He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:15-23, ESV)
What if God really is as radically forgiving as the Bible claims He is? What if the pure, unadulterated redemptive work of the Gospel of Christ was the only thing we ever needed and will ever need? What if forgiveness really is that deep and everything I try to do on a daily basis to live up to some mythical standard and appease an "angry" God is just a large load of religious rhetoric? "Of course it's that way!" you scoff in response. But if that is so, why do we continue to live out a Gospel of fear and minimize the enduring importance of Christ's incredible provision of His life for ours as enough? I'd venture to say it is because we're afraid it wasn't enough and now God expects something more from us.
My friend Dan called me a few weeks ago and asked "Why do so many Christians ignore the Gospel?" Ordinarily, I might find this question as absurd as the series of questions I opened this entry with. We don't ignore the Gospel. We are saved by the Gospel (for crying out loud)! But my response was quite different. I headed to my room (with him on the phone) and read the passage I had read that morning from one of Jerry Bridges' works. The essence was, that we embrace the Gospel as the "point of entry" and then proceed to rely on our own actions and works to explain what Bridges called "good days and bad days" in our Christian life.
This idea percolated for a while until I decided to write this post. It happens to be that this coming Wednesday is the start of Lent, wherein millions will give up something they normally consider enjoyable until Easter as a reminder to themselves of what the season means. This morning, my pastor hit the entire concept home with me while preaching from Matthew 16. Sam noted that Jesus' calling to give it all up ("deny self" in verse 24) was an invitation to radical selflessness. He has revealed to His disciples what will be happening over the coming days and they are confused. In their twisted view, the Messiah was to be a conquering hero. For Him to willingly go to His own death was absurd! And yet, that is the heart of the Gospel ... God in the person of Jesus doing something selfless for us so we could attain His glory.
I need to return to the Gospel every day of my life and recognize that all my efforts, noble as they may be, are worthless ("filthy rags" Paul called them). So while abstaining for the Season of Lent or any other reason may make me feel good, if I mistakenly add some level of spiritual achievement or piety to it, I am as guilty of being selfish as one who has never embraced the Gospel.
And no, this doesn't mean right actions, heart, and mind are not important. It just means that I should never let them out of their proper place. God isn't sitting there waiting to judge me on my actions ... the judgment for them has been entered into the record long ago. I deserve eternal separation. But because of the Gospel, I have an Advocate who paid the price in full and the is absolutely nothing else I can add to it. So, in my joyful response, I may live out a life that pleases Him, but I cannot (no I WILL NOT) think for one minute that what I do puts me any closer to God than the Gospel already did.
As I travel along this Crooked Path, may my heart's prayer change (as my pastor said) from the selfish reflection "Lord, make me who I should be" to "Lord, make me the person You want me to be." And in doing so, may I be so enraptured with who God is and what His Gospel has provided, that I let it define who I am. I can then throw off the gospel of fear and know God has already accepted me, flawed man that I am.
- Do you struggle at times, believing what God provided is enough for now and every day to come?
- Have you been caught up in the lie that you somehow have to work things out or God is waiting to punish you (not discipline, but punish)?
- Are you ready to declare that attitude as selfish, throw it out, and turn to the radical selflessness that ask God to make you who He wants you to be? Can you imagine the freedom from fear in doing just that?