Something that stands out to me every time I study a figure in the Bible is how very human they each were. We tend to idealize the "Great Fathers of the Faith" as they are often called. Abraham, whose faith was counted to him as righteousness (Hebrews 11:8-12), David, a "man after God's own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22), Peter, the rock on which Jesus said He would build his church (Matt 16:18). We tend to forget about their frailties, their innate sinfulness. Or we go to the opposite extreme and critisize them for their weaknesses: Abraham for lying about his wife being his sister, and worse yet, sleeping with his wife's servant to try to fulfill God's promise of an heir. David, an adulterer, and a murderer, Peter who denied Jesus three times, emphasizing with a line of expletives. Then there are those whose weaknesses seem to define how we see them. How many sermons have you heard on "Don't Be a Doubting Thomas"? How easlily we forget that Jesus chose Thomas, too.
It is important to remember that the lives chronicled in the Bible were real people, with very real flaws. They all experienced difficulties and loss. They all struggled with relationships to those closest to them, and with their disappointments in life. They all struggled to follow God, and none of them found it easy. Many of the writings of the New Testament are (generally) attributed to Paul, a former persecuter of the church, who had a dramatic encounter with Jesus that changed his life. Much of the Christian faith is based upon the writings of Paul, penned as he shared the gospel throughout the (then) known world. Paul himself said, "I want to do what is good, but I don't. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway." (Romans 7:19) The Message version puts it this way:
"I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time."
The key in this verse is that we do not have what it takes. We are sinful (not we were). That's why we need Jesus. So many in these recent years have been disenfranchised with the church, not because we aren't perfect, but because we, as a body, fail to admit it. In our striving to "Walk in the way" we have to be careful to remind ourselves that "all of our good works are as filthy rags". We can't earn our grace. We must stop trying to pretend that we are better than the world, for we aren't. We too, are sinners, in great need of Jesus, daily. Hourly, even. And when we forget this, and turn our judgement on others, we forget why He endured the torture and the agonizing death on the cross for our sins. The world will never come to the the Lord Jesus Christ until His church admits that we who follow Him still need Him so desperately.
Isaiah 64:6 says,
6 We are all infected and impure with sin.
When we display our righteous deeds,
they are nothing but filthy rags.
Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall,
and our sins sweep us away like the wind.
Out of all the places we've moved over the past several years, all the churches we've visited, there is one that stands out to me. One church where the pastor almost weekly (if not every week) stood up and reminded us how much we each need Jesus. Each message was an exhortation to follow Him, and a confession of how he personally, as our pastor, was so very aware of his own imperfections and his great need for grace. He freely admitted he had not yet arrived, not yet been made perfect. He admitted that he, too, struggled, but was committed to follow Jesus, as best as he could, claiming abundant grace all the way. We can learn from this example of authenticity. First of all, it lets the world know we are real, not painted happy faces.
One caution, here. We don't have to share all the gory details with everyone; nor should we. This particular pastor did not, but he did have solid relationships that offered accountability, and he encouraged each of us to do so, as well. It is imperative to have a small group of friends, one or two, even, that we ask to hold us accountable, to encourage us to grow. Relationships that are built on trust, and grow over time.
I am not saying we need to air all the skeletons in our closet for the whole world to see. That is neither wise, nor profitable. But I am saying that we need to be honest about our great need for grace. And to remember that when we are tempted to judge someone else.
"It is by grace we are saved, though faith. This is not from yourselves- it is a gift of God. Not of works, so no one can boast." Ephesians 2:8
I love the New living version:
8 God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
Now let's look at the Message version of this verse, Ephesians 2:7-10
7-10Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It's God's gift from start to finish! We don't play the major role. If we did, we'd probably go around bragging that we'd done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
11-12But don't take any of this for granted. It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God's ways had no idea of any of this, didn't know the first thing about the way God works, hadn't the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God's covenants and promises in Israel, hadn't a clue about what God was doing in the world at large.
13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. (NLT)
So let's remember that the work is His. We can't earn salvation, and the best news of all is that we don't have to. Let's give ourselves and others grace, because He already has.