"How could you have become so foolish? What delusion has distracted you from what you once clearly saw - the Gospel of grace in the saving death of Jesus Christ?"
Paul to the Galatians (3: 1 -paraphrased).
I've often wondered, whilst I've attended church over the numerous decades of my life as a Christian, why it is that, so often, the gospel itself simply isn't enough.
It's often all too clear that it isn't - in our preaching, our worship songs, our busy little service activities and the pointing to all that we're doing beyond that - there's a clear emphasis. Like the rich man who came to Jesus looking for 'the formula' or the 'how to' guide to eternal life, we are clearly convinced that what it's all about is ticking the particular boxes that mean all is right with the world - yep, it all looks good, and, of course, it keeps us well away from all that 'free grace' naivety... fine for those 'new' to the faith, but we've 'moved on' and are now more 'spiritual' than that.
We can dress it any way we like, but the truth behind so many of our 'good' pretenses is that we're playing at religion because we're deeply uncomfortable with the bare, unvarnished reality of the message of grace.
'How can it be fair or right', a little voice inside us asks, that the vilest sinners (not us, of course) get into the Kingdom of God before those who do so much good, who are so noble and upright in their living... it truly beggars belief! How can I really have confidence in a message which has such ridiculous notions of what really counts.... no, we clearly need to be busy to make this whole thing of value.
And so, we undermine the real truth of the matter - that our 'righteousness' is a mere mask for the canker that resides beneath (which we usually refuse to see) and thereby we cannot recognize, every moment of every day, our total need for nothing more than a deliverance entirely beyond ourselves.
The tragedy of such ugliness is two fold. It actually removes us from the life which comes from Christ, for that gift is replete with mercy given in time of need (and, let's face it, we really don't see much of a need for that) which is tragic enough, but it also means we offer nothing but a ghastly caricature of both God and His saving grace to those who come amongst us hungering and thirsting for His care and love. To be a saint, we teach, you must become like us, 'godly... pure... beyond reproach'. Like the Pharisees, we make such 'converts' twice as fit for hell as ourselves!
We are indeed like the second son in Christ's parable (Matthew 21 :28-31). In truth, we often believe that our ability to 'change our spots' and 'be good' is so the norm, that we can deny the Father's request to go and truly work in the field (share we He wants us to share) beyond some form of lip-service to it - nothing more is required.
We need to see afresh what such 'goodness' costs - it does nothing to help, but merely murders the truth.... We become a 'bushel of works which stifles the light of the world'.
The Gospel points us to a life, a work, a gift, which is entirely outside of us. