Did you see the news story yesterday about wealthy parents who hired a ‘consultant’ to get their kids admitted to prestigious universities? The allegations include bribes to coaches for places on athletics teams, fixed test results, and fake online profiles created to impress college admissions officers. It is a sad reflection of the drive to ‘succeed,’ the need to be ‘someone’ defined by letters and awards instead of inner character. Is this something new? Silly you, if you think so. It is sad that some deserving kid got pushed out of the place he had earned by the child of a family who used their wealth to buy a spot at the front of the line. Even more sad is what this kind of lying does to the heart of the student who knows she is living as a fraud.
Here is some good news – God does not love you more if you are taller, richer, faster, stronger, or smarter! You do not need to buy His favor or approval. Grace is a gift – freely available to all at Christ’s expense. What a revelation for us who live in a competitive world that creates the kind of insecurity that drives a few to try cheat their way to the front of the line.
We desperately need a revelation of grace. Without it, we slide into religion that demands more and more of us as we vainly attempt to earn what we can only gain by faith. Many years ago, during a trip to Latin America, I saw many towns with beautiful churches at their center. Inside those buildings there was a common sight that broke my heart. Poor people, mostly older women, crawled across rough stone pavement and splintery wooden floors to ornate altars that depicted God far above them, just out of reach. In many cases, the knees of those old women were bloodied by their effort.
Their devotion was admirable, but terribly misguided. God isn’t impressed by bloody knees. We do not need to inflict pain on ourselves to gain His attention! The Word tells that we “have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22, NIV)
While you won’t find many Americans crawling across a splintery floor to a church’s altar, the same misunderstanding of Who He is makes many of us believe that He is out of reach, that we need to give more, do more, or find someone with ‘pull’ to help us to gain His favor.
To be clear, our Christian discipleship demands much of us but not to earn God’s love. We serve from love and gratitude, fully assured of His acceptance. “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” (Reclaiming Jesus’ Teaching on Discipleship, Dr. Dallas Willard) The grace of God is no excuse for lack of reverence.
There is a pseudo-grace to which some cling who have misunderstood the Gospel as much as those with bloodied knees. The Word describes them “godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” (Jude 4, NIV) Authentic faith deepens awe, replaces self-confidence with God-confidence, and grows a holiness in us that results from our walking ‘in the Spirit,’ relying on God’s promises that bring our lives into alignment with His purpose.
My earliest experience of Christianity was something like that of those who crawl to God. I thought that He was distant, angry, and bent on my destruction, restrained only by Jesus. In a season of brokenness, the Spirit caused me to re-examine the Scripture and what I saw in the Gospel of Christ was amazing, graceful, and liberating. The Lord brought maturity that revealed the joy of holy living. But, it was not Self trying harder, it was God, the Holy Spirit, living in me, and our partnership allows something supernatural to happen in me.
Disciple, do you somehow think that bloody knees bring greater blessing?
Are you asking God, “Will You love me more if …?”
Are you so trapped by the need to perform that you are willing to try short cuts, tempted by ‘fraudulent’ offers made by religious charlatans?
Hear the challenge of the word from the Word that Paul wrote to some Christians who had slipped back into mere religion after having known the revelation of grace.
“Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? … After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it? I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ. In the same way, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” (Galatians 3:1-6, NLT)
How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but
Now I’m found,
Was blind but now I see!