Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Religion vs. the gospel

So, no, I'm not going to do a huge treatise on this topic! It's just that I've been reading this amazing book called The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. I highly recommend it, whether you're a believer or a skeptic or something in-between.

Anyway, my pastor (who is having my guys read this book for their Monday night "theological session" they have with him) recommended I read the chapter titled "Religion and the Gospel" first. He said, "This chapter is you and me." He knows me very well, since I've had a few very long talks with him before when my brain was having spiritual issues ;-). And he was right! I read it this morning while I was at the doctor's office "waiting out" my allergy shots (I have to sit there and wait for 30 minutes after I get them so they can make sure I'm not gonna have a bad reaction and cark it in that time -- of course, I could still have a bad reaction HOURS later and potentially cark it, but, understandably, they don't really want me to live at their office!)

The chapter was amazing. I mean, so blatantly obvious to people who "get" grace. But to those of us who struggle with it, it was just ... amazing. To start with he describes the difference in "religion," which is working to please God, to rack up points or whatever, to earn our way into heaven. And grace is what Jesus did for us. He called that the "gospel" in order to differentiate. Okay, yeah, I know all that stuff. "For by grace are ye saved, through faith; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast." Ephesians 2:8-9 (I did that from memory -- I mean, you grow up in an evangelical church, you can rattle that one off at the drop of a hat.) I totally believe it ... for salvation. But what about for my daily life? And here I'm mixing book and Stacy for a sec ...

I have a very hard time accepting that I don't have to WORK to please God, i.e. to garner favor with Him, approval, acceptance on a sort-of "sub-salvation" level. Okay, yeah, I'm accepted for salvation because of His grace. But then after that, don't I have to prove to Him what a sincere, serious Christian I am? Don't I have to have all the little checkboxes checked off on the "good Christian list" in order for Him to truly approve of me, to really love me the way He loves, say, Billy Graham? And then don't I have to really show the world what a good Christian I am (presumably so they can admire my Christlikeness and want to become a Christian themselves)? Don't I need to "come apart and be separate" by having my pro-life bumpersticker, by verbally disdaining all things that are opposed to my viewpoints and way of life, by shunning the "other" (as the book puts it)? "Oh, God, thank you that I am not like those stinkin' pro-choice jerks ..."

Hold it. That sounds kinda familiar. Like ... hmmm ... oh, yeah, I know. Like the Pharisees. The ones who thought they had to have all the checkboxes checked, and knew it was impossible, so they vaunted themselves up above everyone else in order to feel good about their religion. (And I used that word "religion" intentionally.)

Oh, boy. Hittin' a little close to home, here. This is my hugest struggle with my faith. The difference between legalism and grace, between "pleasing God" so He'll like me ("tui moment" as they say in New Zealand, translated as -- Yeah Right), and obeying because I love my Father and enjoy doing things that please Him.

I am accepted already! There was a line from the book that I'll see if I can remember: Something like, "I'm so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, but He loves and treasures me so much, He was glad to do it." Whoa. Seriously? I mean, yes, my spirit believes that with everything I have. But my head cannot get itself even remotely around that. I'm accepted just ... just because of God's love for me? It doesn't have anything to do with the fact that I go to the "right" church, that I sing on the Praise Team, that I'm pro-life and anti-gay, that I hold myself "above" the culture, that I disdain atheists and liberals, that I'm a good Republican (albeit pretty middle-of-the-road), that I don't drink and I don't swear, and I don't even like most of what's on TV these days? I don't get POINTS for any of that? Jesus loves me regardless of my score?

I know that doesn't mean that being pro-life is Pharisaical, or that keeping myself as unsullied by the culture as possible is a bad thing. But the thing is, I find myself counting on those things to get me God-points, in addition to the very real convictions that lie behind my stance on them. And it makes me very judgmental (see previous post). And angry at the world in general. Which is stressful and not good for my health. Because, you see, there's no way in hell (gasp! I used a bad word!) that I can possibly get all the checkboxes marked off! I'm human! God knows I can't do that! That's why He sent Jesus in the first place -- the whole checkbox system wasn't working, the Old Covenant was impossible for us to achieve, all it could really do was point out to us how desperately we need God for our salvation.

So, anyway, I have faced this concept before and marveled at it and held it to my heart for awhile and then let the "checkbox mentality" of legalism creep its way back into my head and heart. But I'm miserable when I do that! I beat myself up, I judge others, I just don't live the life God intended in any form or fashion. So I'm praying that God will help me to GRASP this grace thing once and for all! To understand that HE LOVES ME, period. There's a Newsboys song that has a line in it that says, "He doesn't love us 'cause of who we are; He only loves us 'cause of Who He is." He chose to love me before the beginning of the world, and (here comes a cliche, but a really cool one) there's nothing I can do to make Him love me more, and there's nothing I can do to make Him love me less.

I really need to keep that at the forefront of my brain! (And tattoo it on my hands or somewhere I'll see it alot!)

Well, my brain runneth over, but I have to go pick Aidan up from drama rehearsal in a few minutes, so I'll just leave it at this for now. Christianity -- the GOSPEL, not the religion -- is absolutely the most beautiful, amazing deal ever. And I am so thankful that God blessed me with faithful parents, teachers, pastors, friends so that I am still here, following Christ, sticking it out, enduring. I mean, because, really ... what better deal is there?

1 comment:

Artful Pioneer said...

The biggest, fattest, most emphatic AMEN I can give in this comment box!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :)