Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Midweek Grace - 1 Peter. 1:1-2.

Though I’ve never really gotten into ‘American Idol’ it does serve as a great illustration for how I used to view and live out my salvation. Don’t dismiss this to quickly, for my experience as a believer as well as contact with hundreds of other believers confirm my observations. A.I. (no, not that A.I.) begins with tens of thousands of people who believe that they have enough talent to be America’s next singing sensation. They’re convinced that their innate talent (no matter how much or little they actually have) will eventually carry them to the top. Armed with an unwavering belief in their talent these intrepid souls venture off to sing in front of complete strangers with the hope of appearing before Paula, Randy and Simon.
By now those appearances before the big three are legendary. Most of us have seen people who truly had talent, could no doubt throw down and if all the stars align just right could indeed become America’s next idol. Then there are the others. Those who’ve either deceived themselves or had some odd desire to be humiliated on national television. Upon finally (and mercifully) finishing they draw the usual comments from the big three. Paula ‘you’re a really nice guy and we appreciate you coming to try out’, Randy ‘yo dawg I can hear you tryin’ but I’m really not feelin it man’, Simon (with that perpetual look of bemused consternation) … ‘that was bloody awful, why don’t you do us all a favor and donate your vocal chords to science so we can finally find a cure for whatever disease you have‘. For those who do make the cut, who actually impress all three judges there’s a free trip to Hollywood. Even if you’ve never watched the show most of us have seen the promo spots in which people having been told they’ve made it break out in wild expressions of joy. Some scream to the top of their lungs while clutching a loved one while others break down and cry overwhelmed with the knowledge that they actually made it.

Of course Hollywood is where the real competition begins. Everyone has to step up their game because it’s not just a matter of talent now. While the trip was free all the contestants know there’s no security in Hollywood, only the opportunity to prove yourself again. Thus they begin an intense time of trial in which each successive performance will grant you the opportunity to stay alive and sing another day. But don’t have a bad outing. This is not the place to have an off night or hit a wrong note. America’s idol must be the best (or cutest). You’re only as good as your last performance and certainly cannot rest on the work you did to get here.
By the way it probably helps to be truthful about your past before you get to Hollywood. Skeletons lurk in all our closets and the folks at A.I. will find yours. American idol will not be identified with those whose sordid past is brought to light. How sad it is when you’ve sung your best, beat out thousands of other folks to appear before the big three, gained their approval, flown to Hollywood, nailed your first live t.v. performance only to be to asked to see the officials the next day. How devastating it is when they tell you that some unflattering photos were just posted on the net and while they appreciate your time and wish you well you cannot continue on the show.

What does all this have to do with how I used to view my salvation? It began with the notion that God saw some (however small) innate good within me that moved Him to offer His salvation to me. This belief led to a pattern of thought in which I depended on my goodness to maintain His favor. I sincerely thought that if I continued to be good God would be good to me and essentially give me a good relatively trouble free life. I know I thought this way because anytime something bad happened to me I immediately began to do a self-inspection searching for the hidden sin that obviously caused God to display a small measure of His anger toward me. On the other hand I honestly expected good things to continue to happen to me if I was being good. And while I thanked God for them there was a measure of self-congratulations.
Entering salvation without security was similar to the experience A.I. contestants have once they learn they’re going to Hollywood. There’s abundant joy and a palpable sense that a great weight has been lifted. At least for now God approves of me. At least for now He likes me. At least for now He won’t reject me. Sadly neither the warm feelings or good thoughts lasted. I learned and believed that God was initially pleased with my (focus on my) decision to repent of sin and believe in Christ but now I had to prove my worth with good performance after good performance. I mounted the treadmill of death certain that God’s continued grace (how sadly ironic) would continue to flow as I passed each spiritual test thrown my way. Through this time my relationship with God could be compared to a would be idol singing before the judges and wondering what they’re thinking. I was never really sure of where I stood, never really certain of His love, never really secure in His family. With no way to objectively measure my standing in God I once again turned to my performance and life circumstances. As long as things were going relatively well and I was performing relatively well I thought that things were okay (not great, but okay).

If that weren’t bad enough there was the ever present foreboding feeling that there was something in my past that God hadn’t truly and finally dealt with. There was some sin that He would eventually recall to my mind that would significantly change our relationship until He returned or I died. At that time I would stand before God like a would be American idol stands before the judges and await their evaluation and final determination of my performance. Whether I lived or died depended completely on my performance. Welcome to 21st century Christianity. It may not be the gospel, but it certainly makes more human sense and admit it or not it’s the way many of us live our ‘new’ lives.

What is the gospel you say? Glad you asked. According to the apostle Peter (who preached the same gospel as Paul who by the way preached the same gospel as Jesus) the gospel doesn’t begin with our choice to follow God, but His predetermined choice to take us to Himself. Far from this choice being motivated by some innate good God saw in us it was motivated solely by His great love for us and for His own glory. My salvation is secure therefore since it begins not at the time of my confession and conversion but in eternity past when God out of His great love decided to place me in His family. I now rest on the truth that I’m in the family due to God’s goodness not mine. Since my choice was not a result of my performance I’m freed from having to perform to maintain God’s good grace.

How do I know this is true? For one I have believed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. That could not have happened without a special, gracious and powerful work of God’s Spirit. DON’T FOOL YOURSELF. You had not the wisdom, discernment, spiritual intuition or power to awaken yourself from your own morbid spiritual condition. The Spirit gave me new life, implanted God’s own new nature within me and removed my spiritual blindness so I could see the reality of my sin and run to the cross of Christ.
Why run to Christ? Because He has loved me and freed me from my sins by His blood. By the sprinkling of His blood (1 Pet. 1:2) Christ has liberated me from the shame, guilt, penalty and punishment of my own sin. Christ’s work is so complete and so perfect that I never, ever, ever have to wonder where I stand before the Father. Christ lived the life of moral perfection according to the highest standard ever given to mankind on my behalf. All the things I’d want to do to live up to God’s standards and prove my worth to Him have already been done by Jesus Christ.

This has at least two blessed implications. First, I can permanently retire my treadmill of death. Unlike the next would be American idol I don’t have to complete successive rounds of flawless performances to remain in God’s favor. In Christ I have all the favor I’ll ever need. God regards me in the exact same way He regards the Son He loves. Secondly, I never have to worry about God discovering that last well-hidden skeleton in my closet. You see in salvation God went into my closet and throughout my entire house and got all the skeletons. If that weren’t enough He even dug up the basement went into the foundation and got those skeletons too. When the Father laid my sin on Christ He laid all of my sin on Him. Every single solitary single sin from my birth until the time I close my eyes in death or He returns for has been paid in full by the sinless Son. Every single shred of rebellion, sin, shortcoming, evil thought, action, reaction, word, work and everything else from now until this earthly life for me is over has been accounted and paid for. I enjoy absolute, total, complete security in Jesus Christ. I will never be asked to leave, never be demoted to a second class citizen, never face God’s anger or disappointment. He will always love me, always accept me, always be gracious to me, always be close to me.

To Him Who Loves Us and has freed us from our sins by His blood…
Pastor Lance

1 comment:

Lionel Woods said...

You know what Pastor Lance? Everytime I read something like this I realize how easy it is for us slip into a "I'm good" mentality. Almost as to say we were not as depraved as we were. We easily forget that we were once "dead in our trespasses". Thank you for reminding me of the Gospel. I think we should preach it to ourselves daily.