Running for Cover (trying harder)
Whenever I thought about these two barriers of His righteousness (moral perfection) and justice (uncompromising justice), a type of survival instinct would kick in. I would find myself wondering what I could do to make sure that He and I were on good terms. I would try to imagine what would please Him and my mind would drift to the Ten Commandments. I think it is commonly accepted by most people that God gave us the Ten Commandments to teach us how to live. We set out to live a good life by keeping them. We know we aren’t supposed to murder or commit adultery or take His name in vain. I thought if I were trying my best to be a good person, God would realize I was trying to keep the Ten Commandments and He would be pleased with me because of my effort. What I did not understand was one of the main reasons God gave man the Ten Commandments (referred to in the Bible as the Law) was not to tell us to try harder to be good, but to show us His moral standard of perfection was not within our moral reach. No amount of moral effort on my part can change this. I cannot be as good as God requires. God’s moral law reflects God’s moral character and only that which is morally perfect (righteous) is good in His eyes because He is morally perfect. This is His definition of good. We want to lower the standard and tell ourselves, “He doesn’t really require moral perfection. He just wants a good effort.” He has a different perspective than we do because He has a different character than we do. His standard cannot be changed because His character does not change. No man is good before God because no man is perfect. Since no man is perfect, no man is acceptable to Him.
This is where most of us walk away in disgust (and break God’s heart by doing so). We think because we are told we are not acceptable to Him, this means we are not loved by Him. Being acceptable to Him and being loved by Him are two separate issues. Being acceptable to Him is an issue of righteousness (moral perfection—perfect moral goodness—of which, the Bible says we have nonec). Being loved by Him is an issue of His heart towards us and the Bible says He loves us with all of His being. In fact, it is in the very midst of our not measuring up to His perfect standard that His love is made known to us. The Bible says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”cite
I found myself really wanting to know what the Law (Ten Commandments) was trying to show me about my predicament before Him. It was the words of Jesus Christ Himself that drove the issue home.
Jesus Christ said the Ten Commandments had to be kept from the heart.
He said, You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not commit murder” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court…and whoever shall say, “You fool,” shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.… You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery”; but I say to you, that everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.”cite
In these verses of Scripture, Jesus, God Himself, is interpreting the Law for me. He is telling me that to meet God’s standard of righteousness (and acceptance), the Law must be kept perfectly and it must be kept from the heart. He is using the Law as a mirror and telling me to look at His perfect standard (moral perfection) and examine my heart. We look in the mirror every day and see spots, blemishes and wrinkles. Jesus is telling us to look in the mirror of His perfect law and see the moral blemishes in our own hearts. If I’m honest, I see my unforgiveness, anger, hatred, pride or greed. I see that I have broken all of His commandments in my heart. I may act nice on the outside, but on the inside I know I have sinned.
(See note D and note E)
The term sin or sinner often offends people today, but for some reason, the word no longer bothered me. I was becoming aware of how much I had violated God’s law and the word sin seemed to fit. I was surprised to learn the meaning of the word. Originally, sin was a term used in archery. When an arrow fell short and missed the bull’s eye, the person checking the target would yell, “Sin!” meaning the archer had missed the markcite. I knew I had missed the mark of God’s perfect moral standard. I was beginning to understand what the Bible means when it says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”cite
Crimes of the Heart
In the passage of Scripture referred to above, there is an additional insight Jesus is giving us about our failure to live up to God’s perfect moral standard. Our failure to keep the commandments from the heart is described as an offense against God. The consequence of anger, murder, lust or adultery (only a few of the ways in which we violate God’s law either in our hearts or in our actions) is guilt before God. Listen to the words of Jesus: “liable to the court…guilty before the court…guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” Many of us may be offended by the thought that our violations of God’s law could warrant such severe judgment by Him. This strikes us as an overreaction. We are offended that He is offended. Yet, this very response on our part reveals our own lack of understanding of His moral nature.
We feel justified (and rightly so) in our reaction of moral indignation in response to the horrible crimes committed by the terrorists. Our moral compass, even though less than perfect, instinctively reacts and pronounces them guilty. We know they are liable for their actions and judgment is warranted. Yet, we fail to make the connection that God’s moral compass reflects a standard of righteousness infinitely beyond our own. Our moral compass is contaminated by sin, but His is not. His moral perfection is holy: without flaw, without limit and beyond our comprehension. His moral character is literally not of this world. The extent of His moral indignation in light of our sin reveals the extent of His moral perfection. The extent to which He is offended reveals the extent to which He is holy. The extent to which we are offended by His reaction reveals the extent to which our own moral compass has failed.
At this point, the Law was crushing any hope I had in myself to be innocent (without guilt) before Him. It was exposing me right and left. Not only had I sinned in my thoughts, words and deeds, I was becoming aware my very nature was sinful. I would never have dreamed my sin was so serious in God’s eyes were it not for the Law showing me the perfect standard by which my thoughts, words and deeds were being measured. In fact, my tendency is to dream just the opposite. As one man said years ago, the main use of the Law is to show man his sin because “man is proud and dreams that he is wise, righteous and holy.” He went on to say “this furious beast of self-righteousness must be crushed like a hammer breaks the rocks,” so man will see that he has sinned and is guilty before God.cite
If I am sick and an x-ray shows me a growth on the inside of my body, I realize I need a surgeon. The x-ray has served its purpose by revealing my need for a surgeon. The Bible says, “Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin and through this knowledge, the Law leads us to Christ.” The Law exposes me and then lays me at the feet of Christ. It convinces me of my guilt before God so I will see I need a savior. We may call lust, anger, greed, self-righteousness or pride a common human experience. God calls it a violation of His holy law—punishable by death.