From The Desk of Pastor Jeff Pastoral Reflection: Points (Part 2) Last week we reflected about a country that is trying a radical and powerful social experiment. This country is using social media, cellular information, financial information and Internet presence to create a profile of each person in the country. In monitoring a person’s purchasing habits, friendships, reading preferences and travel, the government assigns each person a score. The government is using this information to reward certain behaviors and deter others is using it. Rewards can be seen by access to loans or other social benefits. Stigmatizing or denying access to social services is a way of deterring other forms of behavior. Last week we discussed how we as Christians should view this information. We should be worried if a anyone tries to take the place of God. This is no less true of the state.
This week I’d like to consider the system itself. It’s interesting that this particular government chose to use a point system to evaluate people. The higher the score, the more value the person has as determined by the government. Higher scores can get you access to friends with a similar score. Thinking of making friends with people with a lower score? Think again. It’ll cost you. It could bring your own score down.
Last week we started to ask the question, how are we to respond as Christians if we were to be in this environment? It’s helpful to think about how the gospel affects our Christian ethics. The idea of a score is not something that is just put in place by a government, or a credit rating agency or a grade on a test. Many religions have a supposed point system too. Good deeds earn you credit. Sin or bad behavior earns you demerits.
Imagine an ultimate point system in which we would be accountable for our actions before God. If we were to compare with one another, perhaps we could boast about being a half or a quarter point above someone else. But we are nowhere near the standard we ought to be before God.
But let us remember that the gospel operates differently. Scripture teaches us that God does not accept us by our works, but by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). We accomplish even our good deeds through God’s grace (Romans 11:34-36). This means that whatever accomplishments we have, we cannot boast about them. Additionally, because our righteous deeds cannot pay for our sins, we cannot erase our demerits. No matter what we do, we cannot cover up our sin.
But Christ has come. He came to take our demerits and give us his credits. He took our negative points and gave us an abundance of his own. The Gospel fundamentally changes our identity. No longer is our identity based off of what we do, what we have, or what others think of us. Our identity is now that we are loved by God and have a relationship with the true and the living God.
How does this play out? For starters, the Christian can and should be willing to associate with those who have a low score. One of the transforming aspects of the gospel is how someone holy can associate with someone unholy. Normally when something unclean associates with something clean, the unclean doesn’t become clean. The clean becomes unclean. But Jesus was different. When he touched lepers, Jesus didn’t get leprosy. The lepers were healed. When Jesus associated with sinners and others, Jesus didn’t become a sinner. He brought sinners back to God.
Jesus associated with sinners- the ones with the low scores, but what about those with the high scores? What about those who do it the right way? To this group Jesus rebukes those who found their pride and their hope in the high score of morality. But Jesus didn’t just rebuke their pride. Jesus also invited those of this group to join in celebrating the return of sinners. The reason for the rebuke is to remind us that no matter how good we think we are, we are never for a single moment not in need of God’s grace. The good news of the Gospel is that no matter how low we are, we are never too low for God’s grace to reach us. It also means that no matter how high our score is, we are always in need of God’s grace.