I love teaching. It has turned out to be everything I’d hoped for and more. There have been some surprises, however. The student who accepts mediocrity stuns me. Why on earth would you spend thousands of dollars and hours doing something that you don’t intend to do well? Is college really just about earning a piece of paper and not learning after all? But, the student that blows me away is the student who thinks mediocrity is too high a standard. For these students, a D is a passable grade and F isn’t something to sweat over. Failure isn’t only an option, it’s an acceptable option.
Well, I’m sorry. Maybe it was my time in the Army Rangers or playing sports all of those years. Maybe it’s my obsessive complusive disorder (not officially diagnosed, mind you). Maybe it’s because I take 1 Corinthians 10:31 seriously. Whatever it is, I’m convinced that failure is not an option. God not only expects better of us, He demands it.
Consider these areas in our lives where failure is not an option:
Holiness. The Bible says in the Old and New Testaments that we are to be holy because God is holy. That’s a pretty high standard. That standard does not allow for failure or mediocrity. Either you are holy or you are doomed. Thank the Lord that, though we fail at this point, Christ has lived up to that standard and now stands in our stead. Failure isn't an option.
Evangelism. The Great Commission is often misunderstood by Christians to be the Great Suggestion. If you have time, evangelize. If you have the gift, evangelize. If you have the inclination, evangelize. No. Here the expectation, again, is unbending. As you are going, you will make disciples of the nations. God is His infinite grace and condescension (a good thing by the way) has chosen to utilize humans to bring other humans to saving faith. It seems like an imperfect plan. But, since it’s God’s plan, it is perfect. Anything below perfect obedience is disobedience. In fact, didn’t Jesus say something about how, if we loved Him, we would obey Him? Hmm. Seems to be another case where failure is not an option.
Prayer. Here’s another one that we accept an inferior effort and place it on the pedestal of self-righteousness. James says that the prayers of a righteous man accomplishes much. He didn’t say the prayers of the unrepentant. He didn’t say the prayers of the occasionally upright. He said the prayers of the righteous. It’s little wonder that so few Christians can honestly say that they’ve seen many answers to prayer in their lifetimes. The problem isn’t that God can’t answer prayers. The problem is that God doesn’t hear the prayers of the wicked. Moreover, Paul says that we’re to pray without ceasing. He doesn’t mean praying 24/7. He’s not talking about an ongoing attitude of prayer. He’s saying that we are to storm the gates of heaven with our supplications until the King answers the door. When’s the last time you steadfastly prayed for something, no matter how long, no matter how hard, until God heard your cries. Again, failure isn’t an option.
Everything else. Paul says that we are to have the glory of God as the telos, the end, the goal, the purpose of all that we do (1 Corinthians 10:31). Based on the wording of that passage, I think Paul has everything we do in mind. Every thought, every word, every action as a Christian either brings glory or disgrace to the name of God. Good enough isn’t. Close enough doesn’t come close. Perfection is to be our goal because God is perfect. Will we achieve perfection every time? Of course not. But, when we begin our quest in whatever endeavor, we can either begin with the attitude of “a C works for me” or “an A works for God.” It is the desires of our heart that comes out in our actions. Failure simply isn't an option.If your sanity or your time or your whatever is your point of reference, substandard work works. You’re doing it for your glory and you get to decide what is acceptable. If the perfect God in heaven is your standard and His glory your goal, failure is not an option.
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About Peter Beck
Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
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