Grace cannot prevail until law is dead, until moralizing is out of the game…until our fatal love affair with the law is over – until finally and for good, our lifelong certainty that someone is keeping score has run out of steam and collapsed. As long as we leave, in our dramatizations of grace, one single hope of a moral reckoning, one possible recourse to salvation by bookkeeping, our freedom-dreading hearts will clutch it to themselves. – Robert F. Capon, Between Noon and Three
Most of us have been fed a version of Christianity that paints Jesus as the ultimate “bookkeeper of good deeds”. The good kids are in with God and the bad kids are out. Jesus, they say, makes us a good kid, once and for all. Though, they will warn you not to get out of line, as they peer down the brim of their noses while motioning your attention toward the law. Sure, Jesus put you on the good kid list, but please don’t embarrass him by making him check off your bad deeds. He already had to die for you…. Can’t you just behave yourself for him?
That message will make you comfortable so long as we are talking about the law you feel like you’re keeping. You can sit a little taller in your pew and breathe a sigh of relief that you’re not like the poor schmuck at the end of the row, head hanging low. You make a mental list of all of the people you wish were hearing this sermon, “they sure need it”. You feel zero guilt. You walk out with the idea that your behavior has proven your acceptability before God. You’re a shining example to the rest of the world…if they’d just act more committed, like you, God would know they were serious about Him…
…. until the week your pastor finds the law you aren’t keeping very well. And you’re now the sad sap unable to lift your eyes. “Your sin has found you out” and the “5 ways to mortify your flesh” your pastor just prescribed to you isn’t going to make a damn. Oh, you still promise God that you’re going to do better, but you know in your heart this is the thing you can’t shake….and you’ve made these promises more times than you can count. You think God is tired of hearing the same speech from you and rolls his eyes as he looks over your scorecard. You slink out of church, heavy hearted, wanting to hide from the rest of the world.
Well, I’ve good news and bad news, and they are exactly the same message: there is no scorecard or scorekeeper.
“Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:4)
There is only Christ, dying in our place for our sins and rising from the dead. This doesn’t turn bad kids into good ones who now have to keep up their clean scorecard for God to continue to accept them. The gospel, rather, makes dead people alive. Here’s a little hint: if you walk out of church feeling like you are a shining example of moral performance, you’ve not heard the law preached to its full extent. If you walk out of church with your head hung low, thinking God is probably done with you, you’ve not heard the gospel proclaimed. The Law fills every “bad deed” spot on our imaginary scorecard and then some…. But the gospel lights it on fire.
Now what are you gonna do? (There’s the bad news, kids: there’s nothing you can do)
We really want our obedience to the law to count for something. I never understood why the apostles would willingly lay down their lives for a bullshit game of cat-and-mouse-morality with God. Why would anyone dedicate themselves to sharing the very bad news of trying very hard to stay on God’s good side? Especially when left to us, it’s impossible!? How exhausting! But we are determined for this thing to ride on us somehow. So, we try to play the game. We will play it… until we absolutely run out of steam and give up, realizing how silly we have been.
It is only when every shred of ability has either been ripped from our hands, or has crushed us into the ground, that the gospel finally make sense. Only then will vanquishing the idea of scorecards and scorekeepers be good news to our ears. We will see there is no game left to play. Christ already won the whole thing before you even got here. He loves you, so just take the “W” already and skip off the field to enjoy refreshments with your teammates.
The gospel IS overwhelming grace for the overwhelmed sinner.
I am a sinner who gets overwhelmed and needs to be reminded of what grace means. That’s why I started writing to begin with. I’ve been working on a minibook, so my focus has shifted from blogging to that project, but my desire is to get back to writing good news (with not one shred of hope in moral reckoning) for free. I’m going to try to do it once a week…. Though, my promises aren’t always so great 😉
But seriously, If you’d like a short blurb of good news that helps you breathe, reminds you that you’re loved, once a week or so? Feel free to subscribe so that it hits your inbox.