The wisdom of this world values utility. We acquire resources that benefit us, while ridding ourselves of those we no longer find useful. This wisdom drives the business world to the extent of seeing employees as human resources. Businesses retain staff members they find profitable and purge themselves of those they consider liabilities. They can’t afford not to if they want to survive.
Like businesses, the sports world judges an individual’s worth to the team based on performance. In this highly competitive environment, players who fall behind are progressively eliminated at each level. For example, most high school athletes aren’t invited to play at the university level. And the vast majority of those who make it that far won’t be selected by a professional team. It’s survival of the fittest in this relentless pursuit of only the best.
Given the realities of our performance-driven world, it’s not surprising to find this way of thinking extended to religious beliefs. After all, didn’t Jesus say, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14) and “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (7:14, KJV)? Wasn’t Jesus saying that God evaluates our performance to select the best and discard the rest?
No, He wasn’t. Other than Christianity, the world’s religions believe, in essence, that God sifts through the mass of humanity to select the elite few who prove themselves useful for His coming kingdom. Those who perform well enough to make the cut are justified before God, as in the business and sports worlds.
But this way overlooks a critical point. Businesses and sports value an individual’s ability to fulfill their unique needs. They don’t assess the individual’s entire worth as a person. But that’s what religions do when they speak of a person justifying their continued existence. When a religion places greater worth on a person’s performance than on the person, it sends a clear message: People are nothing more than disposable tools to God, and He keeps only those who prove themselves useful to Him. But that’s a gross misrepresentation of God.
One and only way
Christianity alone teaches that God’s standard of performance is perfection (Genesis 17:1). God doesn’t sort through imperfect humans to find the ones with the fewest flaws. Under God’s standard, you’re either perfect or you’re out. Therefore, based on our performance, all of sinful humanity is condemned, falling short of the glory of God
(Romans 3:23). “There is none righteous, no, not one” (v. 10).
On our own merit, none of us can enter God’s eternal kingdom. Our mere presence would contaminate its glorious perfection. Jesus’ disciples were so astonished at His teaching about this that they asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:
Jesus told Nicodemus, a leader of the Pharisees, that no one can enter God’s kingdom unless they are born again (John 3:3), meaning only those born with the perfect nature of Christ. Like Jesus’ disciples, Nicodemus was amazed. No one can do this. It’s impossible. And that’s exactly what Jesus wanted Nicodemus to understand, that only God can make people perfect.
Our self-sufficiency and self-righteousness can never measure up to God’s standard of perfection. Once we sin (miss the mark), all hope is lost. Even if we never sin again, we still must pay for what we’ve done. And the penalty for sin is death. God’s law is righteous and good, but its power is the power to condemn, not save. Thus, we can never sanctify ourselves through our own performance to be justified before God.
This would be the end of the story if our Creator valued performance above people. But God is as good as He is holy. In His great love for us, God values us as individuals despite our repeated failures to perform. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
In our utter inability to live up to God’s standard, God didn’t discard us. Nor did He discard His standard. Instead, He sent His Son to live a sinless life as a perfect human. Jesus paid the price for our sins with His perfect sacrifice, satisfying God’s standard. As both fully human and fully God, Jesus is the gateway between man and God — the one and only Way to the eternal life God wants to give us.
To trust in our own merit is futile. Instead, we’re to trust in God’s goodness and in His power to redeem through His Son. When Jesus said many are called but few are chosen, He was talking about one’s heart, not one’s performance. Few are willing to open their hearts, to stand guilty before a holy God without excuse, trusting only in His goodness to forgive through the Way He provided. Those who do, discover a glorious new life in Christ.
Religions other than Christianity believe that we sanctify ourselves, and, in return, God justifies us. It’s an exchange of value, a transaction: “I’ll do this for you if you’ll do that for me.” In other words, sanctification precedes justification, and both are the result of my own righteous actions.
The Bible tells us the opposite is true. Justification precedes sanctification. God does both for us with our consent.
Since we can’t justify ourselves, God justifies us with the perfect righteousness of Jesus when we place our faith in Him. This isn’t a this-for-that business transaction. It’s a sacrificial gift from our Creator who wants us to become His friends. Our job is simply to accept His gift through faith.
We accept God’s offer of friendship when we give our lives to the One who gave His life for us. We die to ourselves and are resurrected (born again) as new creatures with His Spirit in us. In God’s eyes, He sees the perfect righteousness of Christ in us, for we are alive in Him. We’re justified, declared righteous through our faith in Jesus, just as Abraham was declared righteous through his faith in God (Genesis 15:6). James writes, “‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend” (2:23, NIV).
Think about it. A friendship isn’t based on “this for that.” Instead, friends naturally want to do things for each other, the opposite of business transactions. In friendships, we’re focused on what we can give, on how we can serve someone else.
Before we accept Christ, our self-worth comes from how others treat us. We feel good about ourselves when we’re praised for our accomplishments, and we think less of ourselves when we’re mistreated. When someone violates our God-given rights, we use these rights to defend our self-worth. We must get it back.
However, when we give our lives to Jesus, our self-worth no longer comes from how others treat us but from the price Jesus paid for us. We’re worth the life of God’s only Son because His life is the price He paid for us. This gives us the power to go beyond the issue of justice to serving others, just as Jesus did.
Salvation means that Jesus has given His life for us, if we will accept Him. And service means that His life has made our life new; we now live in and by Him for others. As His friends, we are responsible to grow in the grace He provides so that He can use us to help others become His friends too. We learn to do this over time; sanctification is a lifelong journey. Praise God that, thanks to the presence of Jesus’ grace in us, it’s a journey we don’t take alone.