NOTHING TO PROVE Romans 5:1
I remember visiting a young minister who’d been appointed to his first full time ministry in a north coast church. I’d got to know him well during his time at theological college and was impressed with his potential. Occasionally he would join the college principal and I for our regular 8 kilometre run. The thing I remember particularly is that at the end he – a former Phys Ed teacher – would then do the run again because we ran too slowly.
I had a productive meeting with him and the leaders of his congregation and returned to his home feeling encouraged. But then, sitting with him and his wife as we drank our cocoa before going to bed, I realised that he didn’t feel encouraged. He felt a failure, unable to achieve what he thought was expected of him.
This led to a long discussion well into the early hours of the morning during which I tried to assure him that he was actually doing a very good job and that we all felt he had real potential. But, no matter how reassuring I was, he couldn’t accept that.
At first, I thought this was just humility, but when he mentioned how his father had instilled in him a determination to always improve his performance, I began to suspect there was more to it.
I asked him how he felt about his dad’s pushing him, and he replied that it was good for him, and had made him a high achiever. He told me stories about coming second in a race and his father wagging a finger at him and telling him to train harder so that he could come first – and so on.
I asked him what his earliest memory of that was, and he told me how as a small boy he’d been given 19 out of 20 for a school project, on which the teacher had written: ‘This is very good work.’ He was so proud and couldn’t wait to show it to his father. But his dad simply said: Next time, try harder and you’ll get 20 out of 20.’
‘And how did that make you feel?’ I asked. He smiled and began to give me the old mantra about it making him do better, when suddenly he burst into tears. ‘Nothing I did was ever good enough’ he said. ‘All I ever wanted was for him to tell me I’d done well.’
He’d carried that inside him all his life without recognizing that it was there, and that message became his life-script – you’re not good enough, try harder; you’re still not good enough, try harder still. It was meant to make him a successful person, but it had actually made him a deeply unhappy person.
I’ve known a lot of people like that – many of them ministers who preach sermons about finding an inner joy and peace that has always eluded them. And they, like most of us to some extent, unconsciously deal with this by trying to prove by what they do, or by what they achieve, that they really are acceptable people. But deep down inside the angst is still there.
Sadly, though, it doesn’t end there. In one form or another the need to prove ourselves tends to drive us throughout life and is probably our greatest cause of unhappiness. The question is how do we overcome it? The answer to that goes beyond physical and emotional factors, though it includes them. It is, essentially, a spiritual problem and goes to the very core of our innermost being -our own sense of personal worth.
Well, our Bible reading today from Romans chapter 5, speaks powerfully to this situation. Verse 1, says: ‘Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Or, as a modern translation puts it: ‘By faith we have been made acceptable to God. And now, because of our Lord Jesus Christ, we live at peace with God.’
So, what is this saying to us? It’s saying that we don’t have to - and indeed cannot - prove anything to God, who knows exactly who and what we are. But God accepts us as we are. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, our sins and failings are forgiven. God accepts us as his beloved children and wants us to accept this fact and live in the joy of it. We are, each of us, of infinite value, because that’s how God sees us, even to the point of giving his son to redeem us.
So, we no longer need to be driven by a compulsive drive to prove our acceptability; not to God and therefore not to anyone else. God’s will is that we should live the abundant life that Jesus promised, and an essential part of that is to accept what God says:that through Christ, we are acceptedand do not have to prove a thing. Rather, empowered by his Spirit within us, we can relax and allow God to help us grow into the people he made us to be.
No longer need we compare ourselves with others, whose gifts and calling are different from ours. No longer need we hide behind class, race, sex, qualifications, achievements, money, family, sporting ability, appearance or any other thing to prove our worth. God has accepted us just as we are, and His Spirit empowers us to become the people we were created to be.
The word that the Bible uses to describe this is the word grace,which essentially means God’s lovingkindness and acceptance of us, which is given to us freely out of God’s eternal love.
Graceis the great theme of the New Testament.It stands over against that idea that is so obvious in most religious systems that through good works and religious rituals we can earn God’s approval. Christianity says No, it’sall aboutgrace.
The sad thing, though, is that so many of us, even though we know this in our heads, still struggle with a need to prove ourselves.
Let me try to illustrate this from personal experience in another area of life. In 1975, I joined the Australian Army as a chaplain and was given a commission, which means I had officer status. Chaplains, like doctors, dentists, nurses, lawyers and psychologists are commissioned as Specialist Officersbased on their civilian qualifications and experience, and don’t have to go through the same level of military training as General Service Officers.
I remember my early days as a chaplain, walking round wearing the same rank insignia as an army captain. I really felt like a fraud. Unconsciously, I felt that I had to prove that I was worthy of wearing that same insignia. So, I pushed myself to try to be militarily competent too. The problem, of course, was that I was so far behind there was no way I could catch up to them.
But an older and wiser officer one day said to me: ‘You’ve been given the Queen’s commission. That means you are an officer in the Australian Army because the Queen says so. We accept that. Now you need to accept it and get on with being who you are and doing what you are called to do. You don’t have to prove anything. The Queen says you are, so accept that you are and get on with it.
In the same way, in the big picture of life and eternity, God says to each of us who has received his son Jesus into our heart and life that we are his beloved children; the apple of his eye; forgiven; accepted and empowered by his Spirit to grow and become all that he wants you to be. And we don’t have to prove a thing.
All we have to be is the person Godmade us to be. All we have to do is what Godcalls to do, in the strength he provides us.
Romans 5:1 really is one of the great foundational texts of the Christian faith.‘Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ God has accepted us. God has forgiven us. We are his beloved children. Now it’s time we started to live like it.
However, there’s an interesting little textual problem associated with it. In some of the oldest manuscripts the Greek word which we translate as ‘we have’can be translated as ‘let us have.’It’s all to do with the fact that in Greek there were two letters for our letter O. One is a short sounding O and the other is a long sounding O.
That’s why some versions of the Bible, instead of saying ‘we have peace with God,’ translate it as ‘let us have peace with God.’
Whichever you choose it doesn’t make any difference to the essential meaning of the verse, but the alternative rendering reminds us that if we have a problem about constantly feeling we have to prove ourselves acceptable, the problem is of our making, not God’s. So, the verse would read like this:
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, let us have with peace with Godthrough our Lord Jesus Christ. ’Or, “By faith we have been made acceptable to God. And now, because of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us live at peace with God.’
It means relax, accept what God saysand stop feeling you have to prove yourself; because doing that is, in fact, a game we play to try to overcome those deep inner feelings of unworthiness and failure that are so much a part of the human condition.
Many of us learned at a very early age that we could never be good enough to meet our parents’ expectations, and we’ve projected those feelings onto God and always feel the need to have to try harder, Or, knowing that the bar will always be too high, we just give up and live with a deep sense of failure.
But the Bible says to us, ‘By faith you have been made acceptable to God. And now, because of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us live at peacewith God.’
We don’t have to proveour acceptability– indeed we never could. God just calls us to accept what he says just Be