“Grading Ourselves on a Spiritual Curve”

Categories: Bulletin Articles, M. W. Bassford

When I was in law school, all my classes were graded on a B curve.  25 percent of the students in the class got an A-range grade, 50 percent got a B-range grade, and 25 percent got a C-range grade.  As a result, my grades depended much more on the understanding of my peers than on my own grasp of the material.  If I understood next to nothing about the class, but my classmates were completely clueless, I would get a good grade.  If, on the other hand, I nearly had mastered the material, but my classmates understood it fully, I. . . wouldn’t.  My GPA was about them, not me.

Well, it probably was about my horrible handwriting too, but that’s another story.

Similarly, there are lots of people out there who want to grade their spiritual lives on a curve.  On some level, they know they’re not perfect people.  They lie, they get angry, they have impure thoughts, and so on. 

However, then they start comparing themselves to their neighbors, and they conclude that they’re in pretty good shape after all.  Sure, I’ve lied, but at least I didn’t get busted for selling drugs to a cop like them.  Yeah, I’ve gotten mad and said ugly things, but I don’t get in fights at the bar Friday night like them.  True, I’ve had impure thoughts before, but I didn’t run off with the waitress from Waffle House like they did.  Clearly, in God’s eyes, we have earned A-range grades while those wicked worldlings have earned C-range grades, or worse!

There are several problems with this.  First, all of us tend to regard our own sins with greater charity than we do the sins of others.  There are plenty of people out there who think they are better than their neighbors even though God would not agree.

Second, and even more importantly, our neighbors’ actions reveal who our neighbors are, not who we are.  The standard is not their bad behavior.  It is the law of God.  As Jesus reveals in Luke 17:7-10, God doesn’t consider service from His servants to be a bonus.  Instead, His expectation is that we follow the law fully.  Even if we manage that, which none of us do, it still wouldn’t be anything praiseworthy.

Once we stop grading ourselves on a spiritual curve, our true condition becomes obvious.  I am not justified because (according to my own reckoning) I am better than my neighbors.  Instead, because I have transgressed the divine commandment, I stand condemned.  Rather than not needing help from anybody, I desperately need help from somebody!

This is a painful, humbling realization, but in exposing the lie of self-righteousness, it sets our feet on the path to true righteousness.  We can’t trust in ourselves.  It’s already too late for that.  Even if we do everything right from now on, we’ve already blown it.

  Instead, we must trust in Christ who justifies the ungodly.  We can’t boast in ourselves because we’re sooo much better than people in the world.  Instead, our boasting never can be in anyone but Him.