Not so long ago, I was living in Colorado Springs while stationed at Fort Carson. Most of the time that I lived there, I stayed in a rental house owned by one of my friends. I made many repairs/improvements to the house during my tenure there. Many of these repairs were electrical in nature. I added a 220V outlet for a dryer in the basement. I dug three sump pump pits and ran wiring to them. I also ended up replacing almost every outlet in the house.
Eventually the time came for the house to be sold. I did many repairs to the house in order to prepare it for sale. Prior to the inspections by the potential buyer, I started to dig in and learn more about the National Electric Code (NEC). While I had been quite proud of my laymen’s knowledge of the electrical world, what I learned about the NEC humbled me.
I learned that each sump pump pit required its own circuit, something which I had not done. I also learned that adding new circuits required an electrical permit. In order to obtain an electrical permit, you had to both own the home and be living in the home. I could not pull a permit since I did not own the home. My friend who owned the home was no longer living there so he could not pull an electrical permit either. So, I found myself in a predicament. I called an electrician and explained to him my situation. He gave me the phone number for the chief electrical inspector of El Paso County and suggested that I call him.
I optimistically called him hoping that he would somehow make an exception to my situation since much of the work had already been completed. I hoped that he would grant me a permit even though I didn’t own the home and the owner did not live there. After all, I was helping a friend. He had to know that I was military and maybe since I was “serving my country” I would get special treatment. I thought that he would be impressed with my knowledge of the electrical world and just turn me loose since I obviously knew so much and therefore he didn’t have to worry about the work that I was doing.
Needless to say, I was wrong. He did not grant me any special favors. Nor was he impressed with my knowledge about the NEC. In fact, the longer I talked to him, the more I learned about my shortcomings when it came to upholding the code: the Schedule 40 PVC that I had used on the surface needed to be Schedule 80, the GFCI outlets that I had installed for the sump pumps needed to be weather resistant as well, all of the new outlets that I had put in needed to be those annoying tamper-resistant kind instead, and the list went on.
So, the solution to my predicament was quite simple. I needed to hire a professional. I was not a licensed electrician. I needed to have an electrical permit and I did not have the credentials to pull a permit for a house that I did not own. No big deal, right? That was hard for a Do-It-Yourselfer like me to swallow. It wasn’t so much about the cost of hiring someone as it was about the hurt ego. It was hard for me to consider hiring someone to do something that I felt I was perfectly capable of doing on my own. I got myself into this mess, and I wanted to get myself out of it. I wanted to redeem myself from my failure to uphold the code.
Many people have similar thoughts when it comes to God. Let me explain. Many of us suffer from a “relative morality” complex. We see ourselves as better than our neighbors, and therefore God is pleased/impressed with us. I often hear people say, “I’m a good person.” Maybe a slightly more noble variant goes something like this: “I’m not perfect but I try to do the right thing. God understands me and He sees my effort. When I get to heaven, He will be fair to me.” The implication here is that what we need is justice. However justice is not in our favor. If God gives us justice (and He will), then we are in serious trouble.
There is a story that goes about an aging woman who went to a photographer to have pictures taken of herself. When she got the proofs back, she was disappointed. Her response was, “These pictures don’t do me justice.” The photographer responded back, “You don’t need justice, you need mercy.”
The same goes for us. We don’t need God’s justice. We need His mercy. We may be relatively “good” people (according to our self-made standards), but we are not absolutely good. Our relative goodness may keep us out of jail but it won’t get us into heaven. The Law stands against us. Even if we have not committed adultery or murder, we are still guilty of lust and unjustified anger toward our neighbor (Matthew 5:21-30). James takes sin a step further when he says that we sin when we don’t do the good that we know that we ought to do (James 4:17).
God doesn’t grade on a curve. He does not judge us relative to our neighbor but absolutely next to His moral law. My pride about my electrical knowledge was quickly silenced when the county electrical inspector brought out the National Electric Code against me. There was nothing left to be proud about. The Gospel is designed to do the same thing in us. Rather than appeal to our goodness and ask for justice, we need to appeal to His mercy and ask for forgiveness.
Paul sums this all up quite well at the end of Romans Chapter 3: “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. 21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– 26he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:19-26).
The normal response of religion is to be better, to do better, and to redeem yourself from your own shortcomings. Paul reminds us that we can’t. We don’t have the credentials to do this but the good news is that there is someone who does: “ Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4).