“Are you so foolish? After starting in the Spirit, are you now finishing in the flesh? Have you suffered so much for nothing, if it really was for nothing? Does God lavish His Spirit on you and work miracles among you because you practice the Law, or because you hear and believe? Even as Abraham believed in God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Gal 3:4-6
Men fast, pray, watch, suffer. They intend to appease the wrath of God and to deserve God’s grace by their exertions. But there is no glory in it for God, because by their exertions these workers pronounce God an unmerciful slave driver, an unfaithful and angry Judge. They despise God, make a liar out of Him, snub Christ and all his benefits; in short they pull God from his throne and perch themselves on it.
Faith truly honors God. And because faith honors God, God counts faith for righteousness.
Christian righteousness is the confidence of the heart in God through Christ Jesus. Such confidence is accounted righteousness for Christ’s sake. Two things make for Christian righteousness: Faith in Christ, which is a gift of God; and God’s acceptance of this imperfect faith of ours for perfect righteousness. Because of my faith in Christ, God overlooks my distrust, the unwillingness of my spirit, my many other sins. Because the shadow of Christ’s wing covers me, I have no fear that God will not cover my sins and take my imperfections for perfect righteousness…. Faith is weak but it means enough to God that he will not lay our sins to charge. He will not punish nor condemn us for it. He will forgive our sins as if they amount to nothing at all. He will not do it because we are worthy of such mercy. He will do it for Jesus’ sake in whom we believe.
– Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians
I know people like to hand out lists of things that you can do to improve in godliness and they’ll be sure to keep up with you to see if you’re doing them. They’ll remind you that it’s your Christian duty to honor God and insist that this is the way to accomplish it. I’ll tell you a little secret: they are on an exhausting treadmill and you don’t have to join them. Getting up at 5 am to read your bible or praying for an hour does not make you more godly. Memorizing a stack of bible verses, journaling, and other man made “spiritual disciplines” cannot make you more acceptable before God. Neither does giving up certain foods, social media, or rated R movies. Doing or avoiding certain activities does not atone for your sins or help you keep God’s commands. Like Abraham, you’re already (and only!) acceptable to God by faith.
Because these exercises are not required of you, you are free to do them or not– just know the condemnation you feel when you fail? It is not of Christ. Neither is the pat on your back you give yourself when you succeed. Rather, those are indications that they’ve become a cheap law (law that’s been made obtainable) for you and worse, a Little Savior (trusting in something lesser than Christ). Here’s the thing about cheap laws: they will only ever drive you to self-righteousness when you keep them or despair when you don’t. Cheap law simply cannot deliver what you’ve been promised. That’s the exhausting treadmill that you don’t have to stay on. You are free to decline every “spiritual gym membership” you’re handed. Freedom will never be found there because grace isn’t something you can earn by the sweat of your brow. Furthermore, the only way to do what is actually required of you is to believe.
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” – John 6:28-29
I honestly can’t say it better than Luther. Do you feel overwhelmed trying to appease God by your works? Do you feel like you aren’t as “God-honoring” as someone else because they appear so “spiritually fit” with their lists? Hear this: the shadow of Christ’s wings covers YOU. Your faith, though imperfect, is all that is needed to honor God. You do not need to continue striving to obtain it in the flesh. The Christian life is not supposed to be so burdensome. This isn’t my opinion, Paul clearly had a total conniption when people turned from the gospel in an attempt to make it that way. There is nothing you can do to keep or lose the amount of Christ’s righteousness you have right now. You’re free to give up that treadmill life and trust that to God, your faith is enough.