Continuing with a Christmastide look at Romans 12…
“For by the grace given to me I say to every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3)
What are we to make of ourselves?
We enjoyed the annual screening of It’s a Wonderful Life this week. It’s a story of self-assessment. George Bailey wants to be a big deal, but he’s not. Then he concludes he’s a nobody, and should end it all. Also not true. With the help of Clarence the angel, George is given the opportunity to make, literally, a “sober judgment” of who he is. The film closes with George – with his sick child, smashed car, bleeding mouth, drafty fixer-upper and empty bank account – getting bailed out financially by his friends (especially his rich, “somebody” friend) … and then being proclaimed by his “somebody” brother as “the richest man in town.”
These two verses of scripture are both true of me. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually … the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Genesis 6:5-6). “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now.” (1 John 3:1-2). The salvation of Christmas highlights both sides of the doubled-edge reality of who we are: The awful truth that we need a savior, and the incredible truth that we have received one!
The world around us would have us dull the sharpness of both of these edges. First, we’re told that we’re innately good, deserving, and entitled, and that – if there is a God – he simply must accept as as we are. It would be politically incorrect of God to insist that we change, and even more heinous for him to condemn our wickedness. That takes care of the bad side. Second, since God is obliged to accept us, it follows that we have no need of a savior, because we’re not in trouble.
The words of the prophet Jeremiah ring true in this age of inebriated self-perception. “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace’, when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush” (Jeremiah 6:14-15).
It is “grace given” and a “measure of faith”, says Paul, that allows us to see ourselves for who we really are: Hopelessly-broken-yet-gloriously-redeemed people … ashamed-now-peaceful … “the richest man in town!”