Isn’t Obedience the Point?
FEBRUARY 24, 2021
Salvation is through grace. So is obedience.
My late friend, Jack Miller, used to say that all of Biblical theology can be summed up in two sentences: 1) Cheer up; you’re a lot worse than you think you are. 2) Cheer up; God’s grace is a lot bigger than you think it is. In that comment, Jack pointed to what the Christian faith is all about. It is about God doing and continuing to do what we simply can’t do for ourselves.
Martin Luther was asked once what he thought about “works of repentance” (i.e. the work that flows from our faith). He allowed that it was good when it happened “but what is it about our arrogance that makes us think that anything we could ever do would be more adequate than the blood of God’s own Son?”
One more quote, this one from George Whitefield: “Before you can know you are right with God, you must not only be troubled for the sins of your life, but also for the sins of your best duties and performances…before you can be at peace with God, you must be brought out of your self-righteousness [that really ticks off Jesus]; it is the last idol taken out of your heart.”
What’s the big issue? The most dangerous thing in your Christian walk is your obedience when you know it. Grace always—and I mean always—runs downhill. The Christian faith isn’t about being obedient. That is important, but it isn’t, at its heart, about that. That’s what Judaism is about and, as I say to some of my seminary students about their sermons, “You could preach that sermon in any synagogue in America…but Jesus went to a lot of trouble to give you more than that.”
If the whole essence of the Christian faith is about doing good, God would have sent an amendment to the law (another book of rules) and he certainly would not have sent his Son. Jesus said that he didn’t come to call the well…but the sick. He was a friend of winebibbers and sinners…and had a whole lot of trouble with the religious people who were “good.”
The Christian faith is about a relationship with Christ that allows us to stop looking at our feet when dancing. Dancing that requires we look at our feet all the time is not dancing…it is marching. And, frankly, too many people are marching. Jesus didn’t come to make us good; he came to make us his. The good part comes gradually, but that isn’t even the important thing. The most important thing is the dance.
Obsession with being good, obeying the rules and our own righteousness is, in fact, the cause of more sin than anything I know. It is only when we stop obsessing about that and look at him that we even begin to be holy in the way he wants us to be…and, even if we don’t become holy, being his is the issue.
The principle is this: The only people who get any better are people who know, if they don’t get any better, God will still love them anyway.
It is only God’s grace and love that prevent him from revealing to you the way you really are. Insofar as God allows you to see your sin, his love becomes all the more precious and valuable…and, not only that, we sometimes get better.