Norio gets up early every work day. He wants to make sure that he gets to work on time. At his job on an assembly line he gets paid by the piece. His boss, Kyu, is demanding and makes sure all of his workers get their quotas filled each day. Norio worries some days that he won’t make it. One day last week he wasn’t feeling good and he missed his quota. He was warned that if he couldn’t keep up there were many others waiting to take his job. He didn’t like his boss. He felt like he was on a treadmill that kept getting faster and faster. Maybe it was because he was getting older now and just didn’t have the same energy he used to. He wondered how much longer he could keep up. But he kept pushing himself because he needed the money. Twice a month the workers lined up to receive their pay. All of the pieces they assembled were tallied and they got what was due them. Norio knew that his production was down and just as expected his pay reflected his lagging work. He was uneasy thinking that his job may be given to someone else. He felt depressed, and there seemed to be no end in sight. Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
No Rest For The Guilty
Many Christians today feel like Norio. Their view of Christianity is like Norio’s Job. God to them is like a boss who they don’t particularly like but serve him out of necessity. He is a hard and exacting master. Their relationship to him is based on how well they perform. The rules are hard to keep because the boss requires not only outward conformity, but also obedience in the mind and heart. They know that be they ever so careful to keep the external rules that they fall woefully short internally. Their inability to measure up weighs heavy on them. The guilt they carry can be crushing. Sometimes they try to assuage it by strict discipline. They think, if only I penalize myself for my sins the boss will look well on me. Other people look at a person like this as a great Christian. “Look at the disciplined life he leads! He is such a spiritual person. What an example of godliness!” But the person’s guilt lingers. He does like the attention he gets from others about how good a Christian he is, so he keeps up the outward appearances of godliness yet all the while his nagging guilt gives him no rest.
Other people, because of an inadequate view of God’s requirements, think that they do measure up to the standard and so begin to find comfort in their performance. They have reduced God’s moral law to an achievable set of external rules. Their life is defined by these regulations. Many of the rules they abide by are commendable things while others have no basis in God’s Word. Nevertheless they see themselves as righteous because they have strict rules and they keep them well. These people tend to be proud and look down on others who don’t measure up to their standards. They may think to themselves “that person couldn’t be a Christian because they smoke” or “she looks too trendy to be a godly person”. Sometimes they see that they have failed and make up for it by even more discipline. They get up earlier, read their Bible longer, and pray more often. They stop wearing makeup and give up their high heels. They stop keeping up with their favorite sports team. They fast more often. They begin to feel good about themselves again because they have more discipline and higher standards than other Christians. They tend to withdraw from the world into isolation fearing lest some of the evil of the world will rub off on them or their children. Surely God is pleased with them because they are so holy.
While some people with this view of Christianity turn to strict discipline and outward appearances, others give up entirely. The treadmill of working to be right with God is running too fast and they see that they are utterly incapable of earning favor with God. To these people the burden of guilt is too heavy so they quit. They turn from God and begin to live for themselves. There are many atheists who grew up on the religious treadmill.
That's Not Christianity?
Though I labeled it Christianity, none of what I described above is Christianity. Just like in the other religions of the world, achieving the desired end is based on personal performance. A summary of this and all false methods of salvation could be do this and live. People think God will look well on them if either they perform well, or when they fail to make amends by some punishment or remedial good works.
None Of Us Are Good Enough
One thing is overlooked in these schemes of salvation. Nothing short of perfect righteousness is acceptable to God. Contrary to popular belief God sees even our best efforts as unrighteous if done outside of Christ. The prophet Isaiah proclaims, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” Isaiah 64:6. The prophet is speaking of our good things here and discloses that God views them as a vile thing. How is it possible to please God if the best things we have to offer are disgusting? The apostle Paul in addressing the Romans said concerning Jews and Gentiles “What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Romans 3:9-12. He goes on to say “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:19,20.
