There is a growing trend among believers, pastors, and teachers to avoid passages of Scripture that speak to the reader about corrective measures that need to be taken as followers of Christ. The trend is to focus only on passages that comfort, encourage, or remind us of our hope in Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we should avoid these passages any more than the corrective ones because certainly life is hard and the need for comfort, encouragement, and hope is dire.
But “all scripture” was given for our benefit according to 2 Timothy 3:16 and three of them are listed in this passage:
1) teach us what to believe
2) use in proving what is right and wrong
3) correct our thoughts and behaviors
4) instruct us in righteous living
Correcting other people’s behaviors and thought patterns is not very popular and can often create conflict. Certainly, I understand why this task of sharing corrective scripture is difficult for someone in a leadership position. But if we avoid these corrective passages, we set in motion a downward spiral in our relationships with God and a weakening of our faith and the faith of others.
I was reminded of this principle recently in a conversation with an ex-military officer. In the discussion we were talking about not “walking past” or ignoring problems as they occur in relationships but instead addressing them as they happen. He recalled a piece of advice from his superior officer who told him, “To walk past a deficit in your company is to set a new standard”. His superior said that allowing a deficit to go unaddressed lowers the standard of what is acceptable within that company of soldiers to something substandard for the military requirement.
This really spoke to me as I pondered the standards set for us by God as our commander. Just as military standards are set up for the purpose of protection, for the ability to trust your fellow soldier, or for the purpose of pushing you toward excellence, God’s desire for us is always for our good and for His glory. So when we settle for less, we are either settling for something substandard for ourselves or settling for something that dishonors God.
Maybe you’re thinking that the ideas you have are good ones and seem to be good choices for you. The tricky part of our decision making is that it is impacted by our sin nature, which is impossible for us to set aside while still here on earth. We are by nature self-serving and focused on pleasure and comfort. We assume the things that are pleasing and comfortable are the only requirements to make something a good choice. But God has different ideas about what is “good”.
Because He sees all and knows all not only about how He created us but about everything, He can know what choices we should make that will be, in the long term, satisfying for both God and for us. Isaiah 55:9 reminds us that God’s thoughts and His ways are higher and better than ours. Therefore, unless our choices align with God’s, they are substandard.
Before proceeding any further, I want to be very clear that while it is important that we’re doing our best to pursue and maintain God’s standards, this is not how we receive salvation from the penalty and power of sin. The book of Romans is clear: We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. It is also clear in telling us that the “penalty for that sin is death”.
The penalty is not servitude and, our good works will never be sufficient to redeem us. God loves us and wants to be in a relationship with us, so He sent His Son Jesus to satisfy that penalty for us. When we accept this gift and trust in Jesus’ sacrifice, all our sins are paid for by His death. In response to this sacrificial gift, we strive to honor God by living according to His standards. Second Corinthians 5:15 says, “He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves but for Him who died for them and rose again”. Our lives are now an act of love and gratitude.
As we consider these things, it becomes clear that if our standards are compromised to something we are comfortable with rather than something that is pleasing to God, it is acting out of selfishness rather than love and gratitude.
We often mistake God’s unconditional love and long suffering toward us as approval for our actions.
Unfortunately, as we consistently “walk past our deficiencies,” we not only lower the approved standard, but we also become desensitized to the reality that it is even sin. I am reminded Mary’s words in Luke 1 as she realized God would use her to bring salvation to the world:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. (Luke 1:46-50)
Mary understood her unworthiness and God’s holiness.
She was grateful for His mercy.
She submitted to what He wanted her to do.
She glorified Him in her own life, to those around her, and to future generations.
This is the standard we are called to uphold.