Romans 3v 23. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…
Do you know what is the most horrible experience you go through when you are a kid?
Finding out that the tooth fairy doesn’t exist?
Finding out that Mum and Dad have consistently lied to you for years every Christmas?
No. (Which by the way explains why they were always so keen on leaving treats out for Santa; I always doubted his ability to fly a sleigh after a glass of mulled wine or three)
The only thing that kept me going through these awful discoveries was that at least my pet cat was living it up on vacation on a farm somewhere.
Back to the point.
No the most horrible experience you go through as a kid is when you’re getting ready to play football/ (insert culturally relevant sport to you) and it was time to pick teams. Lined up and with the two best players as team captains, you are completely at their mercy. The best you could hope for is to be picked first. If you are lucky enough to be that person you are fine. Next time it could be you picking the teams. Well done.
The next few picks are also ok, because at least you are chosen. Everyone knows who the best players are so to be even considered on par with them is a real privilege. You can look down at the others with a sense of entitlement.
The more players are picked, the more you can feel the stress. At least at the start there is comfort in numbers. You aren’t different. You are all equal. But sooner or later, the more players are picked the more you are exposed. One by one your blanket unravels.
Then before long it is just you and the one other player you did not want to be associated with. You are left standing beside one other person, staring at two gangs of kids who stand smugly in front of you with a mixture of superiority and pity in their gaze towards you.
You are hanging on by a thread. You know exactly what others think of you. You are not considered skilful enough. So you wait with the same trepidation that I imagine it feels waiting to have your name called for your execution.
The only thing you have left to comfort you is that at least you won’t be the last to be picked. You’re better than that guy, surely. All you’ve got now is the last grasp of comfort that at least you were picked and not simply the only one left so the other team had to have you.
And then you hear it. You’re taking one step forward ready to join your teammates ignorantly telling yourself you are good enough and it hits you.
It wasn’t your name called out. It was the person beside you. You were not chosen. You were left behind. You are a last resort. Your team is stuck with you. You are a burden. You can hear the groans of your ‘teammates’ ringing loudly in your head.
You are last.
You make your way forward slowly.
Your self confidence or what is left of it is already shot. You know how the next thirty minutes is going to go. You won’t get passed the ball/ (insert culturally relevant sports equipment for you), you’ll get yelled at for getting in the way, at the same time you will be a ghost.
How often do we walk around as if we’re still in the playground?
How often do we tell ourselves that we aren’t good enough?
How often do these experiences make us hide from others?
Paul, a writer of most of the New Testament talks in Romans about everyone being sinful and needing saved. That everyone at some point is a jerk, that everyone will lie to someone because they are afraid, that everyone will do the exact opposite of what is good for them.
Some people might call it being depraved. Some believe that we are born sinners. Some say that our childhood experiences (like picking teams perhaps) shape how we become bitter and angry at the world. Some say that the actions of Adam and Eve have condemned us all.
Whatever you believe about why there is pain and suffering in the world, it is pretty clear.
Humans are usually at the centre of it.
We usually act as if we’re still on the playground, where our status is directly linked to how quickly we get picked for the team.
I used to really struggle with that part where Paul said I was a sinner and I needed saved. I took exception to it. It’s not what I believe God was really like. I couldn’t believe that he looked at me as a sinner or as dirty or embarrassed. I couldn’t but yet so often that’s how I acted. That’s how I still act.
So I struggled and I changed who I am and I tried to do everything I could to not feel like a sinner. Sometimes it worked but mostly I would fall flat on my face. Always looking up comparing myself at the people who stood over me.
But sometimes when we’re busy focused on ourselves we miss things that are going around us. Like reading a verse so much in the context of me, me, me that we miss the true meaning. In that verse which Paul calls me a loser I realised I misread it. In fact it actually says that “all” have fallen short.
The implications of this are enormous.
So much of the Bible is about broken people who are trying to follow God (and sometimes completely resisting). For some reason or another we’ve misread the Bible as stories of people who God has chosen for being special or strong or Holy. But those descriptions don’t describe people like Moses who had no confidence whatsoever to lead people out of captivity. Or David who murdered, lied, cheated and manipulated. (Basically his life was an early version of the Bold and the Beautiful, or one of those US soaps set in towns where only models live. Big contrast to Eastenders!) Or a young vulnerable girl to be the mother of Jesus.
Or how about Peter, one of His closest friends who denied he had ever heard of Jesus?
There are so many more you could write a book about them…oh wait.
The point of the Bible is not to show us how to become a good living Christian so we can get out of here. If it was then it fails more often than not.
The point actually is to show us that we are a people who are in desperate need for someone to come and save us today. In the messes we so often create for ourselves. For someone to say you are who you are because I love you. To say that to be accepted, you don’t need to be someone you’re not.
To free us from lining up and trying to impress each other suitably so we don’t get picked last.
This is why my new understanding of Paul saying “all have fallen short” is so profound and life changing.
Because Paul is saying it’s not just you, it’s not just me, but it’s all of us.
There is no hierarchy.
(Ironically enough, it’s often the ones who believe they are on top of this hierarchy who actually need saved the most. Jesus had a lot to say to these guys. In Jesus time these were the Pharisees, the religious or the Church. It could be argued that not much has changed).
You don’t need to work overtime to be accepted because right now, where you are is where you are accepted the most. When you come to the realisation that you are no better or worse than anyone this is either humbling or empowering. Either way it is amazing.
So we can be confident that,
When you get fired from your job, you are accepted.
When you fail an exam, you are accepted.
When you lie to someone, you are accepted.
If you have a different sexuality than someone else you are accepted.
When you go all out on a dream and it fails miserably, you are accepted.
When you look at porn, you are accepted.
When you steal from someone, you are accepted.
If you are an Arsenal fan (insert your most hated sports team), even you are accepted.
But it goes further too. You are also loved. Just as you are, without any exceptions.
So this begs the question then, why bother trying to be like people who are are no better or no worse than you, but just different? Why work to win the acceptance of people that Paul reminds us are just as in need of being set free as you?
The answer: there is none and there is no reason.
The only answer then is to give all the Glory to God. Which sounds like quite a narcissistic and huge ego filled God to ask that from us, right?
I’m glad you agree, because we’ll get onto that next.