As the Old Testament historical narrative unfolds, it quickly becomes clear that these men and women were sinners just like us.
This observation often leads people to say things like, “if these people did such bad things, why does God include them in the Bible?” Or, “if Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were liars who went to heaven and were commended by God, then what is wrong with me lying?” As the saying goes, “no one is perfect.” Clearly, no one is qualified to be lifted up as an example of godly living. And this is true – if you are defining godly living as a person’s moral goodness. The Bible makes this point clearly:
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:1-3)
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)
The human heart since the fall in Genesis 3 is “deceitful above all things,” as Jeremiah says above. We can, in the “privacy” of our own mind and thoughts devise incredible wickedness. This is nothing new. What is cool about the Scriptures is that they don’t even attempt to hide that!! God doesn’t make any effort at all to present Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Peter, Paul, etc, as perfect, or even “good” people. The ironic thing about unbelievers who will bring up the hypocrisy of Christians is that they are hypocrites too. Hypocrisy is part of the human condition. In order to not be a hypocrite you have to stand for and live for nothing. Because the minute you take a stand for something, if you don’t live completely consistently with that stand, you have become a hypocrite – like the animal rights activist who wears a fur coat to the fundraiser or the agnostic who argues that he is “absolutely” certain that there is no absolute truth. Let me just affirm two important aspects of the Christian faith regarding the moral or immoral behavior of men and women in general, including those who are in the biblical narrative:
- Christianity, properly understood, is not about behaving our way to God’s favor. Moralism is not Christianity. Of course, Christians are supposed to behave morally. The Scriptures never condone the immoral behaviors of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, etc. In fact, in almost every case, there are significant and sometimes devastating consequences for their moral misconduct.
- The men and women of Scripture who are seen as examples of faith in the Bible are, in every case, men and women who looked to God for their salvation. In every case, they became aware of their sinful condition and the wickedness of their heart and ran to God for rescue (just as we must). The central character of the Scriptures is not Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, or Paul. The central character of Scripture IS perfect. The central character and only hero of Scripture is God. The characters in the narrative of Scripture bring glory to God precisely because their lives demonstrate that they are a mess without Him. I am a mess without Him. YOU are a mess without Him. This is the message of Scripture.