Fearful that Gagarin would defect if his Vostok spacecraft reentered the atmosphere anywhere but over Soviet territory, the Russian space program rigged it with explosive charges that could be detonated by radio signal. Disarming those charges and activating the reentry system was possible only after entering a six-digit code into the onboard computer system. Gagarin had received the first three numbers before his launch. The last three were to be transmitted to him just before firing his retrorockets to slow his descent through the atmosphere.
Luckily, this lack of trust wasn’t shown by Chief Designer Sergei Korolev. Just before Gagarin’s rocket hurled him into space, Korolev pulled him aside and gave him the last three numbers. His faith in Gagarin was relentless; he risked not only his job but his life. Korolev put trust in another, and he was not disappointed—but first, he had to accept the risk.
God’s law isn’t a booster rocket
In the book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul speaks of his life as lived through relentless trust in another. Speaking of the gospel as freedom—as opposed to a new law to launch him into heavenly graces—he wrote: “If I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal 2:18–21 ESV).
Essentially Paul is trying to show us that the Father’s free grace in the Son has eliminated the possibility that we might reach heaven through personal reform in response to divine law. He has come to realize that the law wasn’t a booster rocket; it rendered him powerless. And it did so for one reason—namely, to turn him from his fixation on himself and his self-improvement projects to God and his grace.
The gospel does deal with guilt, but at a deeper level.
In spite of the divine legislation on Mount Sinai, our world still needs reform. That seems incredible when no less than 54 percent of the world acknowledges the authority of the stones Moses brought down that mountain.
The law doesn’t connect us intimately to God’s work; rather, it leaves you absorbed in your own.
Liberated from fear
Personal reform—and world reform, following suit—is important. And yet, as Robert Capon writes, “Salvation is not some felicitous state to which we can lift ourselves by our own bootstraps. … It is an utterly new creation into which we are brought by our death in Jesus’ death and our resurrection in his. It comes not out of our own efforts, however well-inspired or successfully pursued, but out of the shipwreck of all human effort whatsoever.”
I don’t simply need relief from my guilty conscience—to have my ship righted so I can sail on again. My guilt alerts me to the threat of punishment and thereby to the fear it evokes. I don’t know about you, but I typically deal with fear by employing everything in my power—from hostile acts (seeking retribution, revenge, or reparations) to hiding (seeking security in people, places, or things)—to eliminate it.
The gospel does deal with guilt, but at a deeper level. It’s liberating us from fear. And it’s doing so for one wild and crazy reason: so that we will be willing to risk trusting him.
When we focus on guilt over fear, following Jesus becomes mainly about moral reform. We deploy strategies to steer clear of the danger of guilt. But when we focus on how the gospel addresses our fear, following Jesus becomes about risk: releasing the strategies that have made us feel secure and instead trusting that grace alone is sufficient.
D.L. Moody said, “Trust in yourself, and you are doomed to disappointment; trust in your friends, and they will die and leave you; trust in money, and you may have it taken from you; trust in reputation, and some slanderous tongue may blast it; but trust in God, and you are never to be confounded in time or eternity.” Grace unveils God’s loving heart, propelling us toward relentless trust, so we might risk dependence on the living God.
Daniel J. Bush is teaching pastor for NorthPointe Church, a new church plant in northern Kentucky.