You may find this hard to believe, but when I was in ninth grade, I could dunk a basketball. One-handed, two-handed, tomahawk, gorilla – you name it I could do it. 

You see, my friend Monty had a basketball goal in his back yard with a rim that was six feet off the ground. That’s right, six feet. I could dunk the ball standing flat footed. It made for a lot of fun and was enormously ego-building. 

The problem was that on a real basketball court I wasn’t an especially good player. With my astounding twelve-inch vertical leap, I could barely touch the bottom of the backboard. Against real competition, with real equipment, real referees, and real rules, I couldn’t dunk. I stunk. Lowering the goal didn’t help me play better basketball, and in many ways, it probably made me an even worse player. 

Goals exist for a reason. Whether in basketball, life, career, or relationships, goals represent a standard or an ideal. They represent something we strive to attain, something that stretches us, challenges us, and promotes growth. Whenever we “lower the goal” we’re simply cheating ourselves out of reaching our potential.

Christians are challenged to, in the words of Oswald Chambers, to give “their utmost for his highest.” Jesus said it best: “Therefore you are to be perfect, even as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 5.48). You can’t set the rim any higher. 

When we read passages like that, we shake our heads and think, “Surely Jesus didn’t mean that.” But God the Father says, “Thus you shall be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11.45b). God doesn’t lower the goal. 

What all of this means is that God himself is the standard of what he expects his people to be. Our holiness must resemble his holiness. Our righteousness must resemble his righteousness. Our love must resemble his love. Our forgiveness must resemble his forgiveness. Our mercy must resemble his mercy. 

Whenever we lower the goal, we flip the script. We become the standard, not God. We think that by lowering the goal it makes the standard more attainable. What it really does is make the standard less meaningful and less desirable. Holiness mixed with sin isn’t holiness. Love tainted by hate isn’t love. Forgiveness mingled with resentment and bitterness isn’t forgiveness. Mercy shaded with prejudice isn’t mercy.

Ultimately, lowering the goal is simply a form of idolatry, a way of putting something ahead of God. We don’t need any more idols in this world. We need the clear, unchanging, and lofty standards that reflect the holiness of God himself.