I remember the first time I dunked a basketball. I was in the 7th grade and I thought I was something special. Trouble was, it wasn’t on a 10′ regulation height basketball goal. I had lowered the goal at a friend’s house to about 8.5′. You would have thought I was Michael Jordan that day. My friend and I raised the goal back up and we could only grab the bottom of the net. It’s easy to dunk when you lower the standard. I worked hard to do a real dunk and by the 9th grade, I could dunk one-handed on a regulation goal and by 10th I was dunking two-handed. No one was impressed by my dunking ability on a lowered goal. While not many were impressed by my dunking on a regulation goal, I could say I had met the standard.
There is a standard for holiness and it is God’s word. I submitted to its principles long ago (and daily) and truly believe if God said it, that settles it. Now, that doesn’t mean that from time to time I don’t want to “lower the goal” or that I don’t reach the goal. Sometimes I don’t even reach the net! Sometimes I don’t even want to jump! Let’s get one thing straight quickly. The goal is to bring God glory or worship Him, not to check every box. None of us can. Another thing I learned long ago was I couldn’t perfectly keep all those standards. I’ve tried. Romans 3:20 reminds me we aren’t declared righteous in God’s sight by keeping the law. It only reminds us we are sinners who can never perfectly save ourselves from sin. That’s not condemning, it’s freeing (John 3:16-17). At times, my heart and my actions don’t match up. I desire to “be holy as He is holy” (1 Peter 1:16), but “there is another working in me waging war against me making me a prisoner to sin” (Roman 7:23). Sure, when I lowered the goal, I could “dunk it” every time. Compromise doesn’t compliment the Lord. But somehow, just like that 8.5′ goal, it wasn’t the same as the standard. You see, I wanted to dunk on the standard height so everyone would be pleased with me (how foolish). And at times, I want to reach God’s standard so He will be pleased with me. The first is a selfish motivation, driven by pride, power, and lust of approval. The second is (or should be) driven by a deep love for God. I do want to please Him, not just keep Him from being mad at me. There is a difference. But what if we fall short of the goal? Remember, He loves us even while we are in our sin, far from His standards (Romans 5:8). Now, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive towards the goal of holiness. 1 Peter 2:9 says believers are royal, chosen, holy people who should declare the praises of God because He has called us out of darkness into His light. We should want to please God out of a relationship with Him and honor for Him. We should not want to lower the standards so we can feel better about how short we come or to accommodate our inability to reach the mark.
I cannot dunk anymore. I’ve tried. I come up short, way short. Somewhere in between the first and second kid I lost that ability. Recently, I lowered a basketball goal back to 8.5″ and guess what? I can dunk again! I look back on those days and smile. How could something so insignificant as dunking a ball be so important? What’s obviously more important? Hiding His word in my heart is so I don’t sin against Him (Psalm 119:11). As a follower of Jesus, obeying God’s standards are not optional. I can’t point back and say, “I used to be able to keep His Word, but now, because of this…” I cannot lower the standard and pretend to keep His Word or make excuses as to why I can’t (or won’t). Well, what about when I do miss the mark and don’t obey His Word? Here’s the truth of grace and sin: when I come up short of reaching God’s standard, there’s grace to cover my sin. Even when I could dunk, I couldn’t dunk like Michael Jordan or even a few other guys on the high school basketball team. I’ve learned there will always be someone who can keep the law better than I can. But when it comes to holiness, we don’t compare how well we do to others. “I kept 25 scriptures and you only kept 24” sounds real petty. We compare ourselves to Jesus, Who is perfect. That may sound scary and daunting. But wait. While we could never be perfect as He is the only one Who never sinned, there is good news (the gospel): He who knew no sin became sin for us so that we could be made righteous (2 Corinthians 5:17)!
Grace and forgiveness don’t mean we shouldn’t strive toward keeping God’s standard of holiness. 1 Peter 1:13-16 reminds us to, “Gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior. Because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'” I don’t get a pass on obeying God’s word. If God’s word says it, I want to obey Him. I cannot use grace as a means to do whatever I want to do. I should not sin just because there is grace (Romans 6:1). His grace teaches me to say no to sin (Titus 2:11-12). Yes, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), but that verse doesn’t mean we can justify sin with, “Hey, everybody sins.” Grace is not a license or freedom to sin. We are no longer slaves to sin and have been set free from its power (Romans 6:6-7). If we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15).
Stephen and his wife Haley have called Arkansas home all of their lives. Stephen has served in several ministry roles over the last 25 years and as a lead pastor for the last 8 years. Stephen attended Williams Baptist College and earned a BA in Biblical Studies from Ouachita Baptist University, an MA, MDiv, and DMin in Christian Leadership and Pastoral Ministries from Liberty University. When not pastoring, Stephen enjoys running, cycling, reading, writing, camping, fishing, and spending time with his family.