The first two parts of this series (i.e., Part 1 and Part 2) reviewed the value of returning good for evil (rather than evil for evil), and understanding the source of evil (Satan and his minions). While these habits may improve our society, it may seem like a burden for us to be better than the “next guy”. After all, don’t nice guys finish last?
Let’s consider where we really stand, though. If our goal is to “get ahead” or “win”, what does that actually look like?
First, by way of background: In God’s design – one of absolutes, without gray areas – there is justice. Evil must always be paid for. However, within our own lives, there is no way that doing good things can somehow “cancel out” the consequences of our rebellion. There is no “offsetting” of bad deeds we do with good ones, if somehow to make up for where we have sinned. There is only God existing to perfect standards, and us falling short.
As a result, Jesus didn’t just do enough good things to cover our wrong choices; He lived the perfect life (the one that we decided not to live), and then carried our consequences on His shoulders. Our failures had to be paid for, and God – in His holiness – could not simply ignore those sins. However, once Jesus paid our debt, His substitution was perfectly complete to cover all of our sins. Those who have accepted His payment no longer need to keep track of any of their past, present, or future sins.
Once we understand where we stand with respect to a perfect, holy God, our relationship with others should seem more clear. None of us is somehow better than anyone else, compared to the actual standards of the universe. Compared to God, no one can pridefully claim to be better than his or her neighbor, because our eternal destiny is not based on being “good enough” or “better than the next person”. Once we have chosen a way that is not God’s, we’re all in the same boat: unable to atone for our own shortcomings. Even if we lived perfectly after making wrong choices, that’s what we were supposed to do with our lives anyway, so it wouldn’t earn us any special favor (like “extra love” from God, who already loves us perfectly), nor would it cancel out our sins.
Paul emphasized this in the following verse, that he – despite being an apostle and missionary – hadn’t earned his own salvation. Paul was still a sinner, saved only by Jesus Christ.
It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.
1 Timothy 1:15 NASB
As a result, our salvation might be considered a “zero-sum” situation: Our penalty was paid for completely by Jesus. Justice was achieved, and our debt is paid. However, the distribution is pretty lopsided: Jesus lived the life that we should have, and then He chose to take on the painful consequences of our life choices. This illustrates God’s mercy, where we – if we accept Jesus’ salvation and follow Him – do not get what we deserve.
However, the equation breaks down from there, when God offers us a blessing that is so much better than “zero-sum”. Our sins are not just cancelled out by Jesus’ sacrifice; we live an abundant, blessed life with our Lord and Savior – even before we get to eternity. This is God’s grace, giving us good things that we clearly didn’t earn.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21 NASB
So, let us remember that we are all equally fallen in comparison to a holy God, and all equally dependent on Jesus’ payment for our sins. May this remind us to love others as He did, and seek to share with them the opportunity to share in the gift of forgiveness, as well as the abundant life of following Jesus.