Imagine being at a restaurant and the server brings your favorite beverage, but before setting it down, as you’re watching, he spits into it. Hard to imagine, right? But think about it, how would you react? You might consider a number of options, but one thing you wouldn’t do is drink it. Right?
Consider another scenario. You’re starving. You haven’t had anything to eat all day, and finally arrive at a cafeteria that looks promising. But somehow, just before you take your first bite, you learn the food you’ve been served has been tainted accidentally with a pesticide. Despite your hunger, I’d bet you wouldn’t proceed to eat.
In both instances, scientifically speaking, the food and drink are probably 99 percent acceptable. If chemical analyses were performed, in terms of atoms and molecules, they would consist mostly of the drink ordered or the food served. But the remaining one percent – be it saliva or a poisonous substance – has spoiled the entire drink or meal, making it unacceptable and potentially lethal.
There is an important spiritual parallel. How many times have you heard someone say something like, “I consider myself basically a good person,” or, “God understands we’re not perfect. He’ll accept me because my good outweighs the bad.”
From a human perspective, that makes sense. It’s true, we’re not perfect. So it’s futile to expect perfection from ourselves or from others, whether at home, in the workplace, or anywhere else.
But God doesn’t judge according to “human perspective.” He has only one standard, and that’s perfection. For instance, Romans 3:23 states, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:10 declares, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” In the Old Testament we read, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). And Psalm 143:2 agrees, “no one living is righteous before you (God).” Harsh words, no doubt.
Does that mean that, according to the Bible, God sees everything we do as totally evil, utterly disgusting and without any value? No, but like spit in a drink, or a dash of poison in food, sin – our failure to keep God’s laws and standards – taints all we do, making it unacceptable to God.
Christian theology offers the concept of “total depravity,” the belief that even our best thoughts, words and actions are contaminated by sin – selfishness, pride, self-sufficiency, and many other impure motivations.
Jeremiah 17:9 explains, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” In other words, even when we’re doing good things, can we be certain we’re doing them for the right reasons?
In human relationships, when we mess up we can apologize, ask forgiveness, and try to salve the harm done by doing good – buying gifts or flowers, performing chores without being asked, planning a nice evening out to help heal the wounds. Outweigh the bad with good. Offer the “nobody’s perfect” plea.
But God has already judged our performance and, to borrow an educational term, we’ve flunked the course. No matter how much good we do, in terms of earning His favor it’s about as effective as trying to rinse off rotten meat with water and serving it for dinner.
So what’s the solution? If this is true, is there no hope? Yes, there is. But we have to fall back on the plea men, women and children have uttered through the centuries: “Lord, have mercy!” As Titus 3:5 tells us, “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
That passage brings up another term that people outside the Christian tradition find problematic: “Washed in the blood of the Lamb (Jesus Christ).” Sounds yucky, doesn’t it? But it’s a proper, biblical term describing Christ’s crucifixion, shedding His own blood and offering purification for the sins of mankind. In Revelation 7:14 we find this description: “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Hard for the human mind to conceive, but from God’s perspective, that is the only solution to the dilemma of sin pollution, the “total depravity” that otherwise disqualifies us from entering God’s perfect and holy kingdom.
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, a former newspaper editor and magazine editor. He is presently vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., a non-profit focused on mentoring and coaching business and professional leaders. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and has authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” “Business at Its Best,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. He also posts regularly on two blogs, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, and www.bobtamasy.wordpress.com. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.