The Uniqueness Of True Christianity
Scripture is clear, it is impossible for sinful men to please God through their works. And herein lays the uniqueness of biblical Christianity; that people are not made right in God’s sight based on their own works, but by God’s gracious provision of a perfect substitute, to be both punished on account of their sins and to give them his perfect righteousness. This is the beauty of the gospel: that the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, coequal and coeternal with the Father took upon himself humanity and was born into this world by the Holy Spirit from the womb of the virgin Mary. He became as a man what Adam failed to be- the perfect head of a new humanity. Just as all of Adam’s offspring are subject to the guilt and curse of sin, all of Christ’s spiritual offspring enter into the blessings of eternal life through faith in him.
Jesus Christ is the reason that God can show, what is a foreign concept in all false religion, grace. Grace is the operative word in the Christian faith. Though the Hebrew and Greek words translated grace in the English Bible have several possible meanings, the most common meaning, especially in reference to salvation is unmerited favor. God was willing to look upon a fallen race of wicked and rebellious men and women and through nothing good in themselves to commend them to him, freely and without obligation showed them grace.
God Owes No One Mercy
Grace is God’s free and unearned favor so that no one may say God owes me mercy. You see, by definition if it is earned then it is not of grace. The apostle Paul speaking of the Jews who believed in Christ made the point that even among God’s Old Covenant people they had no claim to his mercy. “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace:” Romans 11:6a. Paul teaches in this passage that grace cannot be earned and we cannot receive it as a result of works.
The Power Of Grace
There is another definition of grace that focuses on the effect of grace. It has been popularly stated as the desire and power to do God’s will. This is a good definition as it applies to certain passages that focus on God’s grace producing power in us to accomplish his will. James 4:6 is one such passage. “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” First, humility itself is the result of grace (Galatians 5:22,23) so it is wrong to think that this passage is teaching that we can merit grace. The recipients of God’s unmerited favor receive the ability to overcome sins and do God’s will as they walk in the Spirit and not according to the flesh (Galatians 5:16). The important thing to remember is that “it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13. So there are no meritorious deeds or attitudes that we present to God to receive his grace, we only operate within the grace he has already provided. When a Christian humbles himself to receive power to overcome his lusts as in James 4:6, he must acknowledge that any humility that he may possess is a gift of God. I am not saying that Christians don’t exert effort in the Christian life for it is one of continual striving after true conformity to the Son of God, only that the ground of our acceptance as persons and of our works is completely upon the merits of Christ alone. Without Christ our works would be detestable to a holy God, but wrought in Christ they are the sweet savor of his yet imperfect children.
The Do This And Live Test
There are many people who misunderstand grace and try to merit God’s favor through works due to false implications they draw from James 4:6. Test yourself. Do you operate on the principle of do this and live. Is your obedience to God geared toward meriting his favor or is it the gracious outflow of a changed heart. Do you ever think to yourself after committing some sin, “I can’t come to God now for his forgiveness; first I have to prove to him I am serious by reforming my ways”? Do you ever give money or time to Christian ministries thinking that you have purchased some favor with God? Do you view how you compare to others as the standard by which you measure yourself before God? Do you look to the modesty of your dress or the method that you use to teach your children or even the good standards by which you try to live as the ground of your acceptance with God? If you ever view your standing with God based on your own works and not on the merits of Christ alone then you misunderstand the nature of grace.
Free From The Treadmill
In its fundamental meaning grace is the kindness of God bestowed upon undeserving sinners for Christ’s sake. This kindness of God towards us comes before anything good that we may do as Paul explains in the book of Romans. “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8. This is something to rejoice in! This is the good news! We, having no righteousness of our own are accepted by trusting in the works of the only one that is truly acceptable. This good news frees us from the treadmill of trying to gain acceptance with God on our merits. We are accepted if we are joined to Christ by faith, period. No matter how wicked we may have been God extends his grace even to the chief of sinners. Paul said, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” Galatians 2:16.
The Free Gift Of God
And this is why the Seewald’s need the gospel. We have no righteousness of our own. We are not better than other people. We were lost in our sins when the kindness of God appeared to us. When each one of us at different times and ways perceived the grace of God towards us we were enabled by the same grace to believe unto salvation. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8.