What God Expects: The Paradox of the Standards of the Christian Community
The moment you step onto campus, you find yourself in the middle of the huge commotion that is the Cornell experience. Poster boards and displays for every club imaginable vie for your attention during Club Fest. You fail to resist the urge to sign up for every other club listserv and as a result find yourself attending way too many pre-professional organization information sessions.
Soon enough, you start to worry that you are lagging behind the pace of your peers and feel that you should be doing more. Sometime thereafter you come to the realization that you now hold the power to shape your social destiny, so in the midst of your pursuit of academic excellence, you struggle to find your social niche and discover your personal interests. When are tryouts for club sports? Which fraternity or sorority is more popular? What if I don’t get along with my floormates? Do a cappella groups take mediocre and inexperienced people? How do I get people to like me? Are my PJ’s socially acceptable? …Why am I always striving?
This overwhelming Cornell mentality is not unfamiliar to many of us students and surely not to my good friend Sam. See, Sam graduated at the top of his high school class, but his friends were friends by convenience, and the community service club and honor society he joined mostly helped to boost his college application. Upon entering college, Sam was determined to more intentionally involve himself with a group of peers that he could call family.
But every community seemed to expect something from him first. Sam needed competitive lap times to join the swim team, a decent GPA to be part of a research or project team, an appreciation for plants to participate in the horticulture club, and a desire to “help other people” in order to thrive in the community service fraternity. Sam found himself going from one audition to another interview, from tryouts to social events, all in hopes of being accepted into a community. By the end of the first month, Sam was finally settling down with his a cappella group and thinking about rushing a business fraternity the following semester.
One Friday night, as Sam walked across the second floor of RPCC, he was drawn by the music and laughter that could be heard outside the walls of the auditorium. As Sam entered the room from the back, he heard someone in the front say “…satisfaction is found in the God that Christians believe created life and offers life.” This must be a Christian group, Sam thought. I wonder what its standards are. What criteria must Christians have for their God to accept them?
As Christians, we believe in a perfect God who is the source of love and all good things and who, out of love, created all human beings in His image. God intended humans to be perfect beings and to be in a perfect relationship with God as our Father, worshipping Him at the center of our lives. Evidently, by God’s standards, He accepts no one less than perfect. In the Bible, Jesus (whom Christians believe was God in flesh), says this:
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment […] You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28).
By these standards, no one is perfect, not even good. The white lie I said to my parents makes me a liar in the eyes of God. That time I was lustful proves I’ve committed adultery, and when I become angry with someone, by God’s standards, I am a murderer.
And maybe I’m not actually that bad. I try really hard to make the people around me happy. I don’t cheat on my exams, and I’m only sometimes bothered by the homeless people outside the grocery store. I wouldn’t say I’m stingy or lazy, and I rarely indulge in judging and gossiping about others. But at the end of the day, every time I mess up, I fall into sin and through my actions say “God, I don’t want to be perfect. I don’t want to be with You.”
In our court system today, we would never knowingly let a guilty criminal get away without penalty. Even more so, for God, everyone is a criminal who falls short of His standards of perfection. The punishment for sin is separation from God who is the source of all good, from the perfect relationship with God that He created humans for – more tangibly known as “hell.”
The Judge must issue justice, but what happens when He must declare the verdict on His own child? We are God’s creation, His children, whom He loves. Does He deny himself justice or does He rightly sentence to death His beloved? God loves you and me but He cannot be unjust, so He comes up with an alternative solution to our problem of sin – God himself becomes one of us, a perfect human by the name of Jesus.
Jesus represents humanity so that in His fulfillment of God’s standards He makes it possible for us be in perfect relationship with God. Additionally, in order to satisfy the Judge but spare the guilty (that’s us), Jesus sacrificed His perfect life once and for all sins, taking the punishment that is rightly ours in our place. (He did not remain dead though! Jesus ultimately overcame the crippling effect of death and is alive.)
So the good news is two-fold: Jesus not only takes the blame for past and future sins so we are no longer deemed guilty but also meets God’s standards of perfection so that we can be in perfect relationship with God even as imperfect people. Though we may never fully understand how God’s solution to our problem works, we know this: God’s standards are still the same, but we can meet them only through an understanding that we’ve fallen short and need Jesus to take our place and represent us. Therefore, the standard to be Christian and to become part of the Christian community is to understand this paradox: we cannot achieve God’s standards.
As Christians who have been saved from eternal punishment for our sins, we are forever thankful for God’s sacrifice and acknowledge that God deserves to be glorified and worshipped by His creation, which include you and me. And we acknowledge that we are not better people; rather, we are broken people who have been shown mercy by the Perfect God.
Christians are forgiven, so we understand that we are not capable of judging another person because God is the Judge. We do not hold grudges since God didn’t hold a grudge against us. We choose to love those around us to emulate God’s incredible love for us. We embrace the rejected because we understand that God freely allowed us to be part of His community regardless of our personal qualifications.
Thus, the Christian community practically functions to help its members strive to please God and to meet God’s standards as best as we can, even though we do not need to and realistically are incapable of perfectly doing so. And anyone is welcome to join and participate in “Christian events,” but the Christian community is not united by common interest in hobbies, musical preferences, social habits, future aspirations, or even in certain aspects of theology.
We are not identified by any standards that we achieve; rather, we acknowledge that our differences and similarities are nothing in light of the common unity that we have with Jesus, the only way to be accepted into God’s community. And God desires His community, united by Jesus, to encourage each other to resist temptation to sin, to grow together in love and knowledge of God, and to build one another up through prayer. One of the authors in the Bible writes this to the early Christian community:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25).
God has fulfilled the standards of perfection for every one of us, even those who are not Christian. The invitation to join the Christian community extends those who recognize that Jesus fulfills impossible standards of perfection and allows us to be in perfect relationship with God. As Christians, we long to see people find their identities in Jesus Christ who makes us perfect.
You might recall being handed a free copy of The Reason for God by members of Cornell Faith and Action (CFA) or have a friend who invited you to attend a Cru Real Life gathering; you might have been quarter-carded by Asian American InterVarsity (AAIV) or care-packaged by Chinese Bible Study (CBS). You might remember the conversation with people who identify as Christians from the Navigators, Hong Kong Christian Fellowship, African Students Bible Study, etc. but know this – as Christians we are one large community of people who want you to understand that God’s standards are impossible to achieve on your own. You’ve failed already, but God never fails, and you are invited into our community because of what God has done so that He may be glorified and worshipped by all who have faith to believe.
Cindy Wu is a junior studying Human Biology, Health, and Society who proudly hails from the Bay Area, California. She loves eating cucumbers, scrolling through photos of smiling Huskies, and walking alongside brothers and sisters to magnify the name of Jesus Christ.college, community, Cornell University, faith, forgiveness, guilt, judgment, love, paradox, sin, university