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.