John Doe, like the rest of us, has a terminal illness that he carries with him daily. That illness is his moral imperfection - his failure to always do the right thing. Mr. Doe certainly tries at times, but he doesn’t always try hard. In fact, deep down Mr. Doe actually enjoys doing some things that aren’t always kosher.
After all, lying comes easily and sometimes just makes life smoother than the truth. Eating lots of food when he isn’t hungry or opening up his favorite porn site gives him a fleeting endorphin boost when he has a bad day. Silent judgement of the choices and lifestyles of others, or feeling a perverse schadenfreude at the misfortune of a better colleague at work are not uncommon to him. He is a flawed, imperfect, fallen man. And, as mentioned, he is morally ill.
One day, just like every other human before him, he will die. Mr. Doe knows this and so in his own halting way he attempts to make something of his short life. He attends church on occasion and donates a small monthly sum to the local homeless shelter. He parties and tries not to miss out on life, whether that be a surprise trip with friends, a chance to climb the corporate ladder, or the possibility of going out with the cute new hire down in Marketing.
He has his highs and his lows. There are times when he is trying to sleep and thinks over how when he was nine he awkwardly said the prayer. Doing so was supposed to save him. He had also hoped that doing so would mean he would get to see his grandmother again one day. Now as an adult he still hopes that the prayer still holds him secure. But he sometimes is unsure and he struggles with his choices, especially those he regrets. Many times he improves in his character and believes that he’s proven his worth. But other times he falls flat and right back into the same old, same old. He wonders, Have I really changed? He rationalizes, It’s not that bad, others are worse, I am okay, all is always forgiven, right? And he even gets mad, Why is this so difficult?
Does Mr. Doe sound familiar? How often have we been a John or Jane Doe?
On Sunday, Pastor Jeff spoke on the nature of salvation and the difficulties many Christians face. Like many of us, Mr. Doe forgets that salvation is a process. We were saved, are being saved, and will be saved. Past, present, and future. When we repent, God changes our hearts and works on us, bit by bit, to become more like him. It is exciting, wonderful, painful, grueling, and a huge relief. We cannot save ourselves by our own effort, but Christ rescued us from ourselves. This is unmerited favor.
We also can forget that failing doesn't mean we have lost our salvation. Can we in our small human frailness take ourselves out of God’s hand? The only thing we can do is decide to either move towards God or away from him. That is our choice. When we feel down or mess up, we can either feed ourselves spiritually good things (prayer, the Word, fellowship) or we can feed ourselves poison (excess food, porn, judgement of others, religious pride).
There is a tension here that all Christians sooner or later must learn how to deal with. We must take responsibility for our choices and listen to the Holy Spirit which guides us to make the right ones. But we must also know that the race of life isn’t over just because we trip. Faith in God’s forgiveness and grace for oneself must come with an eagerness to seek after God. These elements mutually reinforce each other and help us along our journey.
Whether we are one day or ten years into our own walk with Christ, we all have different stories and different levels of spiritual maturity. We are also all in the same boat and so while we can and should try to be good, that desire flows out of our relationship with God. And that relationship means that we pick each other up when we fall down, and we don’t discourage someone or look down on them just because they happen to be in a different place than us. As Pastor Jeff said, our standard is other humans, but God's standard is a perfect Jesus. So, don’t be so concerned with comparing yourself to others. Rather, love one another and be encouraged that we have a perfect champion who is working with us throughout our lives.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” –Ephesians 2:8-10
John Dale Grover is a native of San Antonio, Texas and attended Bowdoin College in Maine. Currently he is a graduate student in Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. He loves board games and owns way too many books. John is also an advocate for self-care and mental health.
If you missed out on this week's sermon, check it out here.