Counterfeit Deeds and the Authentic Jesus

My single favorite story entering into the new year is that of a 53-year-old Lexington, N.C. gentleman by the name of Michael Fuller, who racked up $473 worth of goods from Walmart and tried to pay with a fake million-dollar bill.  Walmart employees became suspicious and contacted local authorities to arrest Fuller on account of THERE IS NO SUCH THING.  In fact, the largest bill in circulation in the U.S. is the hundred-dollar bill, ever since the elusive $10,000 bill, featuring former Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, was removed from public usage in 1969.

When first hearing Fuller’s story, I assumed he must be attempting an elaborate hoax, and that this was a performance artist shtick out of the Andy Kaufman mold (or Ashton Kutcher’s Punk’d for you younger generations out there).  Nope.  Turns out he was just being an idiot.  I haven’t been able to find any interviews conducted with Fuller online, but would love to find out what exactly he thought was going to happen, best-case scenario. Perhaps, upon receiving his vacuum and microwave all bagged up, along with receipt, he thought he’d receive $999,527 in change.  Or maybe he was just trying to impress the checkout girl with the bill (we’ve all seen the guy who flashes his Ulysses Grant’s when he digs into his wallet just to let you know he’s a real high roller in life).  I honestly have a hard time getting over how much I love the idea of a guy with a million-dollar bill feeling the need to shop at the store that claims rollback prices and bargain basement deals.  I thought avoiding the parking lot at Walmart was one of the benefits of becoming a millionaire.  It really doesn’t matter though.  Any way you slice it, Fuller is a frontrunner for biggest fool of 2012.

However, is it fair to label Fuller as that much different from most of the world?  You have a man who brings what he perceives to be a great thing ($1 million dollars) before the largest goods provider in the country (Walmart), anticipating receiving good things in return (vacuum, microwave, & other products), only to find out that he’d lied to himself and his “great thing” really is a counterfeit (fake bill).

Is this not what every non-Christian religion on the planet throughout history has sought to do?  A man brings his good deeds before God, gods, or some impersonal concept of god, expects that his notion of God must bless him because of these great things (or at least “better” than others by comparison), but in the end finds out the truth – that All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)  And, There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)  No human can bring the righteousness and perfection that God requires for dwelling in his eternal presence.   No mere human anyway.  And this is all why God would have to send his own Son, Jesus, into the world.  On him all sins would be laid and through him all necessary righteousness would be freely given (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Cor. 15:22; Rom. 5:15-19).

But we Christians know this, understand this, and live this, right?  Unfortunately we don’t.  In his 2007 book, unChristian, David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Research Group, states that over one-third of regularly practicing Christians embrace the idea that you can earn a place in heaven if you do enough good things for others or if you are a decent person.  Fascinatingly, he also reports that statistically, outside of higher church attendance, owning more Bibles, and donating more to charitable organizations, the average modern Christian’s life is virtually identical in most every moral way to the average modern non-Christian.  In other words, on average, while we continue to argue that people can be welcomed into heaven on the basis of good deeds, our own deeds are essentially the same as those of most others, including non-Christians. Does that seem inconsistent or hypocritical?  Of course.  Welcome to fallen humanity.  We can’t even meet our own watered-down expectations of ourselves, even when salvation is on the line.

You see, at the core, we all are Michael Fuller.  Delusional, we all tend to bring hands full of what we perceive to be good things to God and think, “Well, you’ve gotta bless me now!  How could you NOT love me?!”  And then in those clarifying moments of life, when we become acutely aware of our own fallenness (you know, the hardest times of life), we despair, having forgotten that our good times were never the result of our own doing in the first place, but gifts.  By the way, Michael Fuller is currently in jail on a $17,500 bond.  That should be chump change for a millionaire.  Unless all your good things are counterfeit.

Let go of all of your presumptuous doing.  You can’t earn anything from God with it anyways.  If you could, God’s love wouldn’t be grace.  This is the reason why so many American Christians don’t have lives any different from their non-Christian counterparts.  They think the essence of Christianity is moral living.  As a result, when they seek to accomplish that, fueled by nothing but willpower, they can’t even do it, frustrating themselves and living as confusing witnesses to the world.

Instead, let your Christian faith be about redeemed life in your Savior Jesus, fueled by the gospel.  If your faith is about Jesus, what he has done for you and the reality that he now lives in you, you will not only find eternal life, true meaning, and internal peace, you will find godly living as well.

As Christmas has now come and gone, think about the characters surrounding Jesus in the Christmas story as your examples of faith in the new year.  None of them have any spiritual resumé of greatness.  The shepherds had no real religious status.  The gentile wise men had no ethnic status before the God of Israel.  Joseph, a humble carpenter, had no important societal status.  And Mary, a teenage girl, had no legal status.  But as God came in human form, nothing less than the holiness of God became their own personal status in Jesus.  And in Jesus, this is your status too.

Spiritually speaking, on our own, we are fools standing before God and trying to pass forged bills.  In Jesus, we have the keys to Walmart itself.

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