All my life I have been encouraged to be a good boy (or a good man). Growing up, I must have heard the command to “be good” a thousand times, whether it was just before visiting a friend’s house or the local library. After I was particularly incorrigible as a child, I was warned that I might be dropped off at the “bad boy store” by my frustrated mother – in hindsight, I recognize the absurdity of the reality of this establishment, but at the time the notion that I could be chattel for this nefarious business worked well in keeping me on the straight and narrow. However, I was not always a good boy.
As I grew up into manhood, I have tried to be a good man. I think I have succeeded, to a greater of lesser degree. However, “the bad man store” may have a new item for sale. In my defense, the event I am about to describe occurred during the Patriots game on Sunday. As I was watching the game (the outcome of which at the time was still in question), trouble came to our house. As she was making sure our youngest was ready for bed, my wife hit her head – hard – on the upper bunk of the boys’ bed. While there was no blood, there was a bump. It least that is what I was told. I had little compassion and provided no care. I was not a good husband or a good father. I was wrong, and I sincerely apologize to my wife for my lapse in judgement. I am not always a good man.
When I became a follower of Christ, I tried to be a good Christian. I have a long list of good and godly behaviors – with appropriate measures of church attendance, charitable giving and acts of service – but I am not a good Christian. I am in danger of being shipped off to the “bad Christian store” because my practice of the faith is incomplete, my priority of Christ’s lordship is inconsistent and my passion for the gospel is anemic. I continue to sin. I continue to fail. I do not pray as much as I should nor share my faith as frequently as I should. I am not always a good Christian.
But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Psalm 19:12
My problem is that I am lulled into believing that I am (overall) good. I compare myself to others and I see myself as measuring up pretty well against the competition. But, as the Psalm above states, I am unable to rightly evaluate my own goodness. I need forgiveness for the things I cannot see in myself. I need the truth of God to be my standard and not my own heightened sense of self. In comparison to the standards of the Scriptures (which are beneficial for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness), I am, by nature, a bad boy, a bad man and a bad Christian.
But that is not how God sees me: because I have trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior, I have been justified (declared not guilty by God through His acceptance of Christ’s sacrificial satisfaction of God’s wrath) and sanctified (anointed, appointed and equipped to accomplish His will). I am seen by God as good, and that motivates me to demonstrate this divinely imbued goodness. It also motivates me to remember that this goodness is not from me, but from the one who redeemed me so that I might do some good. I thank God that He enables me to be a good person, a sinner saved by His grace.
I have come to a startling revelation in the past few days: people do not obey the law. In the span of four hours I witnessed: drivers rolling their cars through stop signs and swerving into oncoming traffic due to a car illegally parked halfway onto the sidewalk; jaywalkers; and bicyclists swerving through traffic disregarding any number of signs and hazards (not to mention litterers, trespassers and unpermitted contractors). I suppose the trouble with all of us is that we typically maintain the laws that are enforced and ignore the laws we know we can get away with breaking. If there were a police cruiser within view, we would be cautious, otherwise, we often do as we wish.
But when we live this way, allowing our immediate happiness to overrule our prolonged responsibility for public safety, we risk becoming desensitized to the consequences of our transgressions. When we begin to think that a law is subjective (that our personal perceptions of reality hold more weight than civil conventions) and we begin an inward dialogue that begins, “I don’t need to …”, our recklessness becomes routine and we become dangerous to those around us. We start assuming that we know better and nothing will happen to us. Despite our rationalizations to the contrary, we are not lawbreakers because we get caught; we are lawbreakers because we break the law.
I would be the first to admit that I think about the consequences instead of the code – I have been known to travel faster than the speed limit and do not wait for the vehicles hood to rise before proceeding through a stop signal. I am guilty of assessing the situation in terms of “getting caught” instead of “getting it right”. On those occasions, I am guilty. No excuses and no reasons are acceptable…I am a law breaker.
[Jesus said,] ‘There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.’ Luke 12:2 (NIV)
Our trouble lies in the truth that not only are we breaking the law, whether that transgression is consequential or not, but that every infraction is noticed by God. He sees our rolling stops and He hears our lies. Whether or not we recognize the ramifications, we “get caught” every time. We are accumulating fines for moving violations, building a rap sheet of petty crimes and amassing convictions for slander and false testimony. Not only am I a lawbreaker, but there is a judge who has seen all my infractions.
Our trouble ultimately consists of the fact that we cannot escape the guilt of our acts of ignorance and disobedience. There is a day of reckoning for all our offenses. On that day we will have no excuses. On that day, the Lord will exact just punishment and expect perfect penalty. And on that day, those who trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior will witness their brother by adoption accept all the punishment and penalty for every transgression of the law and, because of His sacrificial death, we will be declared no longer guilty and enter paradise. Those who refused to trust Jesus as Lord and Savior will be required to serve their sentence themselves.
As I travel, it is good to be reminded when I see others breaking the law that I, too, am a lawbreaker. I am guilty. But I am saved through the sacrifice of another, bearing my guilt and taking my punishment. It gives me pause, a moment sufficient to pray for those around me and to praise the One who has forgiven my sin.