A few Sundays ago, I preached a sermon on Galatians 1:11-24, and we had a rough landing. It was one of those Sundays where I felt the plane take off perfectly, maintaining altitude for most of the sermon, but somewhere along the descent we hit turbulence.
As I drove home that day I asked myself, “What made the last part of my sermon so rough?” Why did I struggle so much with the last five minutes? Well, I realized I was trying to deliver a truth that I wasn’t actually believing myself. During the final point of my sermon–“Who is the gospel for?”–I proclaimed it was for the sick, not the well, for undeserving, not deserving, sinners. Yet, in that very moment, I was hearing another voice, deep inside, proclaiming a different truth. Within this truth there lay a distinction between a sinner and a failure. I began to believe that the gospel was for sinners, but not for real sinners like me. In other words, I began to believe that, though the Gospel was for sinners, it is not for failures. It’s not that I don’t desperately want to believe the Gospel is for me; it’s just that I equally desperately begin searching for reasons as to why I’ve merited it. Then begins the game of spiritual comparisons.
We are prone to wonder (wander?) that Jesus-plus-something is the truer equation. My accuser tells me God only loves the eager rule-obeying, unwavering lions of faith, those foreign to detours. I begin to believe the Gospel is for the spiritual elite, not the sin-pickled heart I know so well. The good news comes for those who have learned from, or exceeded, the hindrances of sins; it is not for those engrossed in an illness.
But that directly opposes the message I was reading from Galatians. Paul was preaching against elitism, this Jesus-plus-something gospel that only leads to the weight of comparison. Paul calls it a false gospel–the mandate that we “examine our spiritual fruit” keeping us watchful of a bad harvest. It is terrifying. Where’s there good news in a life of terror? Everyone lives in terror…
Thank goodness that the Gospel that I often believe to be true is, in fact, false; and the Gospel that almost always appears ridiculously silly, is the true Gospel of Jesus. In Jesus I am declared innocent and righteous before God, not because of my wonderful, intentional, fruit-bearing crop of righteous living, but solely based on God’s work. He exchanged his perfect record for my hermetically-sealed, sin-pickled one. When God looks at me, or anybody, strange as it is, God sees a beloved child in whom he is well pleased.
Make no mistake, Paul’s message of Jesus-plus-nothing is a message from God himself. The grace that saves you is the grace that is keeping you, and there is nothing you can do or add to make God love you any more than He already does. Repent and trust that the blood of Jesus covers everything…even our wandering hearts, which wander from this good news everyday.
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.