I’m an easy grader. When I was a youth pastor at a church in Charlotte, I taught a senior Bible class for 2 years. Our church had a Christian school as a part of its ministry, and I was always looking for ways to connect with my students, especially my Seniors. My favorite part about teaching was delivering and discussing the content of God’s Word. My least favorite part was giving grades. We had our occasional verse quiz, but the grade of the class mostly depended a lot on different projects I would assign. When it came down to it, I gave higher marks for effort than excellence. Needless to say, I knew that I was not destined for the classroom. I think that when it comes to making evaluations, we all tend to grade on a curve, especially when it comes to evaluating ourselves.
Even the most gracious and humble among us will give ourselves the benefit of the doubt when assessing our lives. We judge based on intentions rather than actions, and we place greater weight on our good deeds than our bad deeds on the scales in our minds. The gospel of Jesus though calls us to look at our state apart from Christ. We are all lost and dead in our trespasses (Eph. 2) before finding Jesus. There is no one who seeks after God (see Rom. 3:10-23). The gospel brings truth and reality to our evaluations of ourselves, and, if we are honest, we see our desperate need of grace and mercy. Once we enter into this relationship with Christ, even though we now stand under the righteousness of God through Jesus, we have the joy and privilege to “walk in the light, as he is in the light” (1 John 1:7). I want to challenge you with 2 more questions that we can use to evaluate how we are walking in the light.
Here’s are the next 2 questions:
1. Would the people in my neighborhood, at my job, in my church, or in my social group mourn if I left town?
This questions makes us evaluate whether we are really displaying the love of Christ to others. Am I using people to promote my agenda or am I serving others to point to Jesus? We asked ourselves this question as a group of elders at Providence about a year ago. We came to the conclusion that we didn’t think that anyone would probably notice if our church left town besides the ones attending our church. That made us ask some hard questions about what we were doing as a church. To be the hands and feet and mouth of Jesus in our community, means that we will do the things that nobody else is doing. It means that we will build relationships with those our society says are “unclean”. It means that we will go out of our way to help the hurting and lost and broken. That sounds really good, but how many of us really do that? Are we making an effort to reach out to the neighbor whose wife just left him? Do we sit down and eat lunch with the socially awkward person at school?
It’s really easy to be loving and sacrificial to the people you like. The way we measure this is how often we go outside our circle of comfort to impact someone else with the gospel of Jesus. How many neighbors and co-workers would care if you pulled a U-haul up to your house this Saturday? Answering that question will give you a good picture of how you are doing at loving your neighbor as yourself.
2. How do I determine success?
Get ready for the Sunday school answers bubbling up in your mind right now. I’m really not trying to be cynical, but ask this to anyone who has spent considerable time within an evangelical church and they will tell you the right answer. This question is dangerous because we know the right answers to give (i.e – faithfulness to God, holiness in my life, loving God with all my heart). To truly give yourself an honest evaluation though, you have to get outside the expected church answers that we are conditioned to give. Here’s how you and I determine success – what we celebrate. If you celebrate more when your son hits a home run than when you see him treat his sister kindly, you are saying that personal athletic accomplishments are more important that kindness. When you celebrate a promotion and a raise more than you celebrate someone you know becoming a Christian, you are saying that money is more important than making disciples. The ethic that you are imprinting on your children’s hearts has more to do with what you celebrate Monday through Saturday than what they hear in Checkpoint on Sunday mornings at our church gatherings.
What do you celebrate? The answer to that question tells me and everyone else how you determine success. We all work hard at being successful. We just have to determine what kind of success we want. It will either be success defined by the world’s standards, or success that is defined by God’s Word and His Kingdom.
Real honest evaluation of ourselves is hard. Praise God that He has given us His Son to do what we cannot on our own. Repenting and confessing our failings to Jesus is the first step we all need to take if we want to see His fruit in our lives. May we keep asking ourselves these questions and may they keep drawing us closer to the One who makes righteousness possible.