The Question Everyone Gets Wrong

Seminary professor and author, Dr. Michael Horton, attended the National Christian Booksellers Convention in Denver, Colorado a number of years ago and asked the vendors a simple, but revealing question: “Does God require perfection?” Meaning, does God require that we be perfect in order to be in good standing with him now, and eventually experience heaven later? Interestingly, not one person responded with a “yes” to his question.

Nobody believed that God requires perfection.

However, the Bible is surprisingly clear that God does require us to be morally perfect.  In a word, righteous. For example, Psalm 15:1 begins by asking a question, “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” He is asking who is qualified to dwell in God’s presence, whether now or forever. The answer follows in verse 2, where the Psalmist says, “He who walks blamelessly …” Translation: he who lives perfectly. He who is righteous.

It is as if the entrance requirement for heaven were a 36 on the ACT, a 1600 on the SAT or a 1.000 batting average. There is simply no room for error. And while there are those rare few who score miraculously high on standardized tests, the rest of us ordinary humans would not stand a chance for such a score. And we all would be leveled by a requirement to bat 1.000, since the all-time record for the highest career average in the major leagues is held by, Ty Cobb, whose lifetime average was .367. For baseball, hitting 36.7% is good, but it still is far, far from perfect. And God requires perfection.

Some of us might hear that and say, “Well, nobody’s perfect !” That is true. The problem is that the excuse, nobody’s perfect, is essentially a deep seated personal self-righteousness that is allergic to grace. Admitting to a lack of perfection appears humble on the surface. Actually, it reflects pride in the heart, because, while assuming that I may not be perfect, it believes that I am still pretty good and surely don’t deserve hell as a penalty for my faults.

We are usually okay with admitting bruises on the outside of the apple, but not confessing to a rotten core. However, the Bible has a more realistic view of humanity. Jesus himself, the ultimate psychologist, says that the outward things we do and say come from within—from the heart , the center of operations in the human soul. In other words, our human defect is not a surface problem. It is a problem at the very core of my being.

Our human defect is not a surface problem. It is a problem at the very core of my being. 

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It is painful to admit that depth of personal corruption. And yet, if we do, we are able to experience a depth of personal healing and hope that we never imagined possible.

This leads us to the heart of the gospel’s message in tomorrow's post.

Dr. McKay Caston

McKay Caston's passion is to help people live all of life in view of the cross.

You are taking the exam of your life right now.

Imagine that God is a professor and is giving each of us a comprehensive exam. The subject of the exam is personal morality, with His law being the standard. We are not graded on what we know about right and wrong, good and bad, but by how we perform in light of the standard—and not just by our outward actions, but by the inner motives of the heart.

How do you think you would score?

I asked this question to a group of children several years ago. The eldest spoke first, claiming that he would get an A minus. Yet upon further reflection, he changed his estimate to a B... plus . One of the younger students gave herself a C, while the youngest of the group gave the best and most accurate answer, saying, “I would fail. My grade would be an F.”

Having such a poor, although realistic self-image certainly cuts across the grain of a culture that prizes personal self-esteem. However, the youngster was a good theologian, agreeing with the Apostle Paul in Romans 3, who said, “No one is righteous. No, not one... There is no one who does good. No, not one... All have sinned and fall short of the glory (standard) of God.”

If this is true, then self-esteem deceives us concerning our true condition because it blinds us from our need for grace.

The law was given to show us that we can’t save ourselves. We need a substitute Savior—someone to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

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It is at this point that some folks assume that God grades on a curve, and that essentially everyone except serial killers pass the test. Yet, if God doesn’t grade on a curve, what does that mean for me? It means that I fail and cannot claim to have “tried my best” as an excuse.

Undoubtedly, it is true that while one person may look rather good in comparison to other people who really blow it publicly, the standard is not my neighbor’s morality, but the character of God himself revealed in His law—a law which is meant to show to us our need for Jesus, not to serve as a way for us to save ourselves (which is how “religion” works). The law was given to show us that we can’t save ourselves. We need a substitute Savior—someone to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

After all, Jesus reserved his “hard words” for those who looked respectable on the outside, but who were full of self-righteous pride on the inside. So, I can run, but I can’t hide from the bad news of my personal failure before the law.

