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God Doesn't Grade on a Curve
Scripture: Colossians, James, Matthew, Ephesians
Track 1 of 7 in the 7 Truths That Will Make You Sweat series
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Mike Nobis Speaker: Mike Nobis
Sunday School Teacher, Former Elder at Madison Park Christian Church. Mike is President of JK Creative Printers & Mailing in Quincy, IL. He is married to Pam and has three children, Tom, Tyler and Jennifer. Mike has three grandchildren: Ryne, Ivy and Alicia.

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January 7, 2007

We live in a world that is so fast paced that Christians have a very difficult time slowing down and just enjoying life. You can see on the faces the anxiety, the pressures or the stress that people feel everyday. Life can be very hard at times and if not handled properly, it can run you over like a big truck. It wasn't any different back with the first century church either. They also had the same pressures but they all came in a different ways and from different sources. Yet, when I read the letters from guys like Paul, James, Peter and others, they seemed to have a different understanding about what was going on around them.

Knowing the dangers they faced from living the Christian life, how could they have such a positive outlook on life? How could they rejoice when bad things took place, counted it a privilege to suffer for Jesus or give praises to God when persecution came their way? After studying letters like Philippians and going through the Book of Acts seeing all the church had to endure, I wanted to look deeper into what made the Christians back then live a life so effective for Jesus yet under so much pressure and persecution.

The conclusion I came to was they had a better understanding of who God is and the concept of Spiritual rest. Even though the church might have been physically beaten and tired, they were spiritually at rest. For the next 6-7 weeks, I want to take a look at what that spiritual rest is or how to find the spiritual rest the first church had. What I think discovered was it comes from knowing and believing some very important truths that when practiced and lived, produces the rest we all desperately need. The truths aren't any different than what we already know; the difference comes from the perspective from which we understand it.

In 2001 Barna Research conducted a survey of adult Americans asking the question if they believed there was an absolute truth out there. 78% of those surveyed said they didn't believe there was absolute truth. You can see the problem, if there is no absolute truth, then the Bible can't be a source for truth. Unfortunately, many Christians believe this also. I have debated with many Christians and non-Christians about the contradictions found in the Bible and their conclusion most of the time is, since there seems to be contradictions, the Bible can't be truth.

Fueling the debate over Biblical contradictions is the fact that the Bible does teach truths from two perspectives. There is our very limited human perspective, and then there is God's infinite perspective. It is not a matter of which perspective is right or wrong. Both perspectives are correct in how they are presented but obviously God's perspective is the only one that matters. The Bible teaches truth from both perspectives.

Can someone give me an example of this in the Bible? How does the Bible teach truth from two different perspectives that seem miles apart from each other? My approach to this series can best be illustrated by the analogy called the "two grips". There are two grips at work in our relationship with God. Here is where I find the difference between what the 1st century Church understood and where we are today in our perspective of God.

When your children were small (about 3-4 years old) and you went to the grocery store or walked through the mall, describe for me the way you walked your children from store to store? If you have ever taken a child through a mall or escorted them through a busy parking lot by holding their hand, you can relate to this analogy. The first grip is the child's grip. At best their grip is undependable. Sometimes the grip is firm, while at other times they did everything in their power to break free especially if they saw something they wanted or were interested in. The strength of their grip would come and go with the mood swings, but it didn't matter because there was a second grip also at work.

The second grip was the grip of the parent or the guardian on the child. Thankfully the safety of the child was not based on the child's grip but on the parent's grip. We can all remember that our grip on our child was at times just by their pinky and we worried about their safety, but they weren't going anywhere. From my children perspective at times they felt like slaves and they cried and desired so much to be free, but from my perspective, they were safe in my care. There were two grips; at times it was questionable about one of them and two perspectives for the same occurrence.

The same is true of the Bible. It teaches truth from both perspectives. You will find passages on how to have a tighter grip on the Father but there are also passages that teach about the grip God has on us and the safety we have because of his grip. It is the Father's grip on us that I want to concentrate on. It was this grip the first church knew as fact that caused them to do what they did and to rest knowing all was safe in a very dangerous world. It is this grip that our generation is ignorant about and has difficulty claiming as truth and then living it.

Here is a fact we first need to understand, the child grip passage in the Bible are there to help us feel closer to God. The Father's grip passages are there to make us closer to God. Believers are already as close to God as they will ever be. We don't often realize how close to God we really are and that has an affect on our perspective in life.

God Doesn't Grade on a Curve

There is a billboard in the state of North Carolina that had this message in it from one of the local churches:

Don't Make Me Come Down There…signed God.

This is cute but is there anything wrong with that statement Biblically? Why? 1st the sign implies that God is perched on some heavenly lookout tower poised to swoop down and wreak havoc on all who get too far out of line. 2nd, it implies there are some things God overlooks and some things he can not ignore. How many times have you said this statement, "Don't make me get out of this chair." What is wrong with that statement? It is a threat.

