Anyone who’s ever gone to a polytechnic or university would be familiar with some tricks to get better grades:
- Choosing a pass/fail module
- Currying favour with tutors to get hints ahead of time
- Hoping for a hard paper to work the bell curve in your favour
- Invoking an “S/U” (Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory) on modules that will pull down your grades
- Going on exchange to freeze that semester’s GPA
There are many other similar tricks. For those who are taking ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels, they have their own hacks too. I remember a friend who gave up on Physics, skipping the paper entirely to focus on the subjects he was more confident in.
“It’s a strategy,” he told me simply.
Getting a result by hook or by crook. To be honest, isn’t life also like an exam? We go through trials to mature in faith and at the very end – having stood the test – we receive our reward (James 1:2-4, 12).
The only difference is that there are no hacks, shortcuts or roundabouts in the Christian walk. And definitely no GPA.
It’s easy to think our weaknesses of character can be made up for by our strengths. Or that the sinful areas of our lives can be levelled out by good behaviour in other “modules” of the faith.
“God, I’m not really good at being patient but I’m a pretty honest person. My overall standing should still be pretty good, right?”
“God, I’ve surrendered the major parts of my life to you already. Can we just ignore the little things that don’t hurt anybody?”
But skills – things we’re good at – and character – our heart – are two very different entities.
A wise man once told me: “When it comes to your skills, play to your strengths; but when it comes to your character, work on your weaknesses.” Yes, we celebrate the strengths God has given us, but He is always most concerned about the heart of man – the strength of character revealed in its willingness to obey and have weaknesses refined.
We see a classic example of the GPA mentality in King Saul’s life (1 Samuel 15). God had tasked Saul to wage war against the Amalekites for the harm they did to Israel while they were in exodus. His specific instruction was to leave no one – not even an animal – alive.
Saul obeyed God’s commands to fight and eventually won the battle. However, instead of killing everyone, he somehow decided to spare the enemy’s king and the best of all the livestock – probably because he found it too much of a waste to simply destroy.
God was upset when he learnt of what Saul had done. When He sent Samuel, His prophet, to confront Saul, Saul was indignant.
Saul thought partial obedience was obedience enough. But God saw it as rebellion.
“But I did obey the Lord,” he insisted. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”
Doesn’t Saul’s reasoning sound compelling? In his words, he retained the best loot in order to present it as an offering – a sacrifice – to God! And he obeyed most of the instructions anyway! He should have gotten a high distinction. But at this, Samuel rebuked Saul.
“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:23)
Saul thought partial obedience was obedience enough. But God saw it as rebellion. As long as we are not wholly surrendered to Him, no matter how small the part we withhold from God is, we are still not in obedience.
“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17)
Consider David when he was first chosen by God to be the next king of Israel. He was merely a shepherd boy! God doesn’t look at what we are – based on some Christian “grade” we’ve achieved through accumulated good behaviours – He looks at who we are! God looked past David’s qualifications and saw his character.
“God testified concerning him: “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.” (Acts 13:22)
He will do everything I want him to do. The Bible is clear that our character is measured by our obedience to God. We can’t “S/U” stubborn sins or “freeze” areas we don’t want to grow in. How then can true sanctification take place otherwise?
We are either people with hardened hearts or obedient children of God – there’s no in-between.
The test of obedience isn’t easy, but it’s also not impossible. Abraham wasn’t able to offer Isaac to God overnight. He had to first develop his faith convictions as he experienced what it meant to trust in God’s unchanging goodness – even in a difficult instruction.
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” (Hebrews 11:17-19)
But the more we choose to obey, the more we learn to trust God. It is in the process of complete surrender that we experience His faithfulness despite our doubts. Consequently, our relationship with Him deepens.
At the end of the day, it is not about obeying for the sake of obeying. We obey because we’re learning to trust; and because we learn to trust, all the more we can obey.
I admit it isn’t easy, but Abraham’s story reminds us that we all start from somewhere. While we may not be able to submit to God everything in our lives from the get-go, He still honours the heart that’s in pursuit of Him and His commandments. So let’s start with small, baby steps of obedience. Trust, and obey. Over and over.
If you feel that prompting in your heart to bless the tissue auntie? Do it. Feel the deep-seated hesitancy in your heart at entering a particular relationship? Don’t do it.
In God’s kingdom there’s no GPA. But if we have to live by one, then let’s live with this GPA instead: a God-Pursuing Attitude.