My grade is an F.

“But I thought the gospel was good news?” Oh, it is! But the only way to understand the good news is to have a firm grasp of the bad news. For a better understanding of just how bad this bad news is (and how good the good news is), we’ll move on to part 3 tomorrow, where we will examine a question that almost everyone gets wrong. 

See you then.

Dr. McKay Caston

McKay Caston's passion is helping people live all of life in view of the cross.

Imagine that God is a professor and is giving each of us a comprehensive exam. The subject of the exam is personal morality, with His law being the standard. We are not graded on what we know about right and wrong, good and bad, but by how we perform in light of the standard—and not … Continue reading You are taking the exam of your life right now.

What do you mean Christianity is not religion?

The ancient Egyptians believed that when a person died, his heart was weighed on a scale by the god of the underworld, Osiris. On one side of the scale was a feather. If the individual’s heart was lighter than the feather, it was considered good and would pass on to eternal blessing in the next life. But if the heart were heavier than the feather, it was considered bad, and would be eaten by a ravenous beast called, appropriately, the Devourer, a creature that was part lion, part crocodile and part hippopotamus. (Try wearing that getup at your next costume party!)


Except for images of the Devourer, religion still functions that way, teaching that the good are in and the bad are out. The goal of man-made religion is personal, moral performance driven by a resolve to keep the rules or follow the program. This is the way I lived for years, thinking that “God loves good boys and girls.” He was like a cosmic Santa, checking his list to see who would get gifts at Christmas. But that is religion, not Christianity . 

Conversely, Christianity says that the humble are in and the proud are out, because it is the humble who will cry out for grace, who know that their heart is heavy, corrupt and bad. The humble know that they need a new heart.

Christianity says that the humble are in and the proud are out, because it is the humble who will cry out for grace.

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However, most folks (Christian and non-Christian alike), assume that Christianity functions like ancient Egyptian style religion! This means that many professing Christians are not really Christians at all, having bought the lie of a substitute gospel, which poses in our culture as the read deal gospel. But it is not real. It is cubic zirconium. This also means that many nonChristians who think they have rejected Christianity, have not rejected the real thing after all. They have rejected the imitation.

You see, religion says that I am blessed, forgiven and accepted by God based on my obedience and sacrifice. But the Bible teaches that I am blessed, forgiven and accepted not by my obedience and sacrifice, but because of the obedience and sacrifice of someone else who obeys and sacrifices himself in my place. Human religion and Christianity are diametrically opposed. One is based on human works; the other is based on God’s grace, which sets Christianity apart from what we normally think of as religion. 

Human religion and Christianity are diametrically opposed. One is based on human works; the other is based on God’s grace.

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After all, Buddhism has the Eightfold Path. Hinduism has Karma. Islam has the Five Pillars. Modern, orthodox Judaism emphasizes the keeping of God’s law. But Christianity has a cross, which proclaims that God has come to do what we could not do for ourselves.

So, in a word, Christianity is grace , not religion.

Tomorrow we will continue working through our introduction to the gospel.

See you then for part 2.

Dr. McKay Caston

McKay Caston is a pastor, writer, and speaker whose passion is to see people live all of life in view of the cross.

The ancient Egyptians believed that when a person died, his heart was weighed on a scale by the god of the underworld, Osiris. On one side of the scale was a feather. If the individual’s heart was lighter than the feather, it was considered good and would pass on to eternal blessing in the next … Continue reading What do you mean Christianity is not religion?

3 Benefits of Living a Purpose Driven Life

The Purpose Driven Life is a well-known, popular book written by Rick Warren, the founding pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Southern California. His thesis is that a life guided by a particular goal (purpose) is more effective and impactful than a life that is just… lived. As the adage says, “Aim at nothing and … Continue reading 3 Benefits of Living a Purpose Driven Life