I am a pastor’s wife. I am surrounded by good people. In fact, we tend to be so good that we compare our goodness to the goodness of others. We measure our worth in our eyes, in our friends’ eyes, and in God’s eyes, by a certain set of standards, bad behaviors we should avoid and good behaviors we should be able to check off a list. And if someone should happen to fall below those standards, well, we can talk about ways that they should improve themselves, and avoid them until they can manage to behave better. After all, bad company corrupts good character, right? Or is it that bad character corrupts good company? Either way, if I continue to surround myself with better and better people, I should have an easier time making myself better, too. At least, that’s how it ought to work. Isn’t it?
There is a fundamental problem with this kind of thinking. On our own, in the very depths of our souls, we are not good. None of us are. We are the broken products of a broken world, destined to fail in our endless drive for perfection. Not a very pretty picture, is it? Generally, it leads to one of two responses: We give up on this perfect ideal and just live to get whatever we can out of this miserable life until we die, or we try to cover up the ugliness and imperfection with a mask of goodness. That is human nature. And honestly, it’s never going to do us much good. We need a new nature, a perfect mind, a flawless character.
Enter Jesus. God in flesh, born perfect, lived perfect, died to destroy our imperfection, raised to life to offer us His life, His nature, His mind, and His character. The exchange cost Him everything, and it costs us, too. We have to be willing to take it, to admit that we are not enough, will never be enough, and that we need Him to save us. Once the exchange is made, God never sees us the same way again. We are forgiven, clothed in Christ, free from condemnation, free to live the way He designed us to live in the first place. And in a novel, that would be the ending to the story. Everything would be “happily ever after” from that point on. So, why doesn’t reality look that? Why are so many of us who have made that exchange still living like it never happened? We do, don’t we? We thank God for His blessings, His salvation, His promise of eternal life, and just keep living by human nature, either focused on getting everything we can out of life, or finding that old mask of goodness and trying it back on. We don’t even notice that it’s filthy. We look out from the mask and wonder what’s wrong with other people. Why can’t they get their lives figured out? Why do they make things so difficult for us? And come to think about it, when we were promised all this joy and freedom, why are we still so miserable?
Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Gal. 3:1-3) To paraphrase: “What are you thinking? You know the truth of what Jesus did for you. So let me ask you, were you saved because of something you did, or because you trusted in what God did? Are you an idiot? Are you really trying to cover up God’s work in your life with your own stupid mask?”
We don’t have to wear a mask. God has given us His Spirit, which is everything we need to live the good life He wants us to live. The Bible says repeatedly that the only reason we want to do good is because of His life in us. Only His grace equips us to do good. Philippians 2:12-13 says specifically that we should obey God’s commandments and work to live like people who have been saved, because it is God who gives us both the desire and the ability to do good. So even when we live like we are supposed to, it is because of the work of God within us. We still live in a broken world. We still fail. But the grace of God that covers our failures also gives us the ability to live in victory. This is the good news that I live my life to proclaim. My ugly old mask never fit very well, anyway.