Our own actions put us on wrong side of scale weighing goodness

by Kyle
published September 21, 2013


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Are you a good person?

I like to think of myself as someone who “has it together,” is kind to the people I love, and doesn’t delight in cruelty to others. I even treat my waiters well.

But does that make me good? Does that make you good?

Do you ever wonder how God defines what is “good?” Jesus’ words speak for themselves: “you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Good according to people is relative to other people. Good according to God is relative to God, and we know that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

You might say, however, “Certainly God would weigh my good against my bad and, if there is more good, then God would surely accept me into heaven or have a relationship with me or listen to my prayers or something.”

James, however, would disagree. James 2:10 says, “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”

The “law” refers to the Torah, or the first 5 books of the Bible. There are 613 commands identified in the Torah that God expected his people to obey. The Ten Commandments are just part of those 613, and we have a hard enough time with just the 10! Imagine 613.

However, the law is singular. Though it has 613 commands within it, breaking one of them breaks the whole thing. Notice how James talks about the “law” as singular, and the “whoever” fails in “one point” of the one law.

This is really bad news. If there is only one law, and you break that one law, how is it that you can have any good to balance against it? There is only one weight to put on the scale, and by our own actions, we put it on the wrong side.

Dr. Dave Earley, an author, pastor and seminary evangelism professor, puts this concept well. He asks, “How many murders does it take to be a murderer? So how many sins does it take to be a sinner?” The answer to both questions, unfortunately, is one.

Where we once thought we could somehow be good enough for God, it’s now clear that we can’t. There’s nothing we can do to fix how we’ve failed in the past, and we can be certain that we will fail again in the future.

The good news is that you are not alone.

One of the problems in the church James wrote to was the way the church leadership tended to give preferential treatment to the wealthy members of the church and treat the poorer members unfairly. James is making the point that, since we are all sinners, preferential treatment like what the church practiced was (and is) absurd.

So we could look at this negatively, and I could tell you, “Stop catering to the rich people in your congregation because if you do, you’re clearly violating God’s design for the church and you are wrong!” and I would still be accurate and faithful to what James is saying.

But it seems the better thing would be to look at this positively. The bad news is that we are wrong to base how we treat people on exterior things (wealth, seniority, piety, etc.), but the good news is that we are all equally bad! You and I have at least that in common, and we could have even more in common through Christ.

Christ’s purpose on this planet was to live a perfect life to fulfill every point of the law — which he did — and then to pay a penalty in death that he didn’t owe. Since he is God, death couldn’t hold him and he rose from the dead. When you identify with Christ and trust in his death to pay the penalty for the wrong you’ve done, you get to enjoy life in a relationship with God without being judged according to the law.

We can have a unity as people because none of us is actually better than the other. In fact, unity in the church comes from the conscious realization that the only good thing about each member is what Christ did for us. Not wealth, not piety, not all the hours spent volunteering, but Christ.

You are thus free to reach out to that person who you think is so different from you and love them because they are, in reality, no better or worse than you are.

This is why James says in verse 12, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.” The points of the law of liberty are love, grace and mercy. Because we have no hope of fulfilling “the law,” our only hope for a relationship with God and with each other is through the law of liberty afforded us by Christ.

If you feel like you’re missing the kind of unity and relationships love, grace and mercy should bring, a good place to start is with Christ. The Christian life is not just about avoiding Hell and going to Heaven when you die. It is relevant here and now for providing the depth and satisfaction in life you might be looking for. If you want love, grace and mercy, look no further than Jesus.

So welcome to the club for the not-good-enoughs. Your dues have already been paid. No one here is any better or worse than you are, so it shouldn’t be hard to make friends.

What do you think?

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