Failure, Performance and the Christian Life

“The main thing we learn from a serious attempt to practice the Christian virtues is that we fail.  If there was any idea that God had set us a sort of exam and that we might get good marks by deserving them, that has to be wiped out.  If there was any idea of a sort of bargain—any idea that we could perform our side of the contract and thus put God in our debts so that it was up to Him to perform His side—that has to be wiped out….everyone has the idea of an exam or of a bargain; the first result of real Christianity is to blow that to bits.”   CS Lewis

Fast Track to Executive Pharisee

Want to become a Pharisee in record time?

Here’s how:

  • Make up a lot of rules outside of those in Scripture.
  • Push yourself very hard to keep the rules you made up.
  • Ridicule yourself when you don’t keep your rules.
  • Become proud when you do keep your rules.
  • Impose the rules you have invented on others – do this often.
  • Shame and manipulate others into keeping your rules.
  • Make fun of those who fail to keep your rules.
  • Develop the right method of serving God.
  • Rebuke others who do not use your method of serving God.
  • Appoint yourself judge over other people in every area of their lives.
  • Use your judgeship to pronounce sentence on others for failure to keep your rules or use your methods.
  • Get angry with people who have different rules than yours.
  • Exclude people with different rules from being part of your posse (or serving in your ministry or church).
  • Make the rule breakers feel guilty every chance you get.
  • Pat yourself on the back for policing and enforcing the rules.
  • And finally:

    Fool yourself into believing you are doing all of the above ‘for the sake of the purity of the church’.

    And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17

    Hope for Recovering Pharisees

    Colossians 2:16-23

    So don’t put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services, or holy days. All those things are mere shadows cast before what was to come; the substance is Christ.

    Don’t tolerate people who try to run your life, ordering you to bow and scrape, insisting that you join their obsession with angels and that you seek out visions. They’re a lot of hot air, that’s all they are. They’re completely out of touch with the source of life, Christ, who puts us together in one piece, whose very breath and blood flow through us. He is the Head and we are the body. We can grow up healthy in God only as he nourishes us.

    So, then, if with Christ you’ve put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? “Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!” Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important.

    Ok To Judge? It Depends…

    Matthew 7 begins with a stern warning from Jesus about making judgements.

    It reads:

    “Judge not that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matt 7:1-2)

    Now on face value this appears to be a commandment forbidding all judgment of others. I know in my own experience countless people have thrown this text up at me whenever I have made a judgment about the behavior of another person. It seems to me to be a universally used text against even forming an opinion about whether something or someone is good or evil.

    But is this really what Jesus had in mind?

    I think not.

    Consider Matthew 18:15-20 where Jesus lays down the method for Church Discipline. He says that when your brother sins against you, confront that person. Well, how can you confront someone unless you’ve made a judgment about what they’ve done? You can’t confront sin without identifying it and to identify it, you must make a judgment.

    So, since Jesus is implying the need to make judgments in Matthew 18, then is it really wrong to judge? Jesus would not instruct us against making judgments in Matthew 7 and then say it is ok to do so in Matthew 18. Right?

    So what is Jesus really saying here in Matthew 7?

    Well, the passage is not making a case against judgment per se. It is, rather, making a case against judgment which is condemning.

    Keep in mind that Jesus was addressing a crowd which contained many Pharisees and other religious leaders of the day. These religious leaders did little else but condemn the behavior of others.

    Note also, the passage speaks about being hypocritical (v. 5) and about being cognizant of your own faults first (vv. 3-4).

    Rather than a command not to judge, Jesus is merely saying that we should always do so in a way that:

    • recognizes our own sin and
    • is restorative rather than destructive.

    In other words, we should remember what Paul told the Galatians when we judge others:

    “Brothers if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself lest you too be tempted.” (Gal. 6:1)