I bumped into a young guy today who had the name “Wolfpack” on his shirt. I asked him what it meant and he told me it was the name of the group of guys he belonged to that had gone through Air Force basic training together. The back of his shirt listed the names of each of those young men atop a statement that read “If you accept anything less than your best, you accept failure.” I pondered that statement a bit and thought about the value in it. There’s nothing controversial there really, nothing to shake our heads at. In fact, Wolfpack man’s shirt is kind of commendable and even inspiring. I suppose it’s like a badge of honor for those guys who had suffered through basic training together.
I began thinking about what that statement might sound like stated positively and decided it might go something like this… “When you give your best effort, you’ll be successful.” You know, kind of like saying “no guts, no glory!” or “hard work pays off!” or even “the difference between try and triumph is a little umph!”
The Bible, too, commends hard work. Proverbs 10:4 says that “a slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” and Proverbs 12:24 says that “the hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.” In fact, one of the main themes running throughout Proverbs is about how hard work pays off. We see this all around us in the world don’t we? Take the Olympics, for example. To earn the chance at medaling for your country and standing on that podium as millions across the world watch in awe, you are faced with four years of disciplined and grueling training. Even the most gifted athletes have to work hard to stay on top and they usually do because the road to sweet success is paved through lots of sweat. And for the most part, that’s really just simple math. Generally speaking, people who work hard accomplish many great things in life while those who are lazy rarely succeed at anything worth noting.
But let’s turn this idea on its head for a second, because that’s exactly what the Bible does when it comes to salvation. Most folks by default have a generic sense that God will accept them if they work hard at living a decent life. They use the statement on his shirt as a formula for eternal life, whether consciously or subconsciously. Treat people nicely (to their face at least), give some of your time and money to others (not to the point of discomfort of course), and stay out of jail (for the really bad crimes) and you pretty much have a nice eternity wrapped up for yourself. Sure, we all get into a little trouble here or there, but in the long run things will weigh themselves out… especially in consideration of how we stack up in comparison to all the heathens around us. That’s how most of us think at least, right?
But when it comes to God’s acceptance, we will need more than our best to succeed. In fact, our very best falls shorter than we can ever imagine. That’s the problem with assuming our best will merit something, because by setting “my best personal effort” as the standard, I ultimately deny the standard that the Creator of all life has set.
And so we must come face to face with one simple truth: that every person has not only fallen short of God’s standards, but has also rejected his standards and replaced them with their own. This is the very center of what it means to reject God. By trying to save ourselves we deny who he is and what he has said and we worship our self-deluded standards. We attempt to live as our own Messiah… our own functional Savior. Do you see the tragic irony in that? We reject God by the very effort we expend to get to him! The entire world around us feeds “Self-Savior” mentality, and it leads to behavior that condemns us before God.
And so, it is a priceless gift from God when we grasp this truth, acknowledging our feeble and self-righteous attempts to successfully get to him and earn his favor. In our fallen world where sin is built into our DNA, we are likely to pave the path towards sweet success with our sweat and tears, only to realize that the sweet success we envisioned was merely a veil covering the true wages of our effort – deadly destruction. Ultimately, there is only one Savior, Jesus Christ, who can bridge the gap between our rebellious effort and the holiness of a perfect God. By giving up, admitting our inability, and trusting in Christ’s perfect life, death, and resurrection in our place, we may come to know the amazing grace and infinite love of a holy God who overcame all of our useless striving. So we can rightly accept our failure and place our faith in the One who succeeded where we cannot.