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A common factor in the heart of all men and women is the need to know that they have some value in this life, something that makes them worthy of drawing breath. The natural man, having only the five senses with which to measure such things, will find his value, or the lack of it, in the things that he does. His performance in athletics, in academics, in business — and the rewards that follow — is a proclamation of his identity as a valuable human being. Of course, if he falls short in these fields, he will desperately search for some area of achievement, no matter how insignificant, in which he can excel, and he will convince himself that this field is the only one that really matters.
There is an inherent problem in this system, however: if performance is to be the standard for identity, then there must be a means of measuring performance. And this requires comparing my performance to the performance of others. In other words, I can feel good about myself as long as I am doing better than you are. My commendation requires your condemnation. Thus I will rejoice at your failures and be saddened by your victories.
Sometimes blatantly, often subtly, this is the way of the world. Unfortunately, far too many Christians, though judged righteous by God, continue to judge themselves — and, of necessity, judge others — according to this same performance-based standard.
II Corinthians 10:12
For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves are not wise.
We as Christians must recognize that our identity, our value, our individual significance was established for all time with the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. We can become no more complete than we were at the moment we believed on him. The truth is that none of our works were good enough to merit God’s righteousness, but that now righteousness has become ours by grace, in Christ.
II Corinthians 5:21
For He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
The righteousness of God! How can one improve on that? We can’t. But we can certainly believe it and enjoy it. We now have a new measure. We compare ourselves to God’s Word, and it declares us righteous. Truly, the righteousness of God is the beginning of Christian service, for until I recognize this righteousness, any service I perform will continue to be a means of grading myself. In this light, much of what is called service to God is just the service of self.
It should be pointed out that my righteousness, my worth as a son of God, my completeness in Christ do not automatically make the conduct of my life perfect.
Though righteous, I can still fall short. Though a son of God, I can still learn to be a more effective servant of God. Though complete, I can — and must — still examine myself to determine whether my life is a true declaration of who God says I am.
II Corinthians 13:5a
Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.
The immature Christian does not want to examine himself. He would rather examine you! If he does not look at himself, he cannot find any failure by which to judge himself. To avoid this, he will all too often simply withdraw from any form of Christian service, using grace as a shallow excuse.
Thank God, we have been delivered from such idiocy. We can look at our lives head on, without flinching, and recognize shortcomings where we find them. Because although these shortcomings may say something about our present conduct, they can never outweigh the judgment of God on our lives — RIGHTEOUS! The righteousness of God is the perfect shelter within which the believer can examine himself, and make whatever changes are needed.
That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere [literally: examined in the sunlight] and without offense till the day of Christ.
The Christian who desires to live for God must learn to look at his own walk honestly, and he is going to continue to find areas where improvement is needed until the day when Christ returns! But such revelations need not make us fearful or cause us distraction, for He has already judged us righteous. Our failings are simply part of learning to LIVE as the sons which He has already declared us to BE.