Take this Book of Instruction and place it beside the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God, so it may remain there as a witness against the people of Israel. (Deuteronomy 31:26)
Relate: Two days back I was having a facebook messenger conversation with someone I graduated with way back in two thousand. It had been nearly four years since the last time we had any meaningful interaction (as in more than the liking or commenting of a post, saying happy birthday, etc) and it was great to catch up. The last time was shortly after I was moving to Binghamton to help start Two Rivers and shortly before I actually began writing here on the River Walk. A lot had changed since then and for him there were also significant life and career changes as well.
I was thinking about that conversation during my devotions the next morning and I think my accounting of what had transpired in my life was incomplete. Yes, everything I shared really happened as I shared it. I was not intentionally misleading or trying to gloss anything over. It is just that the way I view the world, at least when I am in a good mood, tends to be through rose colored glasses. I truly am grateful for where I have gone, what I have done, and everything I have accomplished through following God. I would not hesitate to say I am walking much closer to God now than I was five or ten years ago. It’s just that it is easy to forget my failures or to lose sight of how much further I have to go before I am all God has called me to be. That is why I am grateful for the Law. It is like a flashlight shining on those darker spots in my life I would rather ignore. It is a witness against me.
React: I am occasionally called legalistic because I do my best to set such a high standard for my life and what I believe out of those I can have an influence. I am also occasionally called a pessimist because I so quickly and easily recognize how far I fall short of those very same standards. No. No, a thousand times no on both counts. As high as I set the bar, Jesus set it higher. The law with its 621 regulations was already impossible long before the Pharisees did their best to make it even more difficult. Before we jump on their case, however, let us not forget that Jesus Himself made it tougher. Instead of just not murdering, now it is an equal sin to harbor unjustified anger in our hearts. Instead of just not committing adultery, now we are equally in the wrong when gaze on a woman lustfully unless we have put a ring on her finger and she said “I do”. I cannot speak for the female half of the species but every single living male who has survived puberty is an adulterer with multiple counts of murder hanging over his head.
Some might try to rationalize Jesus away when He said be perfect as Your heavenly Father is perfect. They will say perfect doesn’t really mean perfect but rather complete. Well, if by complete you mean, “having obtained the highest level of perfection” then yes. Many hours of wasted life after first getting a Nintendo, I beat Super Mario Bro’s. I completed the game. But when Matthew quotes Jesus as saying be “complete” he isn’t using the word that way. I would have to go through every level of the game without dying, collecting the max treasure from every hidden box, and have absolutely no mistakes or close calls for every second of my play time. I would have to play the best possible game anyone who ever picked up the joystick could ever possibly hope to have. Then I could say my Super Mario Bros skills are complete. Every single time we sin we are falling short. We are missing the mark. We are incomplete.
I have also heard someone stretch their misinterpretation to say that perfect doesn’t really mean perfect or even complete but rather “loving”. If you look at it squinty and cross eyed simultaneously I guess you might possibly be able to twist that misinterpretation into something vaguely resembling logic. Just remember that it now “says” be loving just as your heavenly Father is loving. OK. So how can we be loving just like Him? Paul gave us a great list to start with over in 1 Corinthians 13. Love is patient, kind, not proud, not boasting, etc. Once again, all of us who are honest with ourselves that we fail miserably on every single line item of what it means to be loving. Paul’s epistles, just like Jesus’ sermon on the Mount and the Law are all witnesses against me. There are no balancing these scales. On my own, there is no way I can ever hope to meet God’s standard. That is why I am so grateful He has not left me on my own.
I am imperfect. Over and over again I have fallen so far short of the standard You have set. You are perfect and have called us to be perfect as well. I just can’t do it. There is no way I will ever earn my way into Your presence. There is absolutely nothing I could do that will ever make You love me more. So help me to stop trying. Let me simply rest in Your grace. You have completely broken those scales. Let my every good action, and word, and thought be an expression of love and gratitude rather than a misguided attempt to earn Your favor.