Every now and again my son decides the time is right to build a paper airplane air force. He raids my printer to get the stacks of paper he’ll need and then opens up The Dangerous Book for Boys to try out some of the designs printed in that book. But after building a few of these he inevitably wants to try some new planes–some bombers or fighters, perhaps. So he and I head to Google and go searching for new and creative ways of building paper airplanes. There are all kinds of sites that show photographs of amazing designs and give instructions on how to build them. Some of the instructions are descriptive: “fold the paper in half lengthwise and then undo the folds. Now, fold the paper from the top corner to the crease and then halfway back again. Tear a small line between the corner and the centerline and fold that new section into three equal parts.” And so it goes. We have found these instructions nearly impossible to follow. For all their best efforts, these sites cannot adequately describe how to build the planes. Far more helpful are the sites that offer videos or even animated graphic files that show the steps. This allows us to follow along, step-by-step, as the expert builds his plane and leads us with him. If you’ve ever tried to build Origami or other similar crafts you’ll undoubtedly have encountered the same limitation–telling is rarely as useful as showing.
Yesterday I wrote about the potentially tragic consequences of using the wrong measure. You’ll remember the story of the Gimli Glider, the airliner that ran out of fuel 5 miles above the earth because a fueling technician had made a simple error. He had used the wrong measure, dispatching the plane with 22,300 pounds of fuel instead of 22,300 kilograms. Only the skill of an outstanding pilot and God’s kind providences kept the situation from turning tragic.
As we evaluate our lives and as we try to live in a way that pleases God, we are constantly measuring and weighing. We are holding ourselves up against a certain standard and seeing how we compare to it. There are times–too many times–that we or I, at any rate, don’t let me speak for you, hold myself to the wrong standard. I compare myself to other people. I look to my friends or family or pastors or even complete strangers and compare myself to them. Often I come out looking pretty good. They are, after all, sinners just as I am. Their sin gives me hope and gives me peace. I may be a sinner, but at least I’ve never done that! Well, not recently, anyways. Or perhaps their godliness stirs my heart with envy. How could they be so immune to that this sin or that one? Why can’t I be free from that sin? What does it say about me that I continue to struggle with it?
There is a great danger in this habit. As I look to others and as I measure my godliness, my growth in grace by the standard of other people, I may learn to despise their godliness and to rejoice in their sin. After all, if they are my standard, their growth in grace calls into question my own. At the same time, their fall into sin will gladden me as I rejoice in not having fallen so far or so hard. I’ve looked to the wrong standard and have reached the wrong goals.
God does not call me to hold myself to the standard set by other Christians. My task is not to look to them and measure myself by that standard. No, I am always to compare myself to the measure he gave. Our measure is God himself. Our measure is perfection.
Jesus came to this earth and lived a life worthy of emulation. He lived a life that perfectly modeled God’s standard. He gave me the measure. So as I seek to evaluate my life and as I seek to understand whether I am growing in godly character, I am to compare myself to Christ. God did not merely tell me how to live in a way that pleases him, but went so far as to show me. He gave me far more than a guide book filled with instructions and more than a list of do’s and don’ts. He gave me an example to perfectly model to us the way he wants me to live.
What character trait could I want that was not already perfectly modeled by Christ? As he laid aside his glory and took on human flesh, he modeled sympathy, becoming what we are. As he washed the feet of his disciples, Christ modeled humility. As he prayed for his accusers, he modeled forgiveness. As he taught his followers he modeled patient, kind, servant leadership. As he died for those who had turned their backs on him, he modeled love. In all these ways he showed us how we are to live.
And so my life is to be a life lived by looking constantly to Christ. Am I seeking to grow in humility? I need to look to Christ! Am I wondering if I’ve been growing in my love for my brothers and sisters in Christ? I must look to Christ! Do I seek to grow in my ability to lead my family? I must follow the example of Christ!
He is the measure. He is the standard. He has modeled for me all that I need to be and do. He has not just told me, but has shown me. He has not merely given the standard, but has lived it and been it. And this frees me to live a life that looks to the right standard and the best standard–a life free from the bitter jealously and agonizing defeat that would come by comparing myself as a sinner to sinners. I look to his perfect measure, knowing that I cannot perfectly attain it, but trusting that the same power that enabled him to be perfect is the power in me that is helping me fight sin and that will some day free me from it altogether. It is the power that helps me look forward to that great day when sin will be no more.