But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (although it is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed—namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
-Romans 3:21-24 (NET)
When the Green Bay Packers fired Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry, they knew they’d have sift through a lot of coaches interested in the role. It’s a prestigious job with an organization that’s one of the best-established brands in professional sports. It’s a talented young team. I imagine it pays pretty well. You get to coach football for a living. There are worse jobs, I’m saying, even if you have to do it in Green Bay.
Still, they might have been surprised at exactly how deep the applicant pool goes.
Bill Port applied. He’s been coaching football for 23 years. He’s won 3 regular season championships and 3 playoff championships. A lot of NFL teams don’t have close to that kind of success. (Including the Midway Monstrosity of a team that plays in my city.) Not to mention that he’s a lifelong fan of the Packers.
A strike against him, though, is that his wins haven’t been at the NFL level. Or at the college level. Or the high school level, or even in Pop Warner football.
Or anywhere but on a screen, for that matter. Bill’s two decades of coaching experience is in fantasy football. He’s never called a corner blitz, dropped a safety into double-coverage, or helped a defensive lineman with his 3-technique. All of his coaching is for teams that didn’t really exist.
Bill didn’t really imagine he was going to get the job, but he sent a resumé to the Packers anyway, listing all his “qualifications.” He hoped they’d at least get a chuckle out of it. His cover letter said, “I heard your organization has a job opening and I figured I’d try this defensive coordinator thing. Please note, I’d prefer weekends off. Go Pack Go.”
Weekends off might be tough when you work for an organization that plays most of their games on Sundays. But, you know, who’s going to run his fantasy team if he’s working?
Well, Bill didn’t get the job. But Packers CEO Mark Murphy sent him a handwritten reply:
“Bill, Thanks so much for your cover letter and resume regarding our Defensive Coordinator position. While your fantasy football experience is impressive, I regret to inform you that we have decided to go in a different direction.”
Kind of him, really, to let him down gently that way. He didn’t have to include the last line, though: “I hear the Bears have an opening — you look to be a perfect fit for them. Thanks again.”
Oh, funny. But, seriously, Bill: the Bears have made dumber coaching moves.
Bill wasn’t seriously applying to be the Packers’ DC. He knew he wasn’t qualified by a long shot.
And I hope you’ll hear me when I say to you that he was far more qualified for that job than any of us are for the blessings God has given us in Jesus.
Ouch. That took kind of an abrupt turn, didn’t it? We need to hear it, though, because the fantasy that God would be lucky to have us on his team is alive and well and living in all kinds of guises in the church. It turns us into Pharisaical, hypocritical, hypercritical jerks who do nothing but stand in the way of people coming into the kingdom of God. It sends us spiraling into depression when our facades crack and our illusions fade.
Paul writes in Romans about being “justified,” a word that means to declare someone to be righteous or not guilty. It’s his way of talking about what makes someone “Israel,” the people of God. In Romans, he’s already said that “there is no one righteous, not even one.” Using mostly Psalms, he shows that Israel was never Israel because they were so good. The difference between them and those who weren’t Israel was never their righteous acts. “We have already charged that Jews and Greeks [non-Jews] alike are all under sin,” he writes. To be God’s people, both Jews and non-Jews need to be “justified” — pronounced innocent.
That’s hard to hear for someone who thinks they’re more qualified than most everyone else. Imagine that Mark Murphy had called a news conference to announce that Bill Port was a legit candidate for DC. That coaches who have been successful NFL Defensive Coordinators are no more qualified than him. No doubt the team would start to wonder if maybe Murphy wasn’t qualified for his job.
Here’s the thing: all of us, before God, are Bill Port. Our best is not enough. “Together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, not even one.” But sometimes we start to think that we’re Dan Quinn or Raheem Morris or even Bill Bellichick.
Some of us think that our Bible knowledge qualifies us. Some of us think that because we worship the “right way,” God is lucky to have us. Some of us are proud of our understanding of baptism, or our special gift of the Holy Spirit, or the sacraments we observe. For some it’s our good deeds, our positions on political issues, or our concern for social justice. Some of us have overcome sins. Please understand, none of those things are bad. But none of them qualify us to share in the blessings that God gives to his people.
What qualifies us, he says, is “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.” I specifically chose a translation that renders it that way; the phrase can also be translated “faith in Jesus Christ.” It’s really not a one-or-the-other thing, because Paul talks about the necessity of faith in Jesus in many places, and even here this righteousness is for “all who believe.” But “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” is just as valid a translation, and I think it’s the right one here. What qualifies us to be part of the people of God is not anything we do at all — other than to trust, as much as we can, in the faithfulness of Jesus. He obeyed God when we couldn’t. He suffered for our sins.
That might shoot a hole in your pride. It might make you rethink who you feel superior to, and why. God isn’t interested in your resumé. Your qualifications, such as they are, won’t impress him. They’re not that much better than anyone else’s — not enough to matter.
But it will also save you when your world is falling in and you have no one to blame but yourself.
God doesn’t reject you because of your resumé. As sure as Christ is faithful, we are justified. By his grace, through the redemptive work of Jesus and not our own.
Congratulations. God thinks he can make you qualified for this new position he has for you.
Time to get to work.