Short but Not Anymore

For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus               Romans 3:23-24


“So far today, God, I’ve done all right.  I haven’t gossiped, I haven’t lost my temper.  I haven’t even been grumpy, nasty or selfish.  I’m really glad about that.  But in a few minutes, Lord, I’m going to get out of this bed; and from then on, I’m going to need a lot of help.”

Ouch, but that’s painful!!!  The great triumph was that for a few minutes right at the beginning of the day one hadn’t yet messed up.  We laugh at this because we know that it hits all too close to home.  Sometimes it just doesn’t take much and all this triumph is out the window, and already the day has been tainted by sin.  How frustrating it is to know that we are always so close to the edge of slipping into what is not right and proper before God.

We yearn for something different – partly because we do want to please God, but also because we want to be known as people who are fairly decent.  Each of us has a mental picture of ourselves as basically good people, that really with very little effort — a little touch-up here, and little fine tuning there –, we are basically shoo-ins into heaven.  After all, why should God ever think of not allowing us into heaven?  Certainly He couldn’t be all that picky over some very minor goofs here and there.

And yet we nervously chuckle at that prayer with which I started because all too often it is all too true of each of us.  We walk a fragile thin line between doing what is God-pleasing and what is not, and how easy it is to cross over that line – in anger, in retaliation, in selfishness – you name it.

In fact, even before we get out of bed it can start.  Just have someone not set the alarm clock properly, or someone’s alarm is too loud, or someone gets to the bathroom before you, or takes too long in there, or you are still fighting the fight from the night before, or whatever, and already you find that you can’t even say, “So far today, God, I’ve done all right….”

In fact, this scares us.  If everything can that easily go sour that soon, that early in the morning, then just think what it will be like for the next 16 or so hours.  In fact, the thought scares us so much that we refuse to think about it, because maybe we aren’t as wonderful as we pictured ourselves, and it worries us – not because we are that conceited, but rather because we just might not be good enough like we desperately hoped that we were.

What becomes evident rather quickly is that St Paul was right: we all have fallen short, we are indeed not the irresistible prize that literally DESERVES heaven as we would hope.  Rather than nervously waiting at the door of heaven for God’s decision, how we would rather that God were on His knees pleading with us to enter, while we casually examine our fingernails, awaiting just the right moment before we give in and, yes, we will enter after all.

Instead we find ourselves in the very real danger of God pronouncing us not fit to clutter up His Kingdom forever with our petty sins.  After all, if we aren’t going to let go of our sins here on earth, what makes us think that we will let them go when we reach heaven?  God knows that all too quickly His heaven would be turned into a bloody hell if we aren’t different people by the time we reach there.

However, another fear also drives us with its own special agony.  This fear goes all the way back to Adam and Eve.  The serpent had tempted them with the idea, “You shall become like God…”  and we are intent on trying to outdo God: we try to come up with “better”, or more “realistic”, or more “fair” Ten Commandments than God.  We try to come up with a “better” or more “fair” morality, a “better” or more “fair” definition of relationships, a “better’ or more “fair” judgment on approved behavior, a “better” or more “fair’ ANYTHING OTHER than what GOD says.

Without a thought we will rise up in condemnation of God for His way of handling something so inefficiently compared to our way, our ideas.  We SHOULD be like God, because then we would be ultimately in control of all things – at least over those things that matter, that touch our lives – and we could make some improvements compared to what He has defined in the Bible.

Yet as the prayer emphasizes, we can’t even control ourselves.  How can one be a decent and admirable person – the model of goodness that God is – the model of what the ideal person really ought to be – if from the moment you roll out of bed in the morning it is a battle to keep anger, gossip, grumpiness, selfishness, nastiness and all the rest of those things at bay?  Listen to how we try to trivialize it by claiming that it’s OK to be this way until that first cup of coffee or whatever it takes to “wake us up” in the morning.

