Who Cares About Your Obedience?

When people talk about the grace of God, it doesn’t seem to be an uncommon thing for qualifications, and maybe outright objections, to fly. Usually, the qualifications put on grace have to do with our obedience. “Yes, grace is true in the Bible, but we need to obey God.” Ever heard something like that? Is that true?

I think the heart from which we say stuff like this can be understandable. We don’t want to talk about the grace of God in a way that makes sin out to be, well, not sin anymore; something that doesn’t matter anymore; something that God doesn’t care about. In talking about grace, we want to maintain that some things are still sinful and we ought to avoid sin. Whether you are a Christian or not, sin remains what it is: sin. God’s commands don’t change. However, we often go further, if not in our words, then in our hearts, when we think and talk about obedience.

Slowly and subtly, we begin to think that obedience is necessary for salvation. We don’t actually believe that on paper. We maintain that we are saved by grace alone, but on a day to day basis, we buy into the lie that we must add to the cross of Jesus. We don’t trust that the cross of Jesus is enough to purchase us God’s total acceptance and love, so we must add to it our earnest commitment, radical surrender, and submission to the commands of God. Thus, we buy into the lie that God loves us because Jesus died for us and because we are submitted to God’s Law, God’s commands. This is not the biblical gospel. And this is not good news at all.

If I am saved by Jesus’ blood and my own righteousness, I have absolutely no assurance, no certainty, and no peace that I am really loved by God, and forever saved. If I am saved, in the tiniest bit, by my righteous surrender, commitment, submission, and obedience to the Law of God, I am hopeless. I am hopeless because when I look within myself, at my obedience to God, all I find is imperfection, sin, unworthiness, and guilt. I do not find, and neither will you find, perfect surrender, commitment, submission, and obedience. And that is what God requires; nothing less.

In fact, the very act of offering to God a “good work” to purchase His love and acceptance is in itself an act of sin. Is. “…all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment…” (Is. 64:6). Man, just when we thought we were doing good stuff, we are called sinners for it! But take heart, the gospel and grace of God for you and me is bigger still! Where our immorality abounds, grace abounds all the more. Where our religious arrogance abounds, grace abounds all the more.

In looking to yourself to find the perfect righteousness God requires, you are believing a false gospel. You are believing something the Bible never teaches, namely, that you can be saved by Jesus plus your own righteousness. For “…we know that a person is not justified by works of the law…” (Gal. 2:16). So, to do such a thing is actual sinful, thus adding to your sinfulness. Yikes.

So, as it concerns your salvation, justification, and righteousness before God, your good works mean absolutely nothing. Despair of them. Forget about them. Your heartfelt surrender, radical commitment, and willingness to obey earns you nothing. God doesn’t care. He doesn’t love you based on your performance, but on Another’s performance. He doesn’t accept you because of you and your works. He accepts you because of Jesus and his work, alone.

Everyday we wake up to this temptation to believe we must add to the work of Jesus. Martin Luther knew this weakness in himself and in us. He said, “The article of justification must be sounded in our ears incessantly because the frailty of our flesh will not permit us to take hold of it perfectly and to believe it with all our heart.” In other words, we must hear constantly that God loves us because of Jesus, not because of anything in us. The good news is that God knows we are weak and he understands, and He sent Jesus to pay for all our sin. 

If you find you struggle to believe the gospel in all its radicality, join the club. By the way, guys like Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, and John Calvin were in the club as well. May God, today, help you believe that you are far worse than you realize, and that God’s grace in Christ is far more powerful and abundant than you could ever dream. It is more than enough for you.

Now, as far as obedience and disobedience goes in the Christian life, God cares, but He will never punish you for your sin. He will never abandon you. He will never forsake you. Because He loves you, He will teach, correct, discipline, and guide you in righteous living, just like any good father would with His kids. But your sin will never make Him love you any less.

In short, I believe God’s commands are not optional now that you are in the grace of God. Here is a way to think of God’s commands as not-optional: God’s commands are not like a father suggesting that his child go play outside, but not demanding him to. “Hey little Timmy, its sunny out, you should consider going outside to play.” That is a suggestion. “Hey little Timmy, its sunny out, go play outside.” That is a command.

