Recently I had a dialog with a pastor friend about the tendency for churches to have correct teaching about grace and have their practice of it break down. My friend made the observation that “works-righteousness is the default mode of the human heart.” After observing myself and others, I am forced to agree with him.
The Church of Jesus Christ should be the most gracious place on the planet but often it is not. If we are not consistently preaching the Gospel, if we are not reinforcing our need for a savior, if we are not intentional about living under grace, then we will become what the world thinks we are.
A definition of the Gospel, which I got from Tim Keller, is this (this may not be a word for word quote, but it is how I remember it):
We are more deeply flawed than we ever dared imagine,
But we are more deeply loved than we ever dared believe
If visitors to your church do not come away with the impression that you believe this, then you have missed an opportunity to present the true Gospel to people who desperately need to hear it. All of us need to hear this message reinforced on a regular basis.
Failure to believe the first part of Keller’s definition leads to spiritual pride and a false sense of superiority. Failure to believe the second part leads to despair and the feeling that I will never measure up.
The point is that we don’t need to measure up. 2 Cor. 5:21 tells us that Jesus did the “measuring up” for us. So why do we try so hard to do so? Jesus loved us, the entire God-head loved us, before we were even born and despite the mess we’ve made.
I need to acknowledge that my heart rebels against the first part of Mr. Keller’s statement. I don’t want to admit that I am flawed beyond self-repair. My pride wants to think that I am better than I am and I am less in need of grace than I really am. I want to appear to others better than I really am.
This is why we need to be intentional about preaching the core of the gospel and we need to be intentional about demonstrating grace. If we are not intentional about it, works-righteousness will cause us to veer off course and before we know it we will have a Pharisaic congregation who despises the tax collectors and sinners. Rather than a loving one which embraces those who are willing to admit their need for a savior.
The question is, “How is it that we can sing about grace and look down on our brother?”
We need to be honest in answering this question. Because if we are not honest, the world will continue to think we are judgmental and pompous, only because we are.