When I was growing up, I had some pretty specific factors that let me know I was progressing in my relationship with God.
- Consistent Bible reading (and the earlier in the morning the better).
- Faithful church attendance (and the closer you sat to the front the better).
- Share Christ with at least one student in the school lunchroom (and the more popular the kid the better).
- Wear a Jesus t-shirt to class twice a week (and the more obnoxious the play-on-words the better).
- Give at least 10% in the offering plate (and for bonus points a missions pledge is even better).
- Invite 5 classmates to Wednesday night youth group (and the cuter the girls the better – hey, we’re Christians but we’re still human).
And these are all good things (OK, except the Jesus t-shirts, can we all just agree?). But trying to keep God happy by keeping the effort flowing was exhausting somedays. Worse yet, living in guilt and depression when I missed one (or 10) was flat out overwhelming.
So when I heard that a new wave of church people were starting to shed their “make God happy with piety” baggage, I was intrigued. After all, that stuff is all inward, build-the-structure-and-religion-of-the-organized-church focused anyway, right? It’s time to live “beyond the walls” and learn what God really wants from us as be-ers of church, not just go-ers to church.
So I found a new list of things that would prove to me I was progressing in my relationship with God.
- Speak out against injustice (and the more liked Facebook causes the better).
- Move my family into an unsafe part of the city (and the more uncomfortable they are the better).
- Stop caring about money (and the less we have the better).
- Start questioning the scriptural validity of the organized church (and the more cynical you are the better).
- Invite kids in crisis to stay in my home (and the more Instagram photos the better).
And all these things are good (except the cynicism, can we all just agree?). But as the years dragged on, I started realizing I was still exhausted. I was still as guilt-ridden. It was just coming from a new set of performance expectations. My identity and place with God was simply being fueled by a new, hipper, trendier list of do-it-yourself standards.
So what does all this mean? Should we stop reading our Bibles? Should we stop caring for orphans?
Of course not.
But when we begin to define the fruit of our lives as the root of our lives, we’re heading for trouble. Your identity, your acceptance, your value, your place in Christ is defined by His work for you, not by your work for Him. Only when you come to terms with the humbling reality of an “It Is Finished” Gospel will you ever get out from under the exhaustion and guilt that earn-as-you-go Christianity has dumped on your shoulders.
We impulsively transform good and Godly things – our piety, devotion, and service – into the defining factors for God’s pleasure with us. Or as Pastor Tullian Tchividjian says, we turn good things into ultimate things. We love to be in control, and ironically that turns us into slaves instead of sons.
The Gospel must be our daily fuel. Our identity is secured. Our value is determined. Our place is given not earned. Because of what Jesus has done, not because of anything we do. Now we can live, love, learn, and serve from a place of freedom.
We don’t earn as we go, it’s been earned so let’s get going.