Last weekend I was down in Dublin to watch the mighty Ulster rugby team take part in the Pro12 Final, which they narrowly lost. (NB for American readers – rugby is like American Football only played by real men and the Pro12 Final is like your Superbowl final, only without the continual pauses for ad breaks…)
Because it was a late afternoon kick-off and I had gone down the evening before I had some time to kill before the match, so was hanging around Dublin with my Ulster top on when a couple of German tourists came up to me and my Dad (who also had an Ulster top on) to ask if we were part of a football team. Before I had a chance to tell her we were and to offer to sign autographs for them my Dad had told them we were just supporters. And it got me thinking.
Wearing a replica jersey doesn’t make you a sports star. Wearing your team’s colours doesn’t make you a player. Just because you can get dressed in the kit and look the part doesn’t mean you’ll have the moves and the skills to make it on the pitch. And it is like that for us in our walk with God too.
So often we focus on getting the look. Appearing holy. Being seen to be generous. Seeming compassionate. But God isn’t impressed with outward appearances of righteousness. In 1 Samuel 16:7 He tells Samuel that “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount that when we make a big show about our good deeds then that will be all the reward we will get. But when we do them humbly, not to impress others but to serve God then He will reward us: “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-4.
So often we think all that matters is what we do outwardly. On how we are seen by others. If others see us doing good deeds then we must be good people. But God isn’t impressed by our putting on a good show of righteousness. He cares about our heart. He wants sincerity. He wants us to love without an agenda. To humbly seek Him. To not be setting out to impress people with our good deeds, but simply setting out to respond to the love He has lavished upon us. In Isaiah 64:6 we are told that our righteous deeds, our attempts to show-off how holy we are, are seen by God as “filthy rags”. The word used in the original Hebrew is most accurately translated as ‘menstrual rags’. God is not impressed by our attempts to impress others. Stop trying to put a replica jersey over a terribly out-of-shape body to try and convince people you are a pro. Be humble. Admit you aren’t great. Admit you are a flawed sinner who is not worthy but that you have a great Saviour who makes you righteous.