My father loved me as best he knew how. I know he did. But he had a way of communicating to me that most everything I did was: “Not quite good enough. You’ve got to try harder.” Grades and sports were where I most frequently received those messages. In hindsight, I’m sure he was projecting onto me his own sense that he was not doing quite enough in his own life. It wasn’t enough that he was the first generation of his family to go to college. It wasn’t enough that he had gone on to graduate school to earn a doctorate. After all, he only rose to the rank of a non-tenured, non-published junior college professor.

He wanted more for me, so he pushed. The scary thing is that I can read my own life in similar terms – achieving a lot, but maybe not as much as if I’d just tried harder. And I have a niggling suspicion that I have communicated the same message to my own children: “Nice try, but you’ve got to try harder than that.” I remember with shame the day one of my kids at about age 4 proudly brought home from church a piece of Sunday School art. Before I put it on the refrigerator, I felt it necessary to correct a misspelled word. I wonder what I communicated to my child that day.

Justified and Righteous

Imagine my shock to discover in that sternest of theologians, John Calvin, an entirely different take on the way our Heavenly Father looks at the efforts of his children:

God's children are pleasing and lovable to him, since he sees in them the marks and features of his own countenance. For we have elsewhere taught that regeneration is a renewal of the divine image in us. Since, therefore, wherever God contemplates his own face, he both rightly loves it and holds it in honor, it is said with good reason that the lives of believers, framed to holiness and righteousness, are pleasing to him. (Institutes 3.17.5)

Therefore, as we ourselves, when we have been engrafted in Christ, are righteous in God's sight because our iniquities are covered by Christ's sinlessness, so our works are righteous and are thus regarded because whatever fault is otherwise in them is buried in Christ's purity, and is not charged to our account. Accordingly, we can deservedly say that by faith alone not only we ourselves but our works as well are justified. (Institutes 3.17.10)

Here's to the day

Here’s to the day when I can believe the good news is really that good.

Here’s to the day when I can believe he sees in me – and rightly loves and honors – the marks and features of his own countenance.

Here’s to the day I can dare to believe that I am pleasing and lovable to him, that whatever faults there are in my works are buried in Christ’s purity, and not charged to my account.

Here’s to the day when I can stand and say: “Thank God, by faith not only I myself but my works are justified.”

Here’s to the day when I can imagine my Heavenly Father proudly displaying my “Sunday School art” on his refrigerator and turning to his heavenly court, puffing out his chest and saying, “A son of my redemption did that, and I am so proud of him!”