We’ve all heard these lines. Maybe we have all said them too. “I’m only human!” or “I couldn’t help it!” or “Nobody’s perfect!” or “That’s just the way I am!” We use them when we know we’ve failed.
Occasionally, we might even blame our ethnicity as a valid excuse for an outburst of anger, loss of self-control, or just sheer laziness. Now, there is an element of truth to some of these statements. We are human, but we are also Christians, indwelt by the Spirit of God. We are not perfect, but our goal should be as expressed by the Lord Jesus: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt 5:48). We cannot change our earthly ethnicity, but as believers “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20 ESV) and our behavior should reflect it.
Imagine a scenario in a public university where every student received a “D” in every class. Similar excuses by students are being used. “Nobody’s perfect!” and “We all have our struggles!” and “At least I passed!” are heard from around the campus. Arguably, no one is failing. But obviously, no one is succeeding. What will happen to the university? And what effect will “D” average performance have on everyone involved?
How many people will want to enroll in a school that is churning out substandard graduates? How many unconverted people will want to “enroll” as a Christian when they witness substandard behavior from the Christian community? When we refuse forgiveness or hold grudges for some offense committed, do we ever consider how poorly we represent the Lord Jesus, Who said to those nailing Him to the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)? When we indulge the flesh and do the same sinful things unbelievers do because “We’re only human,” do we ever consider that our actions may actually hinder the lost from coming to Christ (1Cor 10:32-33)?
In order for the university to survive, one possible “solution” would be to lower the academic standards. Why not increase the 10 point grading scale to 15 or 20? Why not choose a curriculum that demands less from the students? Why not do away with testing altogether? And why do we need to rely so heavily on the textbook? These actions might artificially inflate grades, but fail to address the real issue. And, arguably, when standards are lowered so is performance; the cycle continues to spiral downward.
Is it possible that we are living at a time when the spiritual standards of the Christian community are being lowered? After all, if we rely too heavily on the textbook (i.e., the Bible) and follow it too closely, will people not think we are a bit radical? If we emulate the behavior of the Lord Jesus too closely, will people accept us or like us at all? So is it really that big of a deal if I have a few drinks with my friends? Is it really that big of a deal if I watch a movie with a few bad words, a few innuendos, and a little violence? And why do we need to read the Bible and pray every day? Why do we need to attend so many assembly meetings? Why must we always be thinking about other people and trying not to offend them? This is all so demanding, so time consuming, and “I’m only human!”
How have we responded to this type of attitude among us? Are we saying, “It’s just the day and age in which we live.” Or are we shrugging it off with, “We can’t expect too much from people these days.” If so, this hastens the descent into apathy. It’s important to remember that although we may lower the bar of expected Christian performance, God does not. This happened in Malachi’s day. The people were bringing offerings to God that were broken, blemished, and below the standard. God’s response? “I am the Lord, I change not” (Mal 3:6).
Position in the Future Suffers
Part of the whole school experience is to prepare students for effective placement and service in this world. Students might skip class and get away with it, but will discover that skipping work just will not be tolerated. The excuse used in school, “This is good enough to pass,” just won’t pass in the workforce. Below average achievement might still earn a diploma from a university, but will likely, eventually, only earn a pink slip from an employer. In contrast, it is the student with high marks, unyielding commitment, and unshakable determination who finds a good place and good pay in the work world.
Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that our present performance as believers in this age is all preparation for service in the age to come. “D” grade dependability and loyalty now will not receive “A” grade placement in the coming kingdom. The Lord Jesus spoke about that kingdom in Luke 19:11-28. In this parable, the servants of the nobleman (Christ) were given talents and were expected to gain a profit with them during his absence (i.e., the present day). When he returned to receive his kingdom, their use of the talents was evaluated. The first servant took one talent and made ten with it. His position in the kingdom is then granted: “Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.” The second servant took one talent and made five with it. Similarly, he is told: “Be thou also over five cities.” But the third servant merely wrapped up the talent given to him, in a handkerchief, without making any profit at all. The word for “handkerchief” is a Latin word sudarium from sudor (sweat) transliterated into Greek and means a “sweat cloth.” The man never intended to sweat from working, so merely used it to wrap up his talent. What position did he receive in the kingdom? He heard, “Take the money away from him and give it to the servant who earned ten times as much” (CEV). His problem was not that he lost the money entrusted to him, but he did not gain anything with it. You might say his was a “D” grade effort. The man is not expelled from the kingdom, but anyone who is a poor steward during Christ’s absence will suffer loss of reward and position in that future kingdom.
