grace reflections

When the Gospel Isn’t Enough

October 23, 2010

Sometimes the Gospel is not enough. Our flesh and our pride cry out that something must be done on our part to earn us favor with God, and so the Gospel simply can’t be enough. Sometimes they whimper and other times they scream in rage, but they let their voice be heard nonetheless. How could one man’s atonement for our sins be sufficient to satisfy the wrath of God against us, forever? And so it creeps upon us, we feel we must…do something to go along with it: something to keep us there, to preserve our place before the throne.

And so we pursue those things that we believe to be dear in God’s eyes. How can doing so be so wrong?

There is a certain level to which some of us enjoy and yearn for suffering, both in private and in public. In private, it makes us feel that we are earning a sense of entitlement to the presence and nearness of God that we wouldn’t have otherwise. While private suffering is a gift from God that is a tool to shape us, it is Christ who is the One who has earned us any entitlement into the presence of God. We cannot earn our way there. It is here where this is dangerous, for we are tempted to think that since others are unaware of the trial/suffering that we most certainly must be right in our hearts toward God regarding any opinion we have on our present affliction. The danger is ever present, yet in those moments of quiet sufferings, when we feel near to God, let us bask in that nearness knowing that we stand before Him, having exchanged His robes for mine. May we cast away the smugness that creeps in as we observe the true fruit of our suffering being wrought within us.

Let us not magnify that which is not great suffering, and let us not heap upon ourselves that which is not true suffering. We have assurance that we will suffer if we are His children, both through chastisement and through trials. But it is the hand of God that bestows us with such gifts, not our own. If we feel far from Him, then let us simply cry out to Him, and tell Him that we feel so. Do not let our motivation as we endure suffering be that we may try to earn our way back to Him, for we already have place with Him. If we feel far from God, it is our own feeling of distance that we have created.

But public knowledge of our suffering or bearing burdens is perhaps where it is more likely for us to magnify our suffering, for we wish to heap unto ourselves pity, admiration, and praise. The pain is no doubt real, but so can be the pride. Endeavor instead to let God do His work in the suffering. When you are the observer, show love and pity; but when you are the sufferer, seek your solace from God.

There is also a certain level to which we feel strong by the adding of burdens. Whether we heap them upon ourselves or upon others, our elevating the minor issues to the level of the weighty things is nothing short of Pharisaic. But we do it still, and call ourselves strong, pure, and mature for our striving. The soon result is our dismay that we can’t measure up, but that we are striving, striving, striving without the hope of Christ’s perfection in view, only the hope deferred of our own self-achieved perfection. When others are falling into sin (or simply not bearing our self-made burdens), we take refuge in the assurance that we, on the other hand, are diving into piety and perfectionism, straining at gnats to makes certain all is well in our souls. We elevate the little things to such high degree that we are rendered incapable of becoming all things to all men, and by elevating these small things we  thereby denigrate the value of truly weightier things. (thought generated by summary of sermons by J.D. Crowley)

“The righteous standing we have before God in Christ may be ours by Christ’s work on the cross, but we must do something to keep ourselves there,” our hearts cry out again and again. And yet at the very hint of this, we must slam the door shut on such a notion and preach the Gospel to our hearts again and again.

“Pride foolishly thinks it can win over besetting temptations by resolutions, determination, trying harder, and all manner of fleshly mechanisms common to proud humans. After sinful failure a guilty soul vows never to do it again, but then to one’s dismay, temptation comes in an unexpected weak moment and failure once again follows. Disgust, disappointment with one’s self, bewilderment, and questions settle upon one’s soul. How slow we are to learn the lesson stated so well by Major Ian Thomas, “O Lord, I can’t; you never said I could. You can; You always said You would.” It is a process of learning to accept our weakness and to rely upon His strength. Sometimes it is a slow process, but wholly worth the pursuit.” –Jerry White

How quickly the paradox that we are to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness, but that it is Christ who is working in us to conform us to His image becomes no more paradox, and the weight of our godliness rests solely on our own resolve. After great periods of self-introspection we conclude  that our weaknesses can be remedied by an increase our own strength. But it cannot, and the paradox must remain.

And so we find that the Gospel isn’t enough for us.

“What takes a person to heaven is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. What takes a person to heaven is not election, not faith, not commitment, not anything but the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. Everything else has its place, but the perfect and absolute moral perfection of Jesus Christ is one’s ticket to heaven. Reject the only Savior God gave to obtain a perfect righteousness in the place of undeserving sinners, then you will answer to God for your own moral imperfections.” –Wade Burleson

The absence of sinless perfection is a perfect reminder that we’re still sinners. While a growing Christian should be less and less the performer of besetting sins, he is still beset by sin. And so let every sin be set as a constant reminder that the sinning man still needs Jesus, not only to save him from sin unto salvation but to save him from sinning.

The Gospel is always enough. When it’s not, that’s when we’re in need of it most. When the Gospel isn’t enough, those other things that are enough are better known as idols. The manifestations of such idols are endless. Strive, not because of what you wish to attain, but because of what has already been attained through Christ Jesus..

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