The Jon-Mical Pass
We went to an open-house at Jon-Mical’s pre-school not long ago. His room is right by the front door. Tiny little tables, just the height for 2 and 3 year olds. Little bitty chairs of red, yellow, and blue. And walls lined with art work. Finger painting. Leaves pasted on paper to look like turkeys. Cotton balls sculpted into the finest snowmen you’ll ever see. Hearts cut out of red construction paper with secret coded messages in the written language of toddlers. In the middle of all of that terrific art work it was very easy to see that my grandson was the most gifted of all the kids.
Now don’t get me wrong. The other kids had great pictures. Some of them stayed in the lines better than Jon-Mical. Some of them were better at turkeys with a clearer sense of space and dimension. Some of them even wrote their letters neater when they signed their names. But Jon-Mical was still by far the best. I mean, come on, anybody can see that. I call that the Jon-Mical Pass. Whatever he does, however he behaves, no matter the outcome, I love him so much that he gets the benefit of the doubt from me. He gets graded on the curve and he is at the top. He gets bonus points. He starts at A++ and every other kid has to catch up to that. The Jon-Mical Pass.
Romans 8:8 says “Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” I don’t care how hard I try, how many good deeds I stack on top of each other, how big my tithe or how elegant my prayers, when my heart is controlled by anything other than Him it is not good enough. Never will be. Never can be.
We’ve spent a few weeks looking at the grace of God in the first few verses of Romans 8. There is no condemnation. We are free from the law. All the requirements of the law have been met for us. Good stuff. Lots of grace.
But the last 3 verses of this section make it clear that this grace is not a luxury or a nice add on. It is essential. Without it we are just sunk. (That’s a highly sophisticated, theological term, sunk!) Verse 6 says, “The mind of the sinful man is death.” Verse 7, “The sinful man is hostile to God.” And verse 8 says, “We cannot please God.” It is impossible to win His favor when we are living lives controlled by our sinful nature.
Now here’s the thing, controlled by our sinful nature means trying to do it on our own, make it by ourselves, work our way to the top of the God heap without totally depending on Him. Whenever I do that I am all the way back in Genesis 3 listening to the serpent say, “You can be like God.” When I decide that I can earn my place with God and please Him based on my own merits, not only will I fail, but I am doing just the opposite, I am offensive to Him and trying to take His place. So when Paul writes, “The mind not surrendered to God cannot please Him,” he doesn’t just mean we are not capable of pleasing God. He also means God absolutely is turned off by our attempts. Malachi called them “blemished sacrifices” and God said, “They defile me.”
Let me come at it from another angle. God says, “In order to please me you have to keep the law PERFECTLY.” Now He knows we can’t so He says, “I will personally pay the price for you. I will send my Son and His sacrifice will take care of the law requirements that you can’t keep. I will not condemn you. I see you as perfect because of Jesus.”
But we say, “No thanks. I believe I can do it on my own. I’ll work a little harder and make you happy.” Not only is that crazy but it is an affront to God after what He did for us. It is impossible to please God that way. It is like Jon-Mical saying, “I don’t care if you love me or not PoppyC. The only thing that matters to me is having the best cotton ball snowman in the class.” He might not have the best in the class (okay, this is not a good example because he really does) but he would really hurt my feelings by telling me that my love is not important to him.
Good news. God has given us all a Jon-Mical Pass. He sees our feeble attempts. He walks by and inspects our big messes. He looks down at our miserable failures and stupid mistakes and He says, “Great job! Best in the class. Gold star. Not because we are good but because He is gracious. And thank God for that. But the Jon-Mical pass is not an option. To refuse that is to fly in the face of God and make ourselves greater than He is. We are not capable of living the God-life on our own and any attempt to do that wounds the heart of God. His grace is not only sufficient, it is necessary.
So, get out your finger paint, pull out a few cotton balls, and start enjoying the amazing artwork that your life is to God. He comes to your open house and sees your handiwork and says A++. Listen to Him brag on you. But don’t forget your Jon-Mical Pass.