GOOD ENOUGH for GOD?
BY: JAN A. ANTONSSON
FEBRUARY 26, 2016
The Glory Road Blog, A Kingdom Highway
“You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48, RSV)
Because in my youth, I read this verse as an imperative (a commandment), rather than it being in the indicative mood (statement of what is), it made me extremely twitchy, worried that I could never measure up and thus would miss all the goodies Jesus came to bring us. Though there is one politician out there who said he didn’t have to ask for forgiveness because he couldn’t think of any mistakes he’d made, most of us, know full well that we are NOT perfect in any way, shape or form.
If you are not familiar with the indicative mood as used in the New Testament, here’s Jonathan Mitchell’s translation of the verse which makes it crystal clear:
“Therefore, you folks will exist being ones that have reached the goal: finished and completed ones; mature and perfected ones, in the same way as your heavenly Father (or: your Father which has the qualities of, and is characterized by, the atmosphere) constantly exists being One that IS the goal: finished, complete, mature, perfect!” (Matthew 5:48) (God Himself is our goal.
As you can see, Jesus was saying that we are already perfect or finished and completed, as our heavenly Father is, not because we have worked to achieve the impossible dream, but because God’s will has reckoned us righteous in Christ. (Romans 4:3-5)
This is what Paul was saying in Ephesians 1:3-4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” This is the most freeing verse available for those of us who were hopelessly trapped in the Fundamentalist mindset, i.e., that we are miserable, rotten sinners, and only by working ourselves into exhaustion constantly, could we hope to earn God’s love. If Paul is right and we really were chosen before the foundation of the world, what did we have to do with it? Absolutely nothing!
Then, Paul brings home the good news with this affirmation: “He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” (Ephesians 3:5)
In his meditation “A New Experience,” 2/21/16, Fr. Richard Rohr makes this statement: “For most of human history, God was not a likable, much less lovable, character. That’s why every “theophany” (an event where God breaks through into the human realm) in the Bible begins with the same words: “Do not be afraid.” People have too often been afraid of God and afraid of themselves as a result. When God appeared on the scene, most people did not see it as good news, but as bad news with fearful questions arising: Who has to die now? Who needs to be punished? By and large, before the biblical revelation, most of humanity did not expect love, much less intimate love, from God.” End Quote.
Since fear of God and punishment are the first ingredients in Fundamentalist thinking, or so it seems to me, I know only too well what it’s like to feel hopeless about achieving perfection in this lifetime. Back when I was doing the Sunday Service at Medicalodge, I remember saying to the old Dears, that many people apparently don’t think God has any power to do anything today other than keeping score. He’s seemingly been relegated to some Celestial Old Folks Home for aging gods and given a score pad into which he enters all of our sins, the better to punish us for them later.
It’s wonderful news that we were chosen before the foundation of the world but even more spectacular that Paul says we were chosen to be holy and blameless in him. I don’t know about you, but as for me, the only way I could ever be holy and blameless is if God reckons (makes) me that way, and since Paul says He has, why am I kicking against the pricks so to speak? (See Acts 9:5, KJV). I’m not sure exactly what the expression meant when Jesus said it to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road, but to me, it means, why am I beating my head against a wall, one which has already been removed between God and man?
And yet in spite of what Jesus did on the cross for us, the church world for the most part, has not gotten the memo. A dear old friend sent me a book entitled Confessions of a Mega Church Pastor. In it, a third generation Methodist, a pastor of a mega Methodist church, realized that something was sadly lacking in his life and he ended up in the Catholic Church because he believed they have the right doctrine.
Clearly for him, the grass was much greener on the other side. This is not to disparage the book, the Methodists, or the Catholics, but mainly to emphasize that God is freely available to all of us, in the pews and out of the pews. We do not have to follow a set of rules (each church has their own theological spin on it), in order to access our heavenly Father. Good doctrine does not usher us into His presence. We get there the same way we receive everything, by grace through His faith. (Ephesians 2:8-9) This is why Jesus came to earth. He left the portals of glory and was clothed in flesh to dwell with us in this pig pin we call humanity.
As we all remember, when he died on the cross, the veil separating man from God was rent in twain from top to bottom (Matthew 21:57, KJV). Paul affirmed that that, “the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24, RSV) Jesus Himself declared, “If the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.” (John 8:36, RSV) At the fellowship I attended in California where Lenny and I met, we used to sing the chorus, “We are free in him. We are free in him and no one can take it away.” Mainline church attendance has dropped drastically over the decades, and perhaps it is because every church has a different set of rules to follow according to their traditions.
My personal conviction is that the reason God gave Israel the Law was to show them that they could not keep the 613 laws that God gave Moses. Deuteronomy, Chapter 28, is one of the bleakest chapters in the Old Testament because it lays out the rewards and punishments accruing to Israel from either keeping the Law (rewards) or breaking it (dire punishment).
The Church is Christ’s body, of which He is the head. Paul wrote this glorious affirmation to the Church at Ephesus: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us ALL, who is above ALL and through ALL and in ALL.” (Ephesians 4:4-6, RSV) Paul started many churches giving them the mandate of proclaiming the Gospel Good News: Our Father, Emmanuel (God with us), has come to dwell within us. He took all the debit, the guilt, the shame, and the sin to the cross, and He alone gets the glory for the consummation of his glorious plan of the ages: “For God consigned ALL men to disobedience that He may have mercy upon ALL.” (Romans 11:32, RSV) I prefer the Phillip’s version: “God has all men penned together in the prison of disobedience, that he may have mercy upon them all.” We get no credit or glory. It all belongs to God our Father. He takes the blame and gets all the glory. It’s a “no brainer” kind of deal.
Who is good enough for God? According to this verse ALL men, though disobedient, will ultimately be reckoned good enough for God, not because of their actions or lack of same but because of God’s gift to us in Christ. Psychologists know that people act out their self-image, some of which came to them from their birth family or from the culture into which they were born. What a difference we would see in the crime rate and the personal happiness of everyone if church leaders would really tell the good news of God’s unconditional love, instead of laying rules on people. I’m thankful many writers and speakers like Richard Rohr are changing their methodology of helping people enter God’s presence. The answer to all of our problems really is the unconditional, continuous love of God which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
Most of us remember the story of the man who ran up to Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:17-18) Jesus was speaking to people still living under law because He had not yet nailed it to the cross. The result of his sacrifice was that we are now saved, delivered from ourselves, and transported from Mount Sinai to Mount Zion, the holy mount of God. The goal then is not to strive to be good, as I always thought, but to see by the Spirit, that we ARE His children, born from above, bearing within us his very DNA, and when we see Him as He is, we shall be like him (I John 3:2). Hallelujah!
Father, we thank you for loving us unconditionally, for forgiving us, and for calling us your sons and daughters in spite of our failed attempts to be good. You came to drag us out of the pigpen where we were living on husks fed to the swine; You called us home and when we arrived, You put a ring on our finger, a robe on our back and a kiss on our cheek, for we are your beloved children. We give You all the glory now and forever, and with all the Saints gathered around your throne, we join our voices with “the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” Amen.