Monday, February 02, 2015
Try-harder Christianity and why it has nothing to do with God
In high school youth group, we sang a song actually titled "Ephesians 2:8 & 9". It's youth-group, 90's style, guys. Some of you know it. Fess up.
Let me refresh your memory - it is comprised of the exact verses, but let's say, flashier than the original text?
"For by grace - doo, do, do, doooo - you have been saaaaaved,
Through faith - (yelled) do, do, do! - and that not of your selves, not of your selves, OH OHHH...
It is the gift of God, not as a result of works (yelled) do, do, do!,
So that no one can boast, NO ONE CAN BOAST, AHH AHH
Ephesians 2:8 and 9, I'm saved till the end of time,
I'm saved by His grace, I'm saved, (big finish) DO, DO, DO, DO!"
You saw that finale coming. But I totally learned those verses. So when we covered them last week in Bible study, I was obviously singing them in my head.
First, we poured over the verses before the song, though, noticing the harsh words used to describe our lives before Christ. "We were dead in our sins...sons of disobedience...children of wrath..."
Then verse 4: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love....made us alive in Christ..."
Those two little words. But God. It's the turning point, and the defining moment that distinguishes our faith from every other faith in the world. Did you know that? Every other faith on the planet hinges on man's work. Man's attempts to reach God. The Bible says the real deal hinges on God's work to reach us.
All the others basically say, "We were children of wrath...But man worked his tail off for his whole life desperately hoping to make it back into God's favor by holding up a long resume of good deeds." They say, "If you just keep trying harder, God might eek out some love for you."
And I COMPLETELY get it. If I'm honest, I wish salvation worked this way. I mean, I don't, because I'd never earn it. But I see how easily I could be tricked into thinking I could. I know achievement. I get the satisfaction of embracing a reward because I've earned it. That feels good and right and fair. It's practically a universal truth: You get what you deserve.
Yet, this is what I read in verse 4: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love..." saved me through Christ.
I did nothing to earn it. Trust me, the first-born in me tries super hard to prove myself to God, but I FAIL him over and over. Not once in a while. Every day. I fail God every day. Thank you, motherhood. Furthermore, I don't truly appreciate or thank Him for his love. But God acted, anyway, despite me.
Since I am tired of nagging my child to practice piano and brush his teeth and wake up on time for school, I started a sticker chart for him. It works for toddlers; I figured why won't it work for big kids who are motivated by earning the carefully rationed golden nuggets called screen time? Well, as soon as he saw that chart, never before has he put so much enthusiasm into all of the above. Like, he was running to complete the boxes.
Know why? Because it's in our blood to perform for a reward. "I do this, you give me that." It's what every person on the planet, from the toddler to the CEO, understands as Fairness.
Our heads spin because God in His mercy is crazy unfair. It's starting to make sense to me why the majority of people in our world will say 'No' to the one true God. They'll shake their heads and furrow their brows and say, "No, free salvation doesn't make sense. I must need to work for this. If there is a God, I'm certainly going to have to prove myself."
I think this attitude breaks God's heart. It's pushing away His free gift of love and saying "No thanks, I'd really rather make up a super complicated, and difficult earning system to show you how good I am and how much I deserve a reward." Let's be very clear: that kind of religion is never about God at all. Not the real God, anyway.
Try-harder Christianity will always be about me and my work. It will always seek to glorify myself and the good things I feel I'm accumulating on my goodness resume.
The Bible says that compared to God's goodness, all our good works are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Think about when all your dishtowels are heavy with damp and yuck and they sit in the laundry room sink for a week (No? Is it just me who does that?). People are living their lives trying to improve their smelly rag piles. Comparing their rag piles. Judging other people's rag piles. People are consumed with building a more impressive rag pile than the next guy. Remember the song/verse? Salvation is a gift of God, "not as a result of works, so no one can boast." I imagine God's like, "Dude, are you really trying to boast about your rag pile? This is about me and my attempt to rescue you; it's not about you and your attempt to deserve it. And if you could deserve it, by the way, how would that be Love?"
In a couple days, before my son wakes up, I'm going to put a sticker in every box for the day. When he comes down for breakfast, I'm going to say, "Guess what? Today, you just get the stickers. For free. Because I love you." Cue hugging and kissing.
I imagine he'll be confused. Aren't we all, by unmerited favor? It's a grace test. I'll keep you posted with the results. One thing I do know: if I am to model God's grace to my kids, then at times, they'll need to get rewards they don't deserve. They'll need to deal with the racy unfairness of real Love.
I'm saved, by His grace, I'm saved.
(Do, do, do, do!)