I’ve been thinking a lot about the gospel lately. Not so much the gospel in relation to salvation but the gospel as it relates to one’s daily walk as a Christian. To be honest, my experience has been that most Christians live as if to say, “I needed the gospel and God’s grace when I was saved — but then I got over it.” In other words, I come to Jesus by faith through grace but then I live this Christian life pretty much by my own effort and relate to the Father based on my performance. I fear that too many Christians, deep down inside, think that if they DO certain things, then they can get God to come through for them. It’s theology that says, “Although I’m saved by grace, I earn or forfeit God’s blessing in my daily life based on my performance.” But is that true? Is that how God relates to us?
I would submit to you that we are just as dependent upon God’s grace and mercy to live this Christian life as we were to come into a relationship with Him in the first place. The problem is that the average believer doesn’t understand that often because too many preachers reinforce the heresy with moralistic sermons that are gutted of grace — “Do this, don’t do that, live better, work harder, stand up and sit down.” I confess that I’ve been guilty of that kind of preaching. We tell God’s people the demands of the Law but fail to remind them that they can no more properly pursue holiness in their daily lives apart from a radical dependence upon God’s grace than a boat can float without water. The truth is, “all my good works are (still) as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Why? Because I never obey God with perfection and only perfection will do when it comes to God because He doesn’t grade on the curve. One Puritan pastor wrote, “Even our tears of repentance need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb.”
So, where do you go from here? You go back to the cross. You go back to the gospel of grace. For me, I return to the truth that I'm a sinful man who desperately needs the grace of God and all of my righteousness is found in the perfection of Jesus. He perfectly obeyed in my behalf. I continue to imperfectly obey the Father, but my “righteousness” is not found in my being the perfect pastor, because I'm not, but in the perfect obedience of my Savior. Even the relative good that I do and my obedience to God's Word must be filtered through the grid of Christ’s holy and perfect life that's been put to my account. That’s true simply because my “performance,” in and of itself, is never perfectly pure.
So, its just as true for me today as it was when I trusted Christ as my Lord and Savior at the age of 10. “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” Anything more than that puts you on the performance page with God and will lead you either to despair (because you can never measure up) or legalism (even as a Christian I can't perfectly meet God’s standards so I'll make up some rules of my own that I can meet).
As soon as you head down one of those slippery slopes you’ll discover two things: first, you’ll lose your joy in serving Christ and second, your service to God will be primarily out of duty instead of devotion. Your work for God in or out of the church will be from a motive of obligation instead of a passionate love for the Savior. But, when you come to understand how deeply flawed you are, how much you continue to need God’s grace and mercy, and thus how much you have really been forgiven, then your motivation in living for Christ and honoring His Word in your life becomes one of gratitude. Jesus put it this way, “...he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Rev. Cox is minister of Meadowview Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Lexington, North Carolina.