I was a little psycho about grades in school. Maybe it’s a firstborn thing. I don’t know. But from early grade school, I always wanted to get really good grades. I worked hard, made sure I was on good terms with the teacher, and I usually made the honor roll. When my wife and I were going to college together, I used to drive her nuts with my concern over getting a “B.” I’m sorry, I know you hate me. But, you know, I told you I was psycho. It’s a problem. Now, you probably hated guys like me, but just consider it a condition and cut me some slack, OK? I’m probably not the only person in the world who has this “gotta get a good grade” thing!
I’m Ron Hutchcraft and I want to have A Word With You today about “Obsessed With Grades.”
It can be a good thing to be really focused on grades when it comes to school. It’s definitely not a good thing when it comes to being a follower of Jesus Christ. But a lot of us like what I call measurable righteousness – a rigid standard by which I can grade myself as a Jesus-follower. And maybe more importantly, I can grade you. I can grade others as a Jesus-follower.
Don’t get me wrong. God has clear boundaries for our lives and they are non-negotiable. The issue is whether or not we have a right to grade ourselves on how we’re doing with Him; or whether or not we have a right to grade other people. When we do, we usually give ourselves a better grade based on some criteria by which we can come out looking good. Jesus knew some folks like that. They had a name – Pharisees. Jesus didn’t have very nice things to say about them.
Our word for today from the Word of God, Galatians 5, beginning with verse 1, is actually a Declaration of Independence, not from the desire to please God, but from the obsession with grading our righteousness or the righteousness of others, which almost always ends in spiritual pride for us and judgment of other people.
God says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” That slavery back then had been a legalistic bondage to a list of spiritual rules. John 1:17 says, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” That grace removes the word “deserve” from all our dealings with God. Hell is all we can deserve. Our relationship is based on God’s grace, not our goodness. It is “not by works so no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:9) the Bible says. Which is exactly what legalistic righteousness, spiritual grades can cause. It causes boasting.
In Galatians, Paul says, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? You…were called to be free” (Galatians 5:7, 13). Earlier he asked, “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law or by believing…? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3:2-3).
God doesn’t want us grading our righteousness or the righteousness of others, as ego-satisfying as that might be. We should never have a sense of having arrived spiritually. That’s why, after 30 years of an awesome Christian life, the Apostle Paul was still “pressing on to win the prize.” The spirit of Jesus isn’t one of proudly measuring our righteousness. It’s a spirit of humility, of always feeling in desperate need of His grace, of always being amazed that He loved me.
I’m always wanting to please my Jesus, but I’m not ever thinking I’m there. I’m never in a position to judge how someone else is doing, except to help a struggling brother or sister by restoring them, or confronting them, or exhorting them under the Spirit’s prodding, but always with a sense of mercy and humility – never with a sense of condescension or pride.
One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 66:2. It defines the kind of person that impresses God, that He wants to use. Here’s what it says: “To this man I will look: to him who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” No grades – just grace.