The fruit of being made a child of God by the free, ridiculous grace of God, is an ever-changing heart, growing to love more and more the righteous living God calls us to. We learn to love the commands of God, because we see them as from our Father for our good. We make slow, slow beginnings in this process, but one day will forever be made perfect.

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Stop Examining Yourself, Christian

Luke 18:9-14 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

You and I are hardwired to expect to receive only what we have earned. No one expects an ‘A’ on a test they bombed, no one expects a promotion after a year of poor results in the office, no one expects a healthy marriage if one or both spouses fail the other miserably. You get what you work for, you get what you earn.

This is our default thinking and posture before God. You want a prayer life in which you see answered prayers continually? You want to see people respond with faith to your gospel presentation? You want to become a pastor or church-planter? Work hard, spiritually. I mean, you really think God is going to respond to the prayers of a consistent screw-up? You think God is going to bless your missional efforts if you can’t kick your known sin? You think you will “rise” to the top of ministry (excuse me while I go throw up) if you can’t show that you have no known sin you are holding on to? (Yes, you must be biblically qualified, I don’t deny that with that last sentence).

If you are unsure whether or not this is your default way of thinking, think back on the last time you went to church and began to worship, or the last time you prayed for someone, or shared the gospel with someone. Did you start thinking, “Have I been decently holy this week? Have I held anything back from Jesus? How did I do this week?”

If before worship, or whatever, you began to examine yourself, to see if you could proceed with confidence, because you find yourself worthy, you are in a works-based, performance-based trap in that moment. You are believing, am believing in that moment, God is pleased with us and accepts us only as much as we can say, “God, thank you that I am not like those unrighteous, uncommitted, always-failing, consistently-screwing-up sinners. Yes, we are all saved by grace, but thank you that I am doing such a great job now that I am in the kingdom. Thank you that because I am doing well, you will listen to me, or accept my worship.”

We expect to receive only what we have worked for and earned. So we examine ourselves. How are we doing? Are we “fully surrendered“? Have we been radical for Jesus? If our answer to those questions is, “I don’t think so” or “I don’t know,” well, then we proceed with great caution in our relationship with God, if we proceed at all. We believe we will only receive what we have earned. And since we don’t think we have earned much, we might just walk away from prayer or worship in that moment. We don’t ask for mercy, because in that moment we barely believe there is any for us. We don’t understand what the dude above understood that led him to say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Let me cut to the chase, this way of thinking is anti-gospel. This is anti-Christianity. You preach to yourself a works-based “gospel” when you search yourself to find something worthy of God’s acceptance and attention. “I’ve read my Bible a lot this week, so I will sing at church with joy, who knows, maybe even raise my hands, because God is happy with me!” That sounds silly, but don’t we do that?

I am not saying that nothing can hinder our prayer life, see 1 Peter 3:7. I am not saying there is no place for self-examination, see 2 Corinthians 13:5. What I am saying is that when it comes to God’s love for you and acceptance of you, it has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with anything you have done or could do. It has nothing to do with how “surrendered” or “committed” you are.

God’s love for you has everything to do with Jesus performing perfectly on your behalf, being slaughtered in your place, and rising for your new life, all received through simply trusting in all that He did for you. He doesn’t turn away his face from you, or his smile over you, or his ear from you, because you had a bad week as it concerns holy living. Yet, how often do we think He does just that. Let us not look to ourselves for assurance and confidence before God, but to Christ and Christ alone, joining the guy who asked for mercy and “…went home justified before God.”

Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart

ImageI highly, highly recommend Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart to you for 3 main reasons:

1. Many, many Christians struggle with not knowing they are saved. Genuine Christians worry they are not in a true relationship with Jesus, forgiven of their sin, loved by God, and headed for eternal life. Struggling with assurance of salvation can steal your joy and sink you into despair. Knowing you are saved will make you soar with joy. This issue is not talked about much in churches, and it needs to be. J.D. Greear takes this issue head on, and nails it.

2. If you are considering becoming a Christian, or just don’t know what that means, this book is awesome for you. Its pages are smaller and the book is not very long. It is a quick, to-the-point read that gets to the heart of what it means to be a Christian.

3. If you want to grow in helping introduce others to Jesus, this book will be of great help. It will help you learn how to talk with others about the gospel, and what it means to be a Christian. Greear doesn’t specifically talk about “evangelism,” but the topic of the book and the way he wrote it will indirectly help you in evangelism.