I was meeting with a guy some time ago who said he wanted his spiritual life to grow. He wanted to get serious about his spirituality but felt stuck in neutral, so to speak. He was frustrated by his apathy and wanted to take following Jesus to the next level.
My mind immediately began to go into action as he was talking, thinking of ways he could increase the intensity of his devoutness (is that even a word??). I thought of ways he could pray more. I thought of ways he could dig into God’s Word. Maybe a Bible-reading plan would help? I thought that sometimes the best way to break out of a funk is to serve others… how could he do that? Thankfully, in that flurry of thought, I caught myself.
I told him first, “Cut yourself some slack. I’ll bet you are very hard on yourself.” He said he was. It stemmed from his early years in his childhood church and how he learned to follow Jesus growing up. I continued, “God knows your heart. He knows right now that you’re talking to me about knowing Him more deeply. He knows you have that desire. I know He is smiling about that right now. You are not as apathetic as you think or you wouldn’t be having these desires. Cut yourself some slack.”
All of us so easily fall into a trap of measuring our own righteousness. We measure it by how much we pray. We measure it by how much we read our Bibles. We measure it by our behavior day-by-day. We measure how we talk, what we drink, and even by how much or what we eat. We measure ourselves against others. But when we measure, by definition, we are self-righteous. We become legalists. We become like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day.
Our righteousness is found only in Christ. It is not found in what we do, it is found in what He has already done. As God’s Word says:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6, NIV)
For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17, NLT)
That is why we need a Savior.
As our meeting ended, I asked my friend to read a book that set me free from this trap. It’s by Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian. It’s called “One Way Love”. It has been eye-opening and life-changing. I highly recommend it.
The Gospel has come to set us free from the trap of performance-ism. We don’t have to work to please God. When we think upon Him, even just desiring to know Him more, I know it pleases Him.
I know He smiles.
(To find out more about this transforming encounter with God’s grace, read “One Way Love”, available at your favorite bookstore or at Amazon.com HERE.)