I just finished a great book by Larry Osborne titled Mission Creep: The Five Subtle Shifts That Sabotage Evangelism & Discipleship.
I marked that book up! It is underlined, starred, and, in several spots, I just wrote “WOW” or “Yes.” (I’m lending my copy to a friend, so I didn’t write “oops” and “uh-oh” by the truths I fall short of.)
That book said so many things I have believed, taught, written about, or debated—and often not lived up to myself. It’s good to read a book that resonates with your spirit and important to read books that insist Christians aim at the right target.
Here’s one startling truth I learned: God gives every Christian an A but wants us to work for an F.
Yes, you read that correctly.
What kind of student were you?
Did you look forward to report card day, or did you dread it?
If you’re like me, you probably did a little of both.
Grades matter, but only if they help us know how to improve. As a schoolteacher, I sometimes had to give a lower grade than I wanted to. I always worried that a child would think This is who I am instead of This is who I should work to be. Sometimes I wanted to wrap my arms around a child and tell them how much that C in math didn’t matter.
The world’s standards of success
We got used to grades early in our lives, and most of us have carried the concept of a grading system since then. Our resumes were put into stacks. The A stack received interviews. The B stack might be considered for other jobs. The C stack got a nice form letter thanking them for applying. Everyone else’s resume went into the shredder.
The football team has an A team, a B team, and a bunch of benchwarmers who get a jersey but little playing time. There are corner offices and cubicles at the office. There are preferred accounts at the bank and those that get charged a monthly fee. There are neighborhoods with bars on the windows and others with guards at the gate.
And, if we aren’t careful, Christians grade other Christians with the world’s standards of success instead of God’s.
What does God’s grading system look like?
The great joy of our faith is also the great weakness.
All of us know that we earned an A grade the minute we professed our faith. But, a lot of Christians settle for the A when they should have been trying to earn a D. We have been aiming for the wrong grade. As a result, the numbers and commitment levels in our churches are declining.
- A = acceptance. The minute you became a Christian, God gave you that A. Jesus said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). But God has a different grading system than the world does. The next step is to earn the B.
- B = biblical. Jesus said to obey “everything that I have commanded” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus used the word everything for a reason. Unless you believe every command of Scripture, you can’t earn the higher grade. All of us should want to get that C.
- C = cooperative. God gave us his Holy Spirit so we could communicate, commiserate, and cooperate with God’s holy presence in our lives. The Holy Spirit will never contradict God’s biblical teaching. Jesus said we are baptized “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). The Christian who earns a C is the Christian who walks with the power of God’s word, guided by his Spirit. That kind of spiritual journey earns us the next grade.
- D = disciple. Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). It isn’t difficult to know if you are earning that coveted D from God. Disciples make disciples. Who is going to heaven, closer to God, stronger in the Lord, or more committed to their calling because you are a disciple of Christ who makes disciples of others?
- F = Finished. Of course, the highest grade any of us will ever earn is that F. All of us should wish for the moment we are able to bow our heads and echo Jesus saying, “It is finished,” meaning, “God, I did what you commissioned and gifted my life to accomplish. I have been your disciple.”
The problem with Christianity in America is that most people just want the A.
As a result, that is the grade most of us have settled for in our lives and in the lives of those around us. We interpret the Great Commission backward. We’ve become content with an A and acceptance is only the beginning.
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).
The hope of failure
Jesus told us to work for the D because, one day, we will get handed an F. In God’s grading system, an F means we have passed with flying colors.
I wonder if that is what Jesus meant when he said, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16). I think it’s what God meant when he told Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8). We don’t think like God; therefore, we are content with that A.
But God is looking forward to handing us that F. Let’s make sure we have earned the D first. Make sure you are clawing your way to the bottom. That’s where you will find the other disciples at work: with Jesus.
“Well done, good and faithful servant” can be translated: “You earned the F!”