Attaining Perfection

The City of Glasgow is rising steadily to fever pitch at it approaches the formal start to the 2014 Commonwealth Games this evening. The event will see athletes from across the world compete at the highest level – even if initial qualification is (largely) on the slightly dubious grounds of representing a former pink country on the map of the British Empire. The fact that so many countries will be represented is a reminder of just how enormous Britain’s reach was in the 18th and 19th centuries.

One of the athletes competing will be the inimitable Usain Bolt from Jamaica. His world record times for the 100 and 200 metres, both set at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, remain unchallenged. Apparently it will be possible to race against a virtual Bolt in Glasgow on a 30m long racetrack at Glasgow Green set out beside an 3m high screen that extends the length of the track. I suspect I would struggle to complete the 30m inside Bolt’s 9.58 time for 100m.

Suppose however that Bolt and I were asked to race against a Cheetah or, perhaps more ludicrously, against a rocket propelled vehicle. Would my pathetic showing look significantly poorer than Usain Bolt’s in such a competition? Clearly neither of us would stand a chance.

When it comes to personal morality there is a similar situation. We tend to compare ourselves with the worst of society – witness the moral outrage vented on child abusers – and, perhaps unconsciously, give ourselves a pat on the back for not being so bad after all. A friend of mine used to visit a Scottish Prison. He got to know two prisoners quite well, both serving life sentences. When one of the men failed to show up one day he asked the other if he knew where he was and got the response, “I don’t know, I’d have nothing to do with a man like that.” When we come to the Bible, though we find that the comparison we should be making is not in the order of me vs Ussain Bolt, it is more me vs rocket propelled vehicle. The Bible says of the whole human race, “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” That is, all of us come short of God’s standard of absolute perfection. When the standard is so high there is little point in any differences we may see from our imperfect standpoint.

Fortunately, the Bible also gives us a means whereby we can achieve such an exalted standard, needless to say, not through any effort of ours, but as a gift. The Apostle Paul wrote, “[God] has made [Jesus Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” While Paul also makes it clear that such a standard cannot be realised in all its completeness on earth, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own”, from the divine perspective, when Christ died on the cross He paid the penalty for my sin and if I accept Him as my Saviour I am regarded as in Christ and viewed with all His perfection. As the hymn writer Augustus Toplady put it:

If Thou hast my discharge procured
And freely in my place endured
The whole of wrath divine
Payment God will not twice demand,
First at my bleeding Surety’s hand,
And then again at mine.

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