Recently I’ve had the wonderful privilege of watching my 1 year old daughter start walking! She’s been taking a few steps for a while but not had the confidence to go off on her own until now. Sometimes she would take a few steps without thinking about it but as soon as she realised that she wasn’t holding onto anything, she’d panic and fall straight onto her bum! It’s funny, when she just relaxed, let go and walked without thinking she did great. When she thought about it for too long and tried to walk she ended up falling over!
It made me think – I can be like that in my walk with God. At times, like my daughter, instead of just relaxing and striding off into the distance, I can try so hard not to fall over that that’s exactly what I end up doing! I foolishly try to be more acceptable to God by being a ‘good Christian’, I try to gain his approval with ‘good works’, I only spend time with him when I feel worthy enough (if I’ve had a ‘good’ week), and it will only lead to a fall. It’s exhausting and it inhibits my relationship with God.
Sam Evans’ recent preach on Romans 3 was such a helpful reminder about the danger of this kind of striving. He said that we often try to justify ourselves; we want to feel worthwhile, accepted, to be valued and validated. But the crazy thing is – no matter how hard we try to gain those things in our own strength, it would never be enough to attain them. We’d never make it, we’d never be worthy enough to win God’s acceptance. Thankfully Romans 3:23 tells us that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Isn’t that amazing! God justifies us when we could never justify ourselves! Jesus makes us acceptable and right with God when we would never get there on our own.
And here’s the really freeing bit – our justification is a no-strings-attached, non-negotiable, free-gift. It’s given freely by his grace (Rom 3). You can’t earn something that’s free! If someone gives you a present for your birthday you don’t throw it back at them or try to show them why you deserve it; you receive it with thankfulness! So if we’ve put our trust in Jesus, we don’t have to strive for that approval or acceptance from God anymore. We don’t have to prove to God why we’re deserving of our justification (we never will be). We just have to receive it with thankfulness because it’s already a given. He’s declared us not guilty. Righteous. Just. Accepted. Worthy. This is our new identity. It’s our DNA now and DNA can’t be changed. We can’t become any more acceptable to God by serving on every team at Church, sharing the gospel with a colleague or by reading our Bible for an hour a day. We also can’t become less acceptable to God by giving into temptation, not spending time with him or missing a few prayer meetings. It’s never been about what we can do – it’s about who we’re with, and we’re with Jesus now. Only Jesus makes us worthy. How freeing!
Despite my often falling back into a striving mindset I find it interesting that Jesus calls us friends not servants (John 15). He wants us to be his friends not task-oriented supporters. Bill Johnson wrote, “obedience is important but a friend has a different motivation – the heart”. A friend acts out of love for another whereas a servant acts out of desire to get things done. Of course we want to fulfill the great commission and all that God has graciously given us to do. But we’re do these things as friends not as hard-working servants.
From that same passage in John 15 Heidi Baker talks about how we’re called to bear fruit. She describes her incredibly influential ministry like this: “We’re just clinging to Jesus and fruit happens. We’re not striving to find fruit but we’re just loving and loving and loving Jesus; and fruit happens”. How liberating that we’re most effective for God when we stop trying to be accepted and effective for God, but we just trust that Jesus is enough! That’s just like God isn’t it!
I have to keep coming back to these truths time and time again as it’s so counter-cultural to the ‘tit-for-tat’, ‘you get what you deserve’ mindset of the world. People says things like, “you don’t get anything for free, what’s the catch?” but there really is no catch with grace. It really is free. We really are 100% righteous, acceptable and loved by God. Yet we deserve the complete opposite – shame, rejection and hate. No wonder they call it the scandal of grace! How wonderful that we can just rest in what Jesus has attained for us. No more striving required!
By Pippa Lloyd