25 Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:25-30 (italics mine)
You being marked for greatness is pretty much the exact opposite of what is taught in scripture. I understand that in regards to distinguishing between Law and Gospel, that to apply the idea of humbling ourselves comes under the Law. It is not what saves us, but what is expected of us under God's Law. Unfortunately, we are dead in sins and trespasses (see Ephesians 2). We cannot do righteous acts of our own accord. Our good works are as filthy rags (see Isaiah 64). Even though, we cannot humble ourselves on our own accord, as I will point out later, exalting ourselves which we do by our very nature is open rebellion towards God. And this is what this church is apparently encouraging. I do want to point out that this is not the only church promulgating this message. It can be heard and seen throughout the Christian landscape. Sometimes this straightforward, but usually a bit more subtle.
So let me explain. And I would like to cite Lutheranism 101 as a help in formulating the following ideas. With this explanation, there comes with the cliche: I have some good news and I have some bad news.
The Bad News
A lot of people, even Christians, think that too much has been made of sin. Sin is thought of as illicit fun, something just off the mark of some dumb rule made up by religion. And stupid rules, well, they are just meant to be broken. After all, life is about fun and happiness, joy an self-expression, isn't it? Sin is the act of betraying God. It is rejecting His will and His ways. It is any thought, word, or deed that is contrary to the will of God. Sin creates such a huge gap between us and our Creator, and that gap exceeds our ability to describe its extent. We are guided by a compass that cannot point true north, and therefore we are completely unable to navigate toward God. In fact, we are active rebellion towards God. We are by nature weak, ungodly, sinful, and an outright enemy of God (see Romans 5:6-10).
To recognize our as nature as sinful does not mean that God created mankind as disobedient or that our created essence is sinful. God created and declared all that He created as "very good" (Genesis 1:31). Original sin does not come from God. We are the ones who have rebelled against God thinking we know better than Him. That we can depend on ourselves to do what is right. We determine what is right in our own eyes. I daresay it goes so far in regards to our nature, that we cannot willfully decide whether or not we want to follow God. In our fallen state, all we desire and all that we crave is glory for ourselves. And this is the very notion this church sign is encouraging people to do. The church sign, whether or not it was the intention, is to openly rebel against God.
The Good News
"God shows His love for us that in while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
This is Christ's work alone. On our behalf. We cannot do good. God truly has a response to our sin. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
Why is the issue of us being able to make a decision for God, the issue of us having a free will, such a big deal? If we could make that decision, then the statement on the church sign would be an accurate portrayal of who we are. We would be considered great on our own. But the Scripture tells us something completely different. God says to people who are now believers, "You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked" (Ephesians 2:1-2). Not dead physically, but dead in a very real spiritual sense. What can a dead person do? A dead person is completely unable to change or cooperate or even ask for help. Dead people are passive-- as in totally passive.
That is the reason why the Bible calls conversion to faith in Jesus being 'born again.' It is commonly taught in many churches that to be born again means to make a decision to ask Jesus to come into your heart. Consider the birth of a child: what did the child being born do? Nothing. It is the mom who does all the work in child birth. Similarly, in conversion, or being born again, the one who does all the work is the Holy Spirit. And to ponder on this, much comfort can be found. For it does not depend on us at all, but on God wholly.
Our justification is not by what we do or who we are. Before God all our achievements and fame in the world are vanity. We cannot prepare ourselves to be justified by Him. It is Jesus, and Jesus alone.
The author of Hebrews writes the following:
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, italics mine)Christ alone. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and End (Rev. 22), He is the Author of life (Acts 3), He is Our Redemption, Our Righteousness, Our Sanctification (1 Cor. 1), He is Word of God Rev. 19). Jesus is the FOUNDER and PERFECTER of our faith. When He said on the cross that "It is finished," He meant it. Now that is some good news.