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Back to Basics – Faith, not works

The message for this week can be accessed here.  What follows are extra comments to support this topic for the week, but less directly than normal.

We’re dealing today with the #1 misconception in the Christian faith.  That is, that Christians “measure up” to God’s standard as some matter of goodness.

It is a reason some people give for not thinking they need to come to church – that is, they are already good enough.  When queried, the standard may well be “the next bloke” which is indeed rather vague.

If it were to be by standard, it might be by outward conduct or inner purity.  Sadly, no one measures up to God’s standard on either score.  As the Bible says, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  That is, no one measures up.

“Hold it right there!” many say.  This is just a religious trap to get your attention/money/loyalty.  If God sets a standard that no one can reach, that is just more evidence that God is cruel and unjust.

This is a very common accusation today, and I want to have a look into it.

First of all I want to take a detour to consider the whole question of having a “standard”.

One view is that God (by whatever name) created the material universe.  As such, God is in charge to whatever extent that God chooses, and therefore has the right to impose any standard that God sees fit.  With this, God is the one who gives meaning to this creation.

The alternate view is that the universe was created somehow by a very large random event, but there was no higher power involved.  By necessity, everything about the resulting universe is equally random, however organised it may appear.  Consistent with that there can be no “standard” for anything because there is no qualified maker of standards.  We are just random creatures doing random and meaningless things in a meaningless universe.

In the first view, order, purpose and standards make sense, but only as defined by God.  In the second view, the very idea of a standard makes no sense, because this purposeless existence is answerable to no one.

So if you want to exclude God, there is no point engaging about any discussion of standards.  There is nothing of meaning, and no standard to measure good or bad.  The words “good” and “bad” are as meaningless as everything else.

I don’t ascribe to the meaningless universe; I ascribe to the view that God is creator.  As such I can talk meaningfully about standards – good and bad – just as I can talk about meaning and purpose.  But in every case (standards, meaning, purpose) they emanate from God.

Having established to my own satisfaction that God rightfully sets the standards in his universe, I turn to the much contended stories of Genesis 2 and 3 in the Bible.

Immediately I stress I have no interest in the historical accuracy of the stories, but much interest in their meaning.  In a snapshot – this world has become much less than what God hoped, and the main culprit is us human beings.  We were to be the high point of creation, but we are not.  We have become broken.

Broken is a better word than sinful, because broken is tangible to us. We know about broken things.  When something is broken we fix them if we can, take them to someone who can fix them if the value warrants the cost, or dump them if they can’t be repaired.

According to the Bible, these broken human beings can’t fix themselves, any more than my broken mower can fix itself.  It’s not unfair that my mower can’t fix itself, it’s just not qualified.  Fixed, it would be a fine mower again.  Its core purpose, its skill set, are all intact.  But it is broken and needs to be repaired so it can function again as it was designed.

God decided not to dump us.  That is good news, isn’t it?  God decided instead to fix us.  Again, good news!

I’ve seen some dodgy repairs, and I bet you have too.  The thing is, the repairer sets the standard.  I may say what I want, but since I can’t do the repair, I don’t have control of the final standard.  God is our repairer, and he sets the standard.  This doesn’t seem to me a matter of fairness; it seems more inevitable than anything else.

So to recap – God is creator; we are broken needing repair; we can’t fix ourselves; God is repairer and sets the standard.  That seems clear, though my mind is now stuck with the image of a mower repair workshop.

So, what do I want from the mower repair shop?  I want my working mower back.  That is my standard, but I’m not the repairer.

Imagine if my mower service person had a higher vision – a higher standard – than me.  I get the call to collect my mower, and when it is brought to me it is no longer a push mower but a ride-on like you never imagined, shiny like new with solar panels and air conditioning.  Nonsense, of course – complete and utter nonsense!

But this has been God’s vision and purpose.  God showed us we were broken so we might come to the workshop for repairs, but the repair job is more than we ever imagined.  God’s purpose is to make us more than we ever were before, that God might live in us, and we might live in God.

God shows us the godly standard so we will see how badly we need repairing, though even the basic repairs are beyond our skill.  But God’s purpose is much more than repair, it is a glorious upgrade.

The irony is that my mower still hasn’t been to the workshop, and so it remains unnecessarily broken.  But I have been to God’s workshop, and I can testify that God’s upgrade is greater than I could have imagined, far more than any personal effort could achieve.

I truly believe showing us a standard beyond our reach is for our good.  Otherwise we would settle for our own efforts and never receive the wonderful things that God desires that we have.

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