I was struck by the audacity and insight of a Mercedes S-Series commercial, which I saw recently on television. As they touted the sophisticated technology in their new car, including features to regulate automatically the car, if it detects a the driver has fallen asleep, Mercedes makes a proclamation: because the race to perfection has no finish line.
How true, how true. This slogan captures the ultimate root and result of human behavior. People may claim to pursue excellence, peace, fame, wealth, or popularity, but at the bottom of this striving is a need to be perfect. This perfection may be better understood as being completely acceptable and entirely without blemish.
Christian theology defines this state of being utterly perfect and completely acceptable with the term “righteousness.” It is a state where no blemish, shortcoming, or guilt is counted against a person before God. Until a person has this righteousness, he or she never will experience the kind of rest that satisfies.
What Mercedes gets so well is that perfection has no finish line. The mode by which Mercedes seeks perfection is connected to performance and effort. This luxury car company promises the continual pursuit of perfection in their cars. The books of Romans describes this as a righteousness attached to law. Personally, people try to take matters into their own hands and work their way to a place of greater perfection and increased peace.
In this same passage in Romans, the Apostle Paul proclaims a righteousness that comes by grace. In reality, this is a status as perfectly acceptable that is given to a person, not earned through performance. This righteousness was earned by Jesus and is freely given to people through confidence in Christ and His work on the Cross.
Part of the allure of owning a Mercedes is a step of progress towards a more perfect status. It is an offer putting that movement towards perfection within the control of a prospective client. Mercedes’ uses the word “perfection” in their advertisement strategically and well. However, their slogan captures the miserable failure of performance-based righteousness: it has no finish line. It never ends. One never comes to rest through it. Only through an inherited perfection can one begin to approach the peace of being perfectly acceptable.