. I am able to do this not because I am so strong. No, it’s because the Spirit of God lives inside of me—God’s empowering presence enabling me to do that which is good in God’s eyes. He’ll do the same for you when you trust Him.

That’s better than Shirley Temple goodness any day!

More Resources:

Graceful Living Bible Study (read online)

Graceful Living Bible Study (download pdf)

Words of the Cross Series

Melanie Newton is the founder of Joyful Walk Ministries, an online ministry that helps women learn to study the Bible for themselves and grow their Bible-teaching skills to lead others on a joyful walk with Jesus. Melanie has written many Bible study guides (available on and her website) and presented insightful messages to large groups of women. All of her BIble Studies are available as books on Melanie is wife to Ron Newton (“Integrity at Work” ministry), loves to be outside in her garden, and enjoys her yearly fix of boiled crawfish.

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