Jamie called and scheduled an appointment to meet with me because she was frustrated by one of my sermons.
Everything I knew about Jamie was good. She was a dedicated wife and mother. She volunteered in several organizations, including our church. She was quick to encourage people and always seemed to be in a positive frame of mind. She lived a very healthy lifestyle and had a strong moral compass. She was trustworthy, reliable and straightforward. She was what some people would refer to as “the salt of the earth”.
When she arrived at my office, she was visibly agitated. I invited her to have a seat and we made small talk for a few minutes — and then she cut to the chase.
She was frustrated by my sermon entitled, “The Bad News”. In that sermon, just as I did in my last article, I shared about the third statement in the good news of Jesus Christ:
While it is true that (1) God loves us and (2) God has a purpose for our lives, it is also true that (3) sin has separated us from God’s love and purpose.
Jamie was convinced that her good life was enough to earn God’s approval. She believed that her hard work, faithful service and consistent church attendance had secured God’s favor and her place in heaven. “How can you suggest that a good person like me is separated from God’s love and purpose because of sin?”
To make her point, she brought up people like Adolph Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer. She mentioned drug dealers and pimps and murderers. She compared herself to them and just couldn’t see how her good life could result in separation from God.
Comparing ourselves to notoriously immoral people is what I call comparing downward.
And she was right. Compared to those people, her life was exemplary. Frankly, if you compare Tim Hartzell to Adolph Hitler, Hartzell comes out looking pretty good. I like comparing downward.
But such downward comparisons are a mirage. They make us feel better about ourselves while we die of thirst — separated from the living water of God’s love and purpose.
I read to Jamie from Luke 18:9-14, To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
I asked Jamie if she had ever told a lie. She laughed and said, “Of course. It would be a lie to say I haven’t”. I asked her if she had ever stolen anything. She paused for a moment, and then admitted that she had. I asked her if she had ever cheated on a test or knowingly left an amount off of her tax return. She looked down at her feet and said, “Yes.” I asked her about gossip, greed, bitterness, hatred, impure thoughts, angry outbursts, jealousy…she quietly admitted that in some way, shape or form, she had been guilty of all of these.
I encouraged Jamie to compare her life to the sinless life of Jesus Christ and the perfect holiness of Almighty God.
Friends, when our pride gets the best of us and we begin thinking that we are really something, it’s likely that we are comparing downward.
But when she compared herself upward, Jamie’s life came up terribly short. The same thing happens when I compare my life upward. And if God’s Word is powerful and true, then my guess is that yours comes up short too. You see, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Jamie sat quietly. I could see that an inner struggle was taking place between her human pride and the convicting power of God’s Word and Spirit. The struggle ended when she confessed that she was a sinner in need of a savior. When Jamie surrendered her pride, God’s grace rushed in. It was her best day.
My friend, God has grace for you too. It’s possible that the only thing standing in the way is your pride. Your best day is the day you lay down your pride and acknowledge that you are a sinner in need of mercy. I pray that today will be your best day.