Enjoyment of the Present Suffers
How enjoyable can school be if we never even attempt to succeed in a single course? Attending class becomes a chore and reading the textbook a burden. But if our desires rise far above “D” level, class attendance is a must and the textbook is critical reading.
As God’s creatures, we were made to achieve. God’s first stated command to humanity involved administering rule and exercising responsibility (Gen 1:28). After God made Adam, he was immediately placed in the garden and entrusted with responsibility there (Gen 2:15). Only when we do what God designed us to do will we find fulfillment in this life. Yet, as Charles Swindoll said, “The greatest waste of our natural resources is the number of people who never achieve their potential.” How enjoyable can life be, if we never attempt to achieve anything spiritually? Attending meetings becomes a chore and reading God’s Word becomes a burden. But when we aim for “A” grade spiritual progress, the Word of God becomes rich food and the assembly meetings positively vital.
The wealthy and wise Solomon wrote consistently about how unenjoyable life is when lived without regarding God as our highest good. The phrase he uses repeatedly in Ecclesiastes about everything else is, “all is vanity and a striving after wind” (1:14; 2:11, etc., ESV). His conclusion of the book is striking and instructive: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (12:13 ESV).
Quality of Leadership Suffers
Put yourself into a professor’s shoes at this university where no student is flourishing. No one asks any questions in class. Sadly, few even attend your lectures. And the few that do attend hardly pay any attention to what you are saying. No one meets you in your office for further help. You have given your best effort and it has made no difference. No one cares, no one tries, no one learns. Your incentive to teach is dwindling. If no one cares, why should you? You spend less time preparing. You decide more often than not to just “wing it.” The same becomes true of all faculty and staff. Administrators, registrars, tenured professors, and even deans have lost the drive to achieve. Motivation within the school has all but disappeared. The quality of teaching and leadership is in a steady decline.
It goes without saying that our behavior, attitude, and performance all significantly impact people around us, not the least of which are those who would seek to lead and teach us. Put yourself into the shoes of a teacher in an assembly where no one wants to grow. No one gives you any feedback about the message you preached. No one asks any follow-up questions. The few believers that are present are sending text messages during the meeting and joking around with those sitting next to them. No one nods their head in agreement while you’re speaking (apart from those nodding from sleeping). No one says, “Amen!” to anything. If no one cares, why should you? Why dig into the text of Scripture and spend hours studying if no one is going to listen? When asked to speak, do you just skim over the material because you reason, “This will be good enough for them.” There is no incentive to take teaching seriously for if no one is listening to the Word of God, how can there be an expectation to obey the Word of God? So the quality of teaching and leadership suffers.
A New Semester
There is a way to stop the slide and reverse the course. First, we must realize and admit our own weakness. We are sinners. We are fallen creatures. But being a sinner is no excuse for sin and having fallen is no excuse for not attempting to fly.
Second, we must accept full responsibility for our failures. There is something deeper behind the phrase, “I’m only human.” Within this statement is a desire to shift blame for my behavior or performance to someone or something else. It is critical for our spiritual development to admit that we are solely responsible for our shortcomings and sins. Third, we must resolve that a “D” on the report card is unacceptable and we must aim much higher. As believers, we have the resources available to get the best of grades. The Spirit of God is the best Teacher (John 16:13), the Word of God the best textbook, and we have the mind of Christ (1Cor 2:16). Why not start a new semester in your life right now?