Several years ago, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran an article in its sports section about the tee shot of professional golfer Tina Barrett on a par-3 hole in the Atlanta Women’s Championship. The story reported that her ball went in the hole on the fly — but not all the way in. It actually buried in the soil on top of the plastic cup liner!
From the tee, it looked like a hole-in-one, and the golfers were high-fiving one another all around — that is, until they saw a rules official on the green calmly hold up two fingers. You see, only about 75 percent of the ball was below ground level; consequently, it couldn’t be counted as an ace. The rule book is clear. A ball is determined to be “holed” when it is at rest within the circumference of the hole and all of it is below the level of the lip of the hole. The ball has to be completely in the hole. And the rules of golf are very strict. A hole-in-one requires, well, perfection!
What’s the spiritual lesson for us?
First, God requires perfection of me in order to be rewarded at the end of the “game of life.” Even the slightest error takes me out of the game.
A notion we need to throw out is that God simply ignores sin. He doesn’t sweep it under the proverbial rug. Isaiah, the so-called “weeping prophet” of Judah, declared, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). Paul warned that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Second, because God loves me so much and wants me to know the joy of his fellowship, he has provided the means whereby I may be perfect. Unlike golf, it has nothing to do with my ability or “the way the ball bounces.” (Do you remember the commercial where the duffer hits his ball off forty gazillion trees and it winds up in the hole? Then he triumphantly jabs the air with his fist ... as if he planned it!) Rather, salvation is possible because of the grace of God.
“This righteousness [perfection] from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe ... [Sinners] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24). God makes me worthy completely apart from my own goodness or competence.
Further, “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God (Romans 5:6-9).
Thankfully, I can enjoy golf without being perfect. If I hit just a few decent shots, the round isn’t ruined. But God has a higher standard than I do. And, thanks to his love and grace, I can know the joy of perfection through obedient faith in his son.