“The finality of God’s revelation must surely, therefore, be found in Jesus, whom, through his redemptive act, provides the means for the liberation of humans. We are not left – as humanists would have it – to save ourselves. Through Christ we are given a key that opens the doors to both heaven and earth.”-Gary Garner
We are not left to save ourselves. This is the startling core truth of the gospel, the truth that everything Christians believe is built upon and the truth that we so often completely miss. I am doing a study with my teenagers at church based on J.D. Greear’s book, Gospel: Recovering the Power That Made Christianity Revolutionary.
The thesis of the whole study is based on a simple prayer:
“In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less. Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy. As You have been to me, so I will be to others. As I pray, I’ll measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.”
It is so simple. Everything I need, I already have in Christ. There is nothing that I can do to make him stop loving me in the same way that there is nothing that I can do to make my parents just stop loving me. Oh, sure, I can infuriate them and turn my life into a trainwreck, and it would break their hearts. I could be the kid no parent wants and be riddled with bad decisions and unhealthy relationships and it would kill them, but I have been blessed with a mom and dad that I know, no matter what, would never stop loving me.
And when I think about God and Christ as revealed in the Gospel, I multiply that love and acceptance by a million. I know that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Yet, this is an idea that Christians so often quote as a platitude, or something that gives them the moral high ground or permission to live like they want, yet never actually believe when it comes down to it. I can say that Christ is enough until I’m blue in the face, but eventually, if I am honest with myself, I think of all my sin, and all of the promises I made to God that I trampled to the ground and I don’t believe it.
It’s as if Christ’s death on the cross, and subsequent defeat of death in the resurrection, was some cosmic solid God did for me with the expectation that I would (or could) repay him for it. So I spend my life trying so hard to earn what I can never earn, to pay God back in some substantial way that I don’t have the capacity to even grasp mentally.
This…this is not the Gospel. The truth of our redemption is simple, yet complicated idea because we as humans percieve God in the same way we operate by the world’s standards. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. You do something for me, I do something for you.
And yes, we say things like “we owe God our lives” and on some level that is true. However, God sent his son to die for us so that we could have eternal life with him. Where we deserved punishment, he poured out grace. Where we deserved hell, he made a way for us. But Jesus paid a price that we could never come close to satisfying. And he did it out of love.
“But, Stephen!” you might say, “It can’t be that easy? Why would God do that if I’m just going to fail him time and time again?”
I’m gonna go back to my illustration with my parents. I fully understand that not everyone has a supportive family and the amount of people with bad Fathers is especially astronomical in today’s society, but there is a reason (outside of the patriarchal society in which Jesus came) that God is called Father, there is a reason that Jesus refers to him as Abba (which roughly translates to “Daddy.”) There is an affection from a Fatherly love that is like nothing else. A love that accepts, a love that will hold you in his arms no matter where you are, where you have been, or where you are going. One of the sweetest things I’ve ever experienced happens every time I sit at the table and eat with my parents: I hear them pray for my sister and I.
The love they have shown us is unconditional. And there’s a lot to be said about how God’s love is reflected in mothers as well, but that is a blog post for another day.
The love of God is real, it is strong, it is persistent. If you are in Christ, your past is erased with every step, your present is secure, and your future is more beautiful than anything you could ever imagine.
The Gospel is simple: God came to earth wrapped in skin, he lived a life without sin, died a death we deserved and took on all of humanity’s brokenness and iniquity and rose again after three days, defeating death and overcoming the grave with the power of a love that only the God of the universe could show.
Our job in all of that is significantly less than we have convinced ourselves. We are to confess that we are sinners and accept what has already been done for us. No excuses, no trying to buy back our freedom, no bargaining with God. Everything that you need, you already have in Christ. That is the Gospel. That is the freedom of the Christian life.