If there is one time of year when Americans as a whole decide to make personal changes it is January. We join gyms, start diets, make budgets, and make promises. Why do we do this? I don’t think it is just convention. Most of us realize that our lives are not as they should be. We love a fresh start. Something about the new year gives us hope that things can really be different this time around. And in some ways they can. Some people, by shear will-power and determination, can make positive change in their lives. The rest of us struggle. The gym memberships become nothing more than recurring withdrawals from our bank accounts. The Subway veggie subs with no cheese and no mayonnaise become binges at the Pizza Hut lunch buffet. The budgets become credit card bills. One drink becomes five. There are dangers for both groups, the winners and the losers. Those who get their lives and waistlines under control can convince themselves that they are doing well. Control over their diets, budgets, and morals can make them feel that just as they measure up to man, they measure up to God. Well they don’t. And those of us who fall into the same old patterns lose hope that our lives will ever be different. But there is hope for all of us.
Christianity is not a bootstraps religion. You don’t have to pull yourself up. In fact you can’t. The word gospel means “Good News.” But in America, especially in the South, the perception that many people have of the Christian faith is less than good news. I’m not sure how we did this, but the message we have apparently spread to the masses is “clean yourself up so you will be worthy of God’s love.” Or better put, “You are not good enough for God but we (Christians) are.” That is not good news. And it is not true. The bible is so clear, that no one deserves the love of God. The reason the gospel is good news is that we, who were once the objects of God’s wrath, can now be the objects of God’s love. But how is this possible? Because Jesus has paid the price for our sin. For people who grow up in moralistic Christianity, this message is so hard to embrace. If you grew up thinking that God loves people who do the right things, please read this next sentence carefully…
You and I will NEVER deserve God’s love and forgiveness. N-E-V-E-R.
This is bad news. There is nothing we can do, nor any positive change we can make, to earn God’s favor. Bad news indeed. In fact the bible says clearly that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” It also says that the “wages of sin is death.” But that is what makes the gospel such good news. The Gospel is this: God loved us so much, that he found a way for his justice and wrath to be waged against our sin, and yet still show his love to us. His love and his justice meet at the cross of Jesus Christ. His love sent Jesus to the cross to take the punishment for our sins and his justice was satisfied as his wrath was poured out on Jesus on our behalf. You and I can be forgiven of our sin because of the completed work of Christ. You add nothing. All you can do is accept the free gift of God’s grace, love, and forgiveness.
All You Need is Need
God showed his love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. You see, moralism turns the chronology of salvation on its head. Moralism says, we do good things, God forgives us and then loves us. The gospel says God loves us, God forgives us, and then we do good things in response to his love by the work of God’s Holy Spirit within us. Good works are the response of justification not the cause. Paul’s letter to the church at Rome is perhaps the clearest most comprehensive argument for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all of Scripture. The passage below deals with the topic at hand:
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:19-26
If you are relying on your own goodness, then you will not be justified before God, for there is no salvation for man apart from the work of Jesus Christ. In his Acts 4:12 Peter boldly proclaims “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
So if you grew up in moralism, read the words of hymnwriter James Proctor:
Lay your deadly doing down, down at Jesus’ feet
And stand in him, in him alone, wondrously complete.
If you have the idea that one day you will get your act together and then give your life to God, you have the gospel on its head. Instead, come to Jesus now, and he will begin a good work in you, one that he will bring to completion. This month I am offering a version of “Come Ye Sinners Poor and Needy.” This song appeared on an album I produced in 2004 called All This Time. It is performed by Joy Jansen. If you are struggling with legalism or moralism, then this stanza is for you.
Come ye sinners poor and needy, bruised and broken by the fall
If you tarry ‘till you’re better, you will never come at all
Not the righteous, not the righteous
Sinners Jesus came to call
Each month I’ll post a new song, and you can have it FREE. Just right-click on the link below, choose “Save Target As,” and it’s all yours. If you want to make a donation, I am funneling all funds from this project to International Justice Mission. Visit the Donate page for more details. And please share this blog with your friends.
(if you can’t download the file, send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll email you the MP3)
Words by Joseph Hart
Original Tune “Beach Spring” by Benjamin F. White a Sacred Harp tune
Joy Jansen – guitar and vocals
Susan Whitacre – viola