Thursday, August 16 , 2018, 10:38 am | Overcast 75º


D.C. Collier: What Kind of Person Are You Becoming?

Last week, we talked about making “beautiful music” with God. For many of us, truth be known, the notion of our lives being a thing of beauty is too much of a stretch.

In my work at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission’s addiction recovery program, I constantly encounter men who have made horrible decisions, reaped devastating consequences, and dug themselves into a “deep hole with steep sides.”

They are often discouraged, ashamed and unable to see any way out. They ask how God can possibly fix their mess.

It seems so impossible, especially if they’re standing in the middle of a smoking crater that used to be their life. It is to just such people that Jesus spoke most earnestly:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”1

Jesus is offering an opportunity to join his “orchestra,” to follow his direction and make beautiful music rather than the dissonant cacophony that characterized life on your own. God’s “music” of transformation and redemption will be his played through you, with all your imperfections and “errors.”

At its heart, the Bible is a love story of a great, good, and loving God rescuing his red-handed rebel children from self-induced calamity. But they still have a choice, and they need their “owner’s manual” — the Word of God — to make the right ones. Otherwise, how can they know they’re on the right track?

Like it or not, we are all in a spiritual formation program. Either we are moving toward becoming “a creature which, if you see it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship ...” or, alternatively, “a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare,” to quote C.S. Lewis.

There are no other choices for man before God. Yet many insist there is a third way, which they feel ought to also count: the “nice” option.

‘Nice’ Won’t Cut It. Sorry.

Who wouldn’t agree that being nice is a good thing? But is being nice — really nice — your whole life enough to reap a spiritual harvest in the afterlife? This seems to be a highly reasonable and logical path that smooths relationships and makes everything more tolerable. Right?

Several problems immediately present themselves.

How do you define nice? First, the qualitative side. One person’s nice may not be another’s, especially when considering widely disparate cultures, creeds and religions. There is no universal “nice code” that applies to everyone.

Nice is a highly subjective concept that is impossible to measure objectively if you wanted to rank people and grant a final score to determine winners and losers.

Then there is the quantitative issue of how much nice is enough to achieve the desired goal of satisfying some objective standard. The trouble is that there is no achievable objective standard by which all human behavior can be ranked and scored.

Oh, sure, we have the Ten Commandments. But then, have you ever met anyone who has perfectly met those requirements for their entire lives? How about for one year? One week? One day? One hour? One minute?

And even if they could obey the “Big Ten” to the letter but stumbled just once, what do they do with the disturbing verse in scripture that hangs like a Sword of Damocles over their head, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”2

Now that’s a problem even for the nicest of the nice.

Remember, Jesus raised the bar even for the religious leaders of his day when he declared the intent to sin to be as serious as the act of sin, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”3

So, what happens if I stop being nice — even for a short while? Will that mean I’m done for? Can anyone be nice all the time? What about lapses? Do I lose all previous credits and start over?

What if I remain not nice for a while and then die? What then?

The uncertainties here are simply untenable. Yet billions try to meet these “standards” every day, thinking something like, “I’ve lived a pretty good life, I’m a good person, God likes good people — I’ll take my chances.”

God is gently urging us to move on from settling for nice, as a means of getting by in life, and to graduate to our ultimate calling as members of God’s kingdom based on Christ’s merits — not on ours. This calls for a painfully challenging paradigm shift in our thinking.

Lewis put it this way, “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”

Finally, at the heart of the “nice” system lies the false presumption that human merit or demerit counts at all in God’s salvation program. It calls for Him to grade “on the curve,” knowing that all men are imperfect. That implies that He must fill His heaven with people who are, to one degree or another, unholy.

But didn’t Jesus say, “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”4 Ultimately, if the requirement for us to reach heaven has anything to do with our deeds, heaven will be a lonely place indeed.

Fortunately for us, God has a much better idea than deeds (works of the Old Testament Law), otherwise known as personal merit or demerit. All the Law does is tell us how far short of God’s perfection we have come. “Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.”5

Be grateful for the “But now apart from the Law” part of that verse. It contains cosmic dynamite. More on that later.

D.C. Collier is a Bible teacher, discipleship mentor and writer focused on Christian apologetics. A mechanical engineer and Internet entrepreneur, he is the author of My Origin, My Destiny, a book focused on Christianity’s basic “value proposition.” Click here for more information. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

1. Matthew 11:25-30 MSG

2. James 2:10 NASB

3. Matthew 5:27-28 NASB

4. Matthew 5:48 NASB

5. Romans 3:20-22 NASB

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