WHEN the Ritz-Carlton Hotels won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, I had the opportunity to congratulate the owner of that outstanding organization, Mr. William Johnson, my good friend who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. In typical humility and his wonderful ‘Southern drawl,’ Bill gave others the credit. He added that now that they had won this prestigious honor, they would need to work even harder to earn the respect that came with it. “Quality,” he said, “is a race with no finish line.”

He is correct. Competitive excellence requires 100% all of the time. If you doubt that, try maintaining excellence by setting your standards at 92%. Or even 95%. People figure they’re doing fine so long as they get somewhere near it. Excellence gets reduced to acceptable, and before long, acceptable doesn’t seem worth the sweat if you can get by with adequate. After that, mediocrity is only a breath away.

Ever tracked the consequences of ‘almost but not quite’? Thanks to some fine research by Natalie Gabal, I awoke to a whole new awareness of what would happen if 99.99% were considered good enough. If that were true, then this year alone….2,000,000 documents would be lost by the IRS; 12 babies would be given to the wrong parents each day; 291 pacemaker operations would be performed incorrectly; 20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions would be written; 114,500 mismatched pairs of shoes would be shipped (to cite just a few examples).

Instead of applying this negatively to the practical side of life, I’d much rather compare it positively to the theological.

Remember the forgotten word justification? Remember what it means? Justification is the sovereign act of God whereby He declares righteous the believing sinner while that person is still in a sinning state. He doesn’t suddenly make us righteous (we still sin). He declares us righteous. How righteous does God declare us? He declares us 100% righteous.

When you consider how sinful, how totally depraved humanity really is, that fact is all the more remarkable. Stop and think: Upon believing in Jesus Christ’s substitutionary death and bodily resurrection, the once-lost sinner is instantly, unconditionally, and permanently “declared 100% righteous.” Anything less and we are not righteous….we are almost righteous.

If we were declared 99.99% righteous, some verses would have to be rewritten. Like Isaiah 1:18, which might then read: ‘Come now, and let us reason together’ says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be light pink.’

Nonsense! The promise of sins forgiven is all or nothing. Eighty percent won’t cut it… or 90%.... or 99 and 44/100%... or 99.9%. Let’s face it, 0.1% is still sinful. I mean, would you drink a gallon of water with only one tiny drop of strychnine in it? Would you feel comfortable having a surgeon cut on you who was wearing almost-sterile gloves?

When our Lord said, “It is finished,” He meant “finished.” The colossal ransom for sin was fully paid. He satisfied the Father’s demand.

Unlike the earthly race for excellence, the universal race against sin had a finish line. Otherwise, when Jesus breathed His last breath, He would’ve said, “It is almost finished.” And we would have to keep working at it, adding to something Christ didn’t finish at the cross.

Let’s never, ever forget that God is into ‘white as snow,’ not light pink.

The Christian Messenger