I’m like so many Christian people out there. I’ve spent the majority of my life struggling to be perfect, striving for God’s approval, hoping for the admiration and good opinion of others. I heard the gospel from a young age and joined the family of Christ when (I think) I was 9 years old.
If you’re not sure what the gospel is, have a read of this: What is The Gospel?
The gospel is something that should fill us with joy..but for a long time, the joy and the freedom that the Bible speaks of just didn’t make sense to me. Let me clarify: I was definitely grateful for what Jesus did for me. But the unhappiness, pain and disappointment stemming from the sinful nature of people that runs rampant, combined with my own rebellion from the things I knew Jesus wanted from me, caused me to think that my joy was purely to come from my hope of eternal life with Christ. I’ve spent so long thinking that I could justify myself and when I’ve done enough for God to be pleased (and when I have the approval of everyone else), then and only then, will I find true joy on earth.
The gospel was not my working theology: Mine was moralism and legalism — a religion of duty and self control through human willpower. The goal was self-justification, not the justification by faith in Christ that the gospel offers. (Rose Marie Miller)
It doesn’t take long to realise that going to a certain number of church services, being involved in different ministries, trying to keep friendships alive, having family as a priority, working full time, looking after a house and trying to look good while doing them all is hard work. And if you’re anything like me, it doesn’t take long to burn out. It doesn’t take long to realise that doing stuff out of duty, or ‘because I know it’s the right thing,’ doesn’t bring joy. It’s actually more of a trap and will, eventually, lead you away from Christ.
This weekend I was given a huge reminder:
Galatians 5:4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law. (ESC) If you try to please God by obeying the law, you have cut yourself off from Christ. (CEV) If you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ. (NLT)
Have you ever felt like an outsider trying to earn your belonging? Are you ignoring Christ’s pursual because you’re ashamed of the expectations you’re not living up to or because you’re stubbornly trying to pay your way into the family of God?
If you’re trying to please God and be seen as right in his eyes by the things that you do, you have separated yourself from him.
In her book, From Fear to Freedom, Rose Marie Miller’s husband, Jack, characterizes self-justification as orphanhood:
- Orphans have to take care of themselves.
- Orphans must be strong.
- Orphans must protect themselves from being taken advantage of.
- Orphans cannot depend on anyone.
- Orphans cannot be weak.
- Orphans crave to be taken in and loved but doubt they ever will.
- Orphans want to be accepted, to belong.
- Orphans only trust themselves.
- Orphans cannot get too close.
- Orphans are on the outside looking in.
Are you trying to do the Christian thing, but feel like you’re failing? Sure, you might be getting everything done..but are you filled with joy? Realising that the Christian life is not one that can be lived without Christ (because if we didn’t need Christ, then he died for no reason) liberated me this weekend. The Christian life can only be lived when we rely on the Holy Spirit:
Galatians 3:3-6 How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing? Surely it wasn’t in vain. I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ. In the same way, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith (NLT).”
God doesn’t care if I am weak, or if I wear certain clothes, or if I do everything correctly to the letter. He doesn’t care if I’m married, if I’m single, if I have 1 friend or 100. He doesn’t care if I’m involved in every ministry at church, or if I’m involved in 1. None of these things are conditions set by God in order to come to him.
God has never asked me to be perfect. In fact, if I was perfect, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to save me. The fact that I am flawed and sinful and utterly depraved makes God’s grace the most beautiful and unfair gift – because it’s not something I can ever pay back.
Are you like me? Do you find the approval of others worth far more than it should be? Do you feel like you have to work and work and work to receive God’s favour? Do you feel like you’re the only one who struggles with a facade of flawlessness?
You don’t need to be perfect anymore. Jesus is perfection for us and we can’t get any more perfect than that. When you have been declared as righteous through Christ, there is nothing else you can do to better your status with God.
Living to please God — repenting of the true guilt that comes when we put anything besides God at the center of our lives, trusting in the blood of Christ to cleanse the conscience of dead works, and relying on the power and presence of the Holy Spirit for the tasks of the day — is truly the liberated way to live. (Rose Marie Miller)
The gospel is everything on it’s own.