Do Christians today view some sins as greater than others? Give me an example. Parents, moms and dads grade on a curve. It happens all the time. In fact, our entire judicial system grades on a curve. Some offenses are worse than others and society does the same thing, we rank some offenses from the most horrific to the ones that we don't blink an eye at anymore. We even have degrees of offenses, first degree murder, 2nd degree murder, etc. Each has its own sliding scale of severity.

Human law is colored with all sorts of shades of gray but we have to understand with God, it is black and white with him. Paul even warned us of this when he wrote:

Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

Don't buy into the lie that God thinks and judges the way we do. God thinks differently than the world and we ought to also. God has a higher standard and he is a tough cookie. With God it is all or nothing. There is no pleading for leniency or throwing ourselves on the mercy of the court. It is one strike and you are out.

James 2:6-7 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

It gets even tougher, not only is God not grading our actions on a curve, he doesn't grade out thoughts on a curve either. Bad thoughts are just as bad as bad actions.

Matthew 5:20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

When Jesus made this statement, the Pharisees were considered by many as shoo-ins for heaven. They were known for being zealous for the law and living a perfect life. But Jesus taught that keeping the law was more than just doing good deeds.

Matthew 5:21-22 "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.

We all can relate to this, we all get angry at times and we all have bad thoughts. But God doesn't see any of these in degrees of seriousness. All are unacceptable to him and all are sin and all of us will be judged. God doesn't grade on a curve. We all are guilty of breaking the law.

Don't we get a break somewhere? And to make matters worse, God not only judges our thoughts and actions, he also judges our non-thoughts and our non-actions and motives. We not only sin by what we think and do, we also are judged by what we don't say and don't do and by the reasons behind our sins as well. Failing to do good when we should is sin.

James 4:17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.

Do you know what the real problem is for many of us? We often don't recognize good when we see it. We are so busy; we miss the good that God gives us.

Luke 10:38-42 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Mary recognized what was needed in life and that was to rest at the feet of Jesus. Martha may have been doing good to the rest of the world but to Jesus, she was just toiling in vain. Her motive might have seemed good on the outside but deep down inside, she was toiling for the wrong reason. Today our churches are filled with people who are there for the wrong reason.

What are the wrong motives for attending church or for giving or for doing good things? The Bible warns us a lot about doing things with the wrong motive. The point to all of this is God knows all, sees all and knows everything you are doing, thinking and the motives behind it. Nothing escapes his eyes and here is what is important, he demands nothing short of perfection at all times.

Now for many people, this can be overwhelming. But we have to fully understand a very important fact, God thinks in black and white. His perspective comes from the realm of perfection and only perfection counts. To God there is only the perspective of man being either alive or dead and sin causes death.

There is good news in all of this that we will discuss in greater detail as we go through this series, we are perfect people if we are believers in Jesus. We are perfect only because Jesus makes us perfect. The fact you and I have to totally understand is this; nothing except for perfection is accepted by God. Only the perfect will enter the Kingdom of God. God can't tolerate sin and only perfection enters heaven.

Based on all that we just dealt with that God doesn't grade on a curve; does God grade believers and nonbelievers differently? Some will say yes, believers get a pardon while the nonbelievers don't. But that is incorrect. God grades or judges the believer and the nonbeliever by the same standard, they both are judged against God's perfect law. But there is a difference; the believer receives from God as a free gift, grace. Understanding and accepting grace is one huge step in experiencing rest in God. The problem with the church today, we accept the concept of grace but many don't live a life in grace.

When we receive the Holy Spirit in our lives after we enter into the New Covenant, we become one with God.

Ephesians 2:14-18 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Believers are saved through the free gift of grace and we are promised that God doesn't remember our sins anymore. God sees perfection when he sees us only because he sees us in the image of his son Jesus. But for the unbeliever, he is being judged based on his or her own performance according to the perfect law of God and we know that no one can keep the law perfectly.

Being in a covenant relationship with Jesus is quite literally our saving grace. Anything else falls short. There is no way to get to heaven unless you are totally perfect and the only way we will get there is through Jesus, he makes us perfect and ready for heaven.

The point to all of this is very simple; Give Up. Give up trying to work your way to heaven. Quit trying to fool yourself and fool others that you are trying to be a good Christian. Trying to be is not good enough. You can't do it and others can't do it. There is no way to get closer to God than you already are. We are perfect and because we are perfect, we will go to heaven. This fact is true only because Jesus did all the work and paid the ultimate price for your perfection. We are perfect only because we are in Christ and when he looks at us, it is Jesus and his perfection God sees, not our feeble attempts to be good.

Jesus wants us to rest at his feet and to enjoy the grace we have. Enjoy knowing that it is all up to God and not up to us. All Jesus asks is to enter into a loving relationship with him and he will take care of all the issues with sin. We can't do it; he gives it to us freely.

Read Ephesians 2:1-10