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Paul is right, we have fallen short, terribly short of the Glory of God – from God’s side we have fallen terribly short of reflecting Him to all the world around us, which is what He created us to do; from our side, we have fallen terribly short of having the glory that a god should have, which is what the human nature tainted by the covetousness of Adam and Eve struggles for.

And usually it is about at this place where we begin to shut down.  This is so uncomfortable and scary for us, that we will try to turn our attention elsewhere.  Our self-preservation instincts kick in and we begin to become defensive, combative, distracted, even escapist – anything to take the heat off, because we are scared, scared that when all this is finished, we will indeed have nothing left, no hope left, no encouragement, no relief.

And so we miss the point of Paul’s next statement: “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”  You know that picture of God pleading on His knees for us to enter heaven?  Ironically it is true.  God is so desperate to get us into heaven, He didn’t stop at a cross.  As Paul says in II Corinthians 5(:18-21):

Now all these things are from God, Who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.   He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become GOD’S righteousness in Him.

As Paul had to demonstrate in the first three chapters of Romans, nobody stands before God without having fallen short.  We squirm at the merciless indictment against all sin, even the sins we are comfortable with, even the sins that are supposedly “victimless”.  God is not satisfied with people living beneath what He had created them to be – with people who have fallen short of the Glory of God.

He’s also not satisfied with merely condemning.  He does something most daring in that cross of Jesus.  He gives us His own righteousness, His own holiness.  But this isn’t a righteousness that’s like a suitcase filled with a certain quantity of “goodness”, something that now that you have it, all you have to do is store it in the closet until it is needed.  Nor is the righteousness like a shirt that Jesus might take off and now you get to wear it.

Righteousness is something that goes to the very nature of someone.  It is not a list of deeds, but a description of what one IS.  It is not an attitude, but a definition of the core of being.  True, I may seem to do righteous deeds, but that doesn’t mean that I am righteous. Since Adam and Eve, none of us is righteous, because at the core of our beings there is a genetic disease, a pollution that leaves anything and everything tainted.

So if righteousness isn’t a package, and I can’t have righteousness as a shirt to cover myself with, then how can I be made righteous, how can I cease to fall short of the Glory of God?

The answer lies in the fact that the definition of righteousness centers not in what Jesus did, but in Jesus Himself.  To have righteousness is to have Jesus; without Jesus, there is no righteousness.  There can be no other way – if we need Someone with the righteousness of God, then the conclusion is that we need God Himself.  Jesus must enter into the core of our being with Himself, or else we will never have what we need – we will always fall short.

But Jesus is not like some stone that sits in the bottom of a bucket of water.  You might say He is like a pill that you drop into a glass of water, and suddenly the whole glass is filled with color and fizzing bubbles, which stir the water into roiling and fascinating activity.  No, Jesus isn’t fizzy water, but when He is at the center of our being, at the very core of our hearts, He does stir up in our nature a difference in the way we respond to the world around us..

One day we discover that we watch our language more, since somehow it’s just not comfortable to use certain words as it did before.  We watch our talk now, because we are more and more genuinely concerned about how we may needlessly hurt someone else.  We find ourselves being more helpful, not because we weren’t before, but because it means more than it had before.  We find our mind refusing to be sidetracked down certain thoughts since they just aren’t fitting for Him Who now lives in us.  Certain activities have lost their attraction because Jesus provides far more satisfying consequences as He creates new relationships between people, and repairs old ones.

And gradually the core of righteousness — Jesus at the center of our being — begins to make His presence felt more and more.  We begin to find that even after we get out of bed, that it isn’t such a battle to do what is God-pleasing, we even last longer between episodes where we stumble.  And all this is the evidence that Paul did know what he was talking about – he has led us to Jesus so that we can have a true and lasting hope for our daily lives: despite the fact that we fall short, now that Jesus is at the core of our being, we have God’s righteousness living in us.

And all that without even needing a morning cup of coffee!

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