“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
Romans 3 vs 23
I recall returning home after a church service, many years ago, feeling as though the weight of the world was on my shoulders. Indeed, never have I felt so incapable of attaining the standards required to appease a God whom I felt was way too strict and demanding. The message of the service centered on overcoming our failings and weaknesses, so as to walk in abundant prosperity. Unfortunately, the more I focused on my mountain of failings, and how to overcome them, the more I felt incapable of doing so. By the time I got home, I’d started to wonder whether Christianity was for me. I was overwhelmed with guilt, fear, and sheer panic, as it became all too clear that attaining the necessary righteousness to please God was way beyond me.
I began to envy, and to an extent resent those I perceived to be purer in heart, and far more perfect in obedience. Not only did they look and speak the part, but they obeyed God’s commandments with such consummate ease, that one could easily have been forgiven for assuming obedience was going out of fashion. The more I compared myself to them, the more my ineptitude, impurity, and utter unworthiness glared at me.
Ever felt like this?
But here’s the thing – the bibles says that ‘All have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.’
In other words, no matter how pure, perfect, and devout someone may seem, you can be rest assured that he /she also has his/her own particular failings.
There are three crucial facts to remember when feeling down in the dumps, as a result of failings or mistakes.
1. No matter how awful you feel, be rest assured you’re not the only one struggling with that particular area of life.
2. Nobody is as perfect as he or she seems.
3. There’s absolutely nothing you can do to attain the righteousness God demands.
So, if God knows this, why slap us on the face with such a disdainful declaration?
The answer is simple.
He wants you to quit trying.
Yes, throw away all notions of it!
Whilst studying this verse a few weeks ago, the Holy Spirit asked me to imagine a perfectly straight line, that goes from one end of a room to the other. The beginning of the line representing 1%, and the end of it representing 100% – no dip, no squiggle, and not one gap or indentation. As I pictured this beautifully straight, and full line, He said, “that line represents the completeness of what Jesus did for you. He lived a life of perfect obedience, so that you’ll always be perfect in righteousness – no matter what. He’s done all the work already. All you have to do is enjoy the reality.”
I can honestly say that for the next few days, I felt more whole, secure, confident, and happy, than ever before.
Because rather than focus on what I had to do, my heart and mind were fixed on what Jesus has already done.
The problem with basing your righteousness on performance is twofold.
1. You’re constantly having to measure your performance from one day to the next; never knowing whether you’ve done enough to earn God’s approval and love. This is a sure recipe for a life of anxiety, fear, worry, turmoil, resentment, and even depression.
2. Exactly what is it that you can do to earn God’s righteousness and love?
The ten commandments? – What about your thoughts?
Your thoughts are pure? – how so?
In other words, the more one strives to earn righteousness, and as such, God’s approval and love, via works / performance, the harder it is to obtain it.
“However, to the one who does not work, but trusts God, who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.”
Romans 4 vs 5
She’ll probably have my guts for garters for relaying this, but I must use my darling niece, Esther, as a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Since the day she was born, Esther and I have had a very close bond between us. My older sister (her late mum), would often tell me it was because I used to talk to Esther when she was still in her womb. Indeed, I think I used to talk and sing to her! So, I guess by the time she entered this world, she longed for my amazingly melodious voice!!
Anyway, to cut a long story short, Esther never had an ounce of doubt about my I love for her. And as such, she knew she could rely on me to carry her whenever she desired. Indeed, so sure was she, that between the ages of 1 and 3, she would simply walk over to me, and lift up her arms, whenever she wanted to be carried. No words, no gestures, no request, no please – just a confident raise of the arms, in total belief of her uncle’s love for her.
The crucial word in here is ‘belief’.
There’s something the Holy Spirit has been telling me since I heard a sermon on this particular topic, on the morning of 31st December 2017.
“I want my children to put both feet in the box; not one in, and the other out.”
I now understand what He means. He wants you to decide on your state of being, once and for all. Are you continuously perfect in righteousness, through Jesus, or only at-times righteous, through performance?
You’re either hot, or cold.
You can no longer continue to mix works and grace. Not only is there no relation between the two, but they are not at all compatible.
You must choose one or the other.
If, as I hope, you choose to believe that Jesus has already done ALL the work necessary for your permanent state of righteousness, then it’s time to let go of everything to do with ‘performance’. It is not how much you give in church that will determine your righteousness. It isn’t even how long you read your bible or pray for. Neither is it how well you behave, or even how loving you are. You are righteous for one reason alone – Jesus.
Mankind loves nothing better than to have something to boast of – a reason to feel one is better than the next person; but here’s the truth about Christianity – there’s absolutely nothing to boast about, but Jesus.
He did it all. Not you.
God tells us all have fallen short of His glory for three reasons – firstly, He wants us to recognise the reality that we can never attain the necessary righteousness, and hence, stop measuring our performance.
Secondly, He wants us to accept and embrace the fact that Jesus has already secured our righteousness.
And thirdly, to celebrate the marvelous love, sacrifice, and perfect obedience of His son.
Just like you, everyone is struggling with something. And just like you, many believe they’re the only one going through whatever challenge they’re grappling with.
This is why I shudder at the perception of ‘holiness’ that we Christians often like to project. Not only is it an outright lie, but it puts off so many people – either discouraging them to the point of wanting nothing to do with Christianity, as a result of believing they can never be good enough, or making others feel too ashamed to speak openly about whatever problems or challenges they’re experiencing. This isn’t what Jesus died for; and it most certainly isn’t what Christianity is about.
Jesus dined with the sinners and downtrodden, in order to demonstrate the importance of being open with one another, so as to overcome things together.
You are not alone; and you are just as precious, and loved by God today, as you’ve always been.
I conclude this message with David’s declaration about the true status of ALL Christians. Please take note – the following words were spoken by David – a man whose life was not only ridden with errors, but failed /sinned several times (always remember that the bible is an account of certain events, and as such doesn’t give us the full details of the leading characters’ lives. Hence, if the bible illustrates David’s sins, you can be damn sure there were many more). And yet, David spoke with an authority that can only be from God Himself; notably using the word ‘never’.
“Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will ‘never’ count against them.”
Romans 4 vs 7-8
Because Jesus died for you, the Lord will never count your sins against you.
Never means ‘Never’!