Cute as a button.
Fresh as a flower.
Strong as an ox.
When I string these similies together at high speed, my children smile wryly and moan “Da-a-a-ad!” The boys aren’t sure that they want to be “cute as a button,” or “fresh as a flower”—glad as they are to be “strong as an ox.”
This week, I’d have to add that the kids were also “as sick as a dog.” Even the Energizer bunnies among us, the ones who can scarcely stop moving or wiggling or talking, have been temporarily incapacitated. The table felt empty at mealtimes, the couches were draped with ailing children, and the house was exceptionally somber and quiet.
Yes, they have been as sick as a dog.
But, wait a minute—when I stop to think about it, our dog has been exceptionally healthy all through her life. Sure, we see her munching grass once in a while, then throwing up—as I suppose all dogs do now and then. But aside from the time that she ate garden fertilizer, Tessa has been remarkably well.
For some reason, though, we compare sick people to dogs and healthy people to horses: “He’s as healthy as a horse.” My experience with horses is limited, I’ll grant, but from watching our neighbors’ horses, and hearing about the phenomenal vet bills as well as the terrible sicknesses and near death experiences their horses have been through, I say my dog has been much healthier than their horses.
Some of our comparisons really don’t make much sense when you stop to think them through.
At another level, we like to point out, “She’s as patient as Job,” a degree of character that few could claim.
God does use other people to help us understand what righteousness and holiness are all about. In Job’s story, for instance, the Lord twice tells the three “friends”, “. . . you have not spoken of Me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7, 8). Clearly, the Lord is concerned that people say and think of Him rightly—and He sets Job up as a demonstration of that kind of thinking.
A demonstration, but not a standard. A point of reference or example, but not a measuring stick.
Yes, we can gain an understanding of what righteousness looks like by peering into the lives of other people, standing at the threshold of their personalities and looking in. But we are never really able to see inside. We can rub shoulders with the righteous, but none of their goodness will rub off.
Personally, I’ve benefited immensely from watching the lives of God’s people. Their footprints show me His way, what following Christ looks like lived out in their circumstances, with their strengths and weaknesses, with their giftings and limitations.
But the moment that one of these people displaces God in my thinking as the standard against which I measure my life, I set myself up for disillusionment. The place of preeminence belongs to God alone.
Years ago I was the personal assistant to a widely respected man. At the outset of our working relationship, he pulled me into his office and said, “Rob, I want you to know that I’m going to disappoint you.” He could have amplified, “You see me from the outside; but I know, and God knows, that I am far from perfect. I will fail you.”
He didn’t mean, “I have plans to let you down,” but “don’t build your hopes on a person that I’m not.”
Jesus cut to the heart of the matter when a young man ran up to him with words of praise and a sincere question, “‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone’” (Mark 10:17-18).
Before even answering the question, Jesus drove home the point—only God is good, so to call Jesus good is to associate Him directly with God.
Jesus’ statement bars the way to every form of hero worship, however subtle.
It could be argued that the Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Be imitators of me. . .” But we have to note that he doesn’t stop there. “. . . as I follow Christ,” he concludes. (See I Corinthians 11:1.) Paul is a worthy model, an example for us to gain by. But he is not the ultimate measuring stick for goodness, or virtue, or righteousness. His life shows what God’s goodness can look like worked out in the life of a person wholly committed to following Christ. Paul’s life helps us get a handle on what Jesus would have us do in our particular situation, surrounded by our unique circumstances.
But the measuring stick is God alone. Following anyone else or anything less, will make us as sick as . . . OK, maybe as sick as horses.
We’ll become disillusioned if we make people our standards; they are in process, just as we are. We’ll be sidetracked if we focus our primary attention on those who are ahead of us on the journey, but have not yet arrived. We cannot afford to be blinded by lesser lights; these guide us to the One True Light. They are visible reminders of the Invisible God, not little gods for us to idolize in the secret darkness of our own hearts.
To say, “I’m as good as Paul” is not only likely to be a form of self-deception (Are we really up to the apostolic standard?), but also falls short of the Real Standard. Perhaps most of us wouldn’t get hung up on comparing ourselves with an apostle, but we sure could worship at the feet of an eloquent Bible teacher or a Christian musician or a beloved author. Their lives point us to God, but never replace Him.
The standard is God, and no other.
Here is the astounding fact: God bridged the impossible gulf between his perfect standard and my imperfection by making righteousness (real righteousness) available on the basis of grace (in exchange for nothing). “For our sake He [God] made Him [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him [Christ] we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:21).
We who follow Jesus, are truly as righteous as He is—not because of our qualities, but because of His. Not because we always act good, but because we are good. Because He is in us and we are in Him, we are, in the best and truest and most humbling sense, “as good as God.”
And that’s a comparison that will stand the scrutiny of the Great Judge forever.
© Robert G. Robbins