God has high standards for His people, the highest, for He sets the bar according to His own perfection and God cannot be less than who He is.
Some might scoff at the idea that God has such high expectations, but nevertheless it is what the Bible teaches. Consider for instance that Sin is described as falling short of the glory of God (cf. Romans 3:23). When we stumble and falter in our conduct, a thing which happens to all of us, for all have sinned, we have failed to achieve that righteousness which belongs to God, and are condemned by that failure.
Consider also the words of Christ, who instructed His disciples, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48; ESV).” We likewise read, “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ (1 Peter 1:15-16; ESV; cf. Leviticus 11:45, 19:2, 20:26, 21:8).” This idea, repeated throughout the book of Leviticus, and then again in the New Testament, stresses that our standard of conduct and righteousness must always be God Himself if we are to truly be His people.
It is important for God’s people to understand that they cannot aim lower than the righteousness of God for if we do, we are failing to emulate our Father, and are therefore choosing a different lineage than His. This was what Jesus accused the Jews of His day of doing. He told them, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44; ESV)”
Understanding this, a sensible reaction might be, “why bother?” After all, the Bible is clear that all have sinned and fallen short. Indeed, it teaches quite plainly, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8; ESV),” and “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:10; ESV).” If God already knows that we will never achieve the perfection that is His, why make such demands? To some, it seems that perhaps God is being unreasonable.
Yet, God, in His perfection, is also perfect in His mercy and His willingness to forgive men their sins. If we had no sin, there would have been no need for Christ to die, yet Christ did die for the sins of men, that there might be forgiveness. As the apostle Paul wrote, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8; ESV).” God knew we would not live up to His expectations and so took steps for our benefit.
If God was going to give up on His sinful creation, there would have been no cross and no message of mercy; but the very existence of that mercy gives us reason not to give up, and to instead continue to seek after God’s righteousness.
The perfection and love of God is also shown in His patience. Some have an idea that God is eager to pounce on every mistake we make, delighting in condemning and destroying those who mess up. Yet nothing is further from the truth. Beyond the evidence of the cross, we have a plethora of testimony in the Scriptures, teaching us that God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6b; ESV).” Likewise, the apostle Peter wrote of God that He “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9b; ESV).” If God wanted nothing other than to condemn men, He not only would not have sent Christ to die for us, nor would He give us every opportunity to grow and mature in our righteousness. But He did and He does, because He does not delight in the condemnation of His own creation. He has other plans for us, and He loves us despite of our shortcomings.
God has high standards for His people, the highest, for He sets the bar according to His own perfection and God cannot be less than who He is. If He expected less of us, He would not be true to Himself. Yet, thanks be to God, He is also merciful, patient, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, and willing to work with us as we grow to be who He wants us to be. The Gospel message is not that God has lowered His standards, but that God is willing to work with His children as we strive to meet those standards, picking us up and dusting us off each time we fall. The Bible does indeed teach that God knows we are going to sin, but it also teaches us, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9; ESV),” which is a message that should give each of us hope as we turn to Him for that very forgiveness.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.