(Got this image from here, but thought is was perfect!)
Have you ever felt like you’re just not as Christian as you should be? That the “new creation” still looks like the “old creation” or that these white robes you’ve been given just aren’t tailored to fit right?
That producing your “fruits” is taking a lot of effort and after all the work, they come out tasting more bitter than sweet?
Well…maybe you’re trying too hard.
Our culture has engrained in us that you only get what you earn. No free lunch. Reap what you sow. Earn your keep. Pull your weight. Success isn’t going to fall in your lap, you have to work for it. Work your way into heaven.
…did you catch that?
Many of us pay lip service to the concept that you can’t “earn salvation: it’s a free gift.” But while we may say it out loud, we deny it with our lifestyles. We take with us a works-brings-righteousness mentality that sprouts directly from our cultural ideals. It’s a frame of mind that Christians have struggled with since the very beginning.
We all come from a world of rules that govern religion, relationships, and lifestyle. There is a definite input-output formula with how we see things working, and so when we begin to learn about Jesus, salvation, grace and mercy, a lot of the message is foreign. Turn the other cheek? Pray for your enemies? Treat others as if they are better than you?
You can’t earn salvation?
And so we humbly accept with our heads that this is how it’s supposed to be and repeat the phrases we read in the Bible, but we carry with us in the back of our hearts, “It’s not real.” That there is something missing. Some measurable way to see where we stand in God’s favor. Some set of rules or actions to make us feel we’re on the right track. Because…there is no free lunch, you reap what you sow, you have to earn your keep!
Some of us study the scriptures looking for the fine print, “Aha! There it is! Abstain from alcohol! Don’t swear! Don’t eat certain foods! Ostracize smokers! Well maybe it doesn’t say that EXACTLY, but surely that’s what’s implied.” We then use what we feel we’ve discovered and apply it to those surrounding us, either silently or verbally comparing ourselves to those around us; gauging our “status.”
And we never let Christ work.
We try to earn salvation through our actions and deeds. We say with our mouth, “Salvation cannot be earned,” and yet we beat ourselves up for each mistake. We read in the scriptures “There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus,” but turn around and condemn OURSELVES when we feel we don’t measure up. We hear in church worship, “Come as you are,” but try to hide from God and others our sins and failures.
And in our attempts to make ourselves more acceptable to God, more worthy of his “gift” and “love,” what we end up doing is preventing the Holy Spirit from working as effectively in our lives as he otherwise could if we just … let ….go.
Of our control to determine the best course of action. Of our will to determine our spiritual fate.
I firmly believe that the relationship we have with Christ is a partnership, that he wishes to accomplish something WITH us, not force something on us. Many of my previous posts focus on this point. But I wanted to take time to recognize we can also err on trying to do too much on our own. We can forget the promise Christ made to us to conform us to his image. We cannot force the “fruits” to grow, but – as Paul says – the fruits are “natural.” We plant and water the seeds, but it is God that causes the plant to grow.
Submitting to Christ as Lord means more than acknowledging his reign in our minds, but letting it settle in our hearts that we cannot become Christlike on our own. So stop trying, and just live. Because here’s the holy little secret…
…you’re already in…
Whether or not you become perfect in this life, you’re still “in.” You’re not standing outside the college campus, composing an essay to prove you should be accepted into the school. You are, in fact, already inside the classroom, being taught by Christ himself through life experiences and divine guidance.
So, here’s the application.
When circumstances present themselves to act as either the “new self” or the “old self,” you do what you can to hear the call Jesus is making – and you act. You may not have heard right, you may act wrongly or out of selfishness. But so long as you keep attending class and continue to try learning, you’ll pass with an “A+”.
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