I spent some time on the road today and as I was coming home I was listening to NPR. This may not be a good thing to admit but I like to listen to "All Things Considered." Not sure why, but there you are. Anyways, they were interviewing a couple of former pastors. Former because they had left the faith and embraced atheism. From time to time I hear about folks who have left the faith and I'm always intrigued by their stories.
The people being interviewed today came from different backgrounds; I believe one was a former Pentecostal, the other a former Methodist. But though their traditions were different they both shared a common complaint about Christianity.Their main point of contention was that they didn't like the idea of people having to live in fear of God's anger. They were opposed to the idea of being having to live perfect lives to appease God. They thought it unrealistic to expect people to do enough good works to outweigh the bad and escape God's wrath. And it's fascinating to me that these things drove them away from the faith because I agree with them. I don't like the idea of people having to live in fear of God's anger. I too am opposed to the idea of having to live a perfect life to appease God. As one who frequently sins and misses the mark I find it unrealistic to expect people (and myself) to do enough good works to outweigh the bad.
But here's the thing--that's the whole point of the gospel. We can't appease God so Jesus has appeased Him on our behalf. He is our substitute, the Lamb who has taken away our sins; He is the propitiation for our sins; God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. See, because of Jesus I don't have to live in fear of God's anger--His anger was poured out on Jesus on the cross. I don't have to live a perfect life to appease God because Jesus, my substitute, has lived a perfect life in my place--and by repentance and faith, His perfect life, His righteousness is imputed to me; I'm robed in His righteousness and have a perfect standing with the Holy Judge of the Universe. I don't have to do enough good works to outweigh my bad because my righteousness is hidden in Christ; I don't have to worry about escaping the wrath of God because His wrath was poured out on Jesus--God's wrath was satisfied when Jesus drank the cup of sacrifice on my behalf.
It was heartbreaking to me to hear these former ministers who had obviously missed the point of Christianity. Our faith is not about doing good to please God, it's about resting in the good that Jesus has done on our behalf. And these guys missed it; they never really got the gospel. Years were spent in prayer and study and preaching and ministering to others--but they never got it.
And so the point of this post is twofold; first, it's a caution for me to continually guard my heart and always rest in the finished work of Jesus. We are naturally inclined to pharisaism. We are natural born legalists. We want to keep lists and check sheets and all these things that chip away at the gospel. We get so good at keeping our lists that we forget about the cross. We forget that Christ has done away with our lists and our works and our righteousness. None of those things earn us any favor from God--Christ has earned us favor with God. And we rest in Him and His finished work. The second thing to consider is this--have you gotten the gospel? I don't mean do you know the story, can you recite it to me, can you quote the scriptures, etc. I mean, is your hope built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness? Are you resting in what Jesus has done, or do you attempt to add to it with your own good works? May we continually guard our hearts against missing the point of the gospel and may we continually rest in the finished work of Jesus and glory in His righteousness rather than our own.