I’ve spent my life trying to please others and to do what’s expected. Now, notice that I didn’t say that I was trying to be good. Yes, I’ve tried to be good. Of course, I’ve really made an effort to be godly, kind, and a generally good person. But sometimes I just begin to get overwhelmed by the fact that I’m not going to accomplish that goal at all. In those moments, I just give in to the idea of living up to a standard set among respectable mainstream Christians. I rest in the assurance that I don’t drink, smoke, or have intimate relations with anyone but my husband. I’m holding down a job that really makes a difference in people’s lives. I rarely miss a Sunday at church. See? I’m pretty good as far as the basic rules go.
Then, I spend a little time in the presence of God. There in his presence, I realize all over again that I’m not even close to good. I’m not free of rude attitudes or unkind thoughts. Besides, my job truly fulfills me, and I find it fun. That’s not noble. I’m doing it because I believe in it. I work at every task because I love the work. There’s nothing magically holy or sacrificial about my life. In fact, I’m one of the most fun-loving people I know. And if it’s not fun, it doesn’t get done.
Partly due to this, I’m one of the messiest people I know. And that’s just one of my faults. Thankfully, in his presence, I realize one amazing thing. I’m not righteous, but it’s not about me. It’s all about him. I’m not going to be good enough, but I can rest in the truth that He is more than enough. Want a really obscure verse? Thanks for asking! Read on:
“For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”
Yes, that’s a Bible verse. And in the Bible, circumcision symbolizes all of the rules that people in that time period used to follow in order to prove that they were godly. They would be very careful to obey certain laws of religion, and then they could consider themselves holy people. But I’m stopped by this phrase, “working through love.”
Where are my “no drinking and no smoking” rules demonstrating godly love? How does my list of the amazing things that I do to make this world better show me working through love? Am I truly loving others and ensuring that every deed is about working through love? Wow, this takes my rule book up a notch. In fact, my rules are far easier. I just have to behave better on the outside to seem righteous. That’s much, much easier than remembering to love the nasty people I meet. Much simpler than trying to help others from an attitude of love. So much more convenient than stopping everything to deal with a heartbroken friend. Especially when that friend isn’t very loving to me.
Now that I think about it, my righteous rules are like filthy rags. And that’s not just my word. The Bible says that our righteous deeds are like filthy rags to God. Isaiah 64:6 in the Bible says it, not me. Now, I’ve used this idea in the past, but it bears repeating:
Imagine to yourself a lovely, trusting, kind-hearted child. This beautiful child is dressed in fancy, clean clothing, and is playing at the park. Every other child stops and stares because this one stands out so much. Yet, this child falls and gets injured, and suddenly that child is covered in the mud from a puddle, tears streak the face, and snot begins to roll down those pretty lips. This child wants a hug, but ew, that’s gross.
Your first instinct is to clean the child up. Is that because this child is too disgusting for you to love? No, of course not. You simply want to wipe away some of that yuck to reveal the beautiful child that has always been there. Well to God, our righteousness is something that we have put on to cover our real selves. It’s a shield to cover our ugliness, but what we don’t get is that all shields look ugly to God, no matter what they look like to us. Self-righteousness always is pretty gross, isn’t it?
Everything we do to gain approval from the world around us is disgusting to him, not because we are trying to do good and we failed. No, it’s because nothing we put on from outside us can improve the beautiful creature that he created. Okay, there are some theological types who are angry right about now. Man is a worm, this theologian is saying and he seethes with fury. There is nothing desirable about us. The angry theologians quote this verse: “…In the last days men will be lovers of self…” 2 Timothy 3:1-2 (Isn’t this an indictment against self-worth? No! It’s an indictment upon selfishness!)
Thank you. Your opinion is your own, and you may keep it. I am a parent. I know what God sees when he looks at his child, because I know exactly what I see when I look at mine. Their bad deeds, their good deeds, their efforts, and their goals and dreams do not do anything to improve what’s already there. My kids are perfect as they were born. I love them. God says he looks upon us as his children. Yes, we can get a little high and mighty and start to stink to our parents at times. But we’re still their children. That never changes.
I hear you. You need proof that God loves you just the way you are. Okay, here ya go. Psalm 139:14 is where King David (the one who killed Goliath) looks at himself and shouts, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made!” He’s feeling his awesomeness, and God approves so much of this attitude that He put that poem in the Bible. Another? Jeremiah 29:11 is where God says he knows the plans He has for Jeremiah, a prophet who is actually about to go through some stuff. Yet, in advance, God promises that these trials are “to prosper you and not to harm you.” Sure, his idea of what is prosperity might not quite match our own, but trust me, he really wants us blessed.
Okay, okay, you’re saying, “Sure, God loves David and Jeremiah. They’re in the Bible!” But he also says in Romans 2:11 (among other places in the Bible) that God is no respecter of persons. That means he has no favorites. He loves certain things about us all. Now, if your greatest joy is to think that God looks at you as an afterthought, as a useless piece of leftover parts, then have at it with all your heart. But you’re not worshiping the real God, but you are welcome to continue as a fool in your folly. Are you mad, bro? Well, you’re wrong.
The real God of the Bible has a real reason to get annoyed at us. He could have given up on us all the way at the Garden of Eden where the first man sinned. He didn’t even get past the first generation without mankind sinning. He could have forgotten about the ark and left Noah and his family to die. But he allowed mankind to live. And he says that he delays his coming because he wants more people to have that same chance at salvation. He’s not disgusted by us. He’s disgusted by our choices sometimes, yes. But he adores us.
A friend of mine several decades ago couldn’t stand her son’s wife. She loved her boy, and she firmly believed that he had chosen badly. She was disgusted by his choice, and she convinced herself that he had simply made a mistake. Now, this son was, in my opinion at the time, a waste of humanity. He didn’t treat his wife well, and he wasn’t much of a dad. He wasn’t even so good to his parents. They were godly, wonderful people, and he just simply coasted along wasting air and food and water by using it up without giving back much of anything to the world. I couldn’t stand the guy. But to his momma who knew him inside and out, he was precious.
I had a different vantage point when I looked at the guy. I saw the stuff that this man had chosen to put on the outside. His choice of attitude. His choice of clothes. His choice to avoid certain hygiene standards. His lack of enthusiasm for his beautiful children. I saw all of his choices, and I was just dismissive of him. His mom knew him before all that, though. She had been with the precious, brand-new, absolutely priceless baby that came fresh out of the womb, and she had loved him dearly. She saw that perfect infant every time she gazed upon the somewhat slovenly young emotionless man.
God knows us. He knew us before we made a first choice, and He liked us. Enough to make us, design us with such care, and to keep us alive all this time until now. He loved us enough to give us all that we have. Do we have eyes to recognize it? Or are we stuck focusing our thoughts on what we don’t have? Are we thinking that we don’t have enough because we aren’t good enough?
This man had a great mom, a loving and beautiful wife, and beautiful kids. But he looked unhappy all the time. He took out his frustrations on his wife, and he didn’t smile at those lovely kids during most of the time that I was in the same room with him. We don’t always do right by what we’ve been given. But we have a choice. Please, remember that it’s not too late to tell God that you have really screwed it all up. It’s not too late to ask for his help. It’s not too late to give him control. And to let him remove that hideous shield that is only hiding the beautiful version of you inside. It’s worth it.
If you ever look at my outside and see a bunch of stuff that turns you away, please remember that there’s more to me, too. Maybe I slipped up and allowed a shield to cover me again. But I ask for your grace, and I hope to show you the same. Let’s trust God to give us his vision. Because instead of trying to look good according to our standards, wearing a shield of good deeds and fake attitudes, we should be preparing to go out there defenseless and clean, and to help peel all that crud off of everyone else. With His help, we can do it. Shall we?
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