My Pastor Calls Me a Failure
“Why do you feel like a failure?” I heard him ask. “Because you are one.”
My flesh wanted to rise up to fight that statement, but my heart knew it was true. All that Jesus has to work with is failures.
At our recent leadership retreat we talked about self-righteousness and had to evaluate where we tend to find our righteousness. When I’m not leaning on Jesus, what will I most likely be leaning on? Here are a few examples we were given:
Discipline Righteousness: I work hard and have a strong sense of self-discipline; clearly I’m better equipped than you.
Family Righteousness: Because I “do things right” as a parent, I’m a better and more godly person than those who have unruly kids.
Theological Righteousness: I have good theology, therefore I’m obviously a more mature Christian.
Intellectual Righteousness: I am better read, more articulate, and more culturally savvy than others, which makes me more knowledgeable than you.
Accessibility Righteousness: In a world that’s busy, I’m always accessible and available to others when they need me.
Legalistic Righteousness: I obey God’s commands. In our sin warped culture, it’s natural that younger Christians should look to me as a godly example. (1)
Most of us wouldn't say these things out loud. In fact, most of us who are Christians have a hard time even admitting these things to ourselves because we know our theology: that only Jesus is righteous. But the way we walk it out practically can speak a different story.
As I was reflecting after retreat on all the misplaced righteousness I lean on, I asked God to give me humility. But even in that I realized, I don't want humility because I want to be more like Christ. I don't want humility so I can love others. I don't want humility so I can reflect God to others and share the Gospel. I want humility because it is a desirable quality that makes me look good. Ugh! I even have humility righteousness! Is there any hope for me? My pastor is right. I am a failure, wholly flawed.
I can try to puff up my righteousness in order to justify my gossip, my indiscretions, my slander, my weaknesses, my hate, but when I am honest with myself, I know I am really so much worse than what I can even see or have the courage to look at.
“None is righteous, no, not one.” Romans 3:10
Not me. Not you. No one.
But there is hope.
1 Peter 1:12 says, “...in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” The angels long to look into the good news of the Gospel given to man. Isn’t that so interesting? The angels are perfect beings. They are currently communing with and serving the living God. They see his glory, his majesty, his holiness now, and they worship him. So how can they long to look? Don’t they know more of God than we do as they are able to see him face to face?
The angels presently with God have never disobeyed Him, and those who have are banished. There are no second chances for angels. But there is for man, and because of this, we understand attributes of God in a way angels never will. The angels can witness particular aspects of God’s character that we as Christians can experience. We can understand a depth of God’s mercy, grace, and justice in an experiential way because we have received these gifts, not just seen them given. And it is not because we, who are the lowest low, deserve it, but because God, who is the highest good, chose to reveal himself in this way.
My failures allow me to experience God in a way that even angels can't understand! Why would I try to exchange that for something less? When I puff myself up and think I am greater than I am, or when I puff you up and think you are greater than you are, I negate the power and necessity of the cross and obscure the glory God has chosen to reveal of himself in rescuing a failing people to himself.
A little cleaning wouldn’t do. A little community service wouldn’t do. A little jail time wouldn’t do. I am an utter failure. Eternal punishment is what my crimes against a holy God deserve, and in His perfect love, God chose to send his only begotten Son to take on that punishment on my behalf. Death. A bloody, gruesome, torturous death. The perfect Son of God forsaken by his father. That’s what my sin, what my failures, required.
I’m grateful for a Pastor who tells me the truth. To tell me I’m better than I am is not really a kindness. It cheapens the Gospel. It heaps conditions and obligations upon me that I know I cannot meet, and forces me to lie to myself and to others to try and prove it.
Yes, the truth is hard to admit, but in reality, there is freedom in the admission. When I do, I no longer have to pretend to be someone I am not. I am a failure, but Jesus’ blood covers my failing mess. My past, present, and future sins were nailed to the cross of Calvary. He had to die because I am just that bad. And because I am just that bad and he chose to save me anyway, his mercy and grace are on display in a way that reveals him as all the more glorious, and in a way that allows me to be free from the condemnation of my failures and to fully rest on his perfect righteousness.
(1) Questions mined from Gospel Eldership, Robert Thune, (Greensboro, NC.,: New Growth Press, 2016), pg. 30-33
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