Other people who know they've made mistakes, maybe big ones or maybe not, also believe the lie of the first group. They compare themselves to them and think they might as well keep doing what they're doing, assuming they cannot be redeemed. They don't expect forgiveness, so they don't look to Jesus either. Even if they've stopped making these mistakes, they assume the damage is done and they're a lost cause.
Then there are people who are aware of their mistakes and don't deny them, but they don't continue in their life of sin once they've been exposed to the good news of Christ. They don't compare themselves to others because they know the only measure of virtue is God himself. "Be holy because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16, quoting Leviticus 11:44).
Some people from the first group may look at this third group - the only group who isn't fooling themselves or believing a lie - and look down on them. They judge the mistakes of this group as being too numerous or too grave, and dismiss their faith claims. They hold onto the idea that they - the first group - are the ones who are "right by God".
Others from the first group may feel threatened by those from the third group. They consider their own mistakes as bigger than those of this group, and find it troublesome to hear that they're admitting as sin even lesser mistakes. They ridicule them as "holier than thou" because they don't want to have to admit their own wrongdoing.
And yet it's only the third group - the people who do not compare themselves to others but only to God - who have any shot at perfecting their character, reaching their potential of a virtuous life, and pleasing God. So long as we compare ourselves to others, regardless if we conclude that our sins are bigger or lesser than those of others, we are keeping the focus on ourselves and not on God. We are pleasing ourselves and not God.
There is no grading curve in Heaven. God doesn't pit His children against each other and only take the top 1% of the good. In the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus tell His disciples, "In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?" (John 14:2).
Elsewhere Jesus says, "Those who are well do no need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners" (Mark 2:17). Yet those who think they're better than others fail to understand this. They don't think they need Jesus, and they don't think others deserve Jesus. Well, I'm sorry, but who made them God?
Many Christian testimonies seem to address the second group; they try to appeal to a sense of sinfulness in the person, extending to them the hope that is found in Christ. But what I think has been ignored is this first group, addressed here: "If we say, 'We are without sin,' we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8).
My confession today is this. I have been hesitant about embracing fully the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ because I have bought into the lie of the first group. First, I thought I was one of them - "good enough". I learned to compare myself to worse sinners than myself and figured I was doing pretty well of my own efforts. Then, I realized I had sinned and felt doomed to remain in my sin because I hadn't yet discovered the saving grace that should've been abundantly clear to me as a regular church-goer. Now, I'm learning to find my place in the third group, not denying my sin, but not letting it stop me from nonetheless pursuing holiness. And yet old habits die hard. I still know people who would see my efforts and accuse me of being prudish, "holier than thou", or "trying too hard".
The problem isn't that some people may think this about me. The problem is that I even give their possible opinions a second thought. My focus needs to be directed to God alone. I can be "good enough" and stay mediocre while on Earth. Or, I can claim the grace that has been offered to me through Jesus's sacrifice on the cross, and say, "I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me" (Philippians 4:13). Even holiness. Yes, I can become a saint! Not of my own power, not through anything I have done or can do. But only through the power of Christ, so long as I welcome Him to live in me and through me.
Jesus said, "'No slave is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20). I have to learn to expect it. I cannot wait for people to stop judging me before I start living the life I am meant to live. I cannot wait to build up enough courage to stand up to people who judge me, for Jesus said that His grace is sufficient for me, "for power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). Ah, the power of one's convictions, to one day (hopefully sooner rather than later) be able to say with Saint Paul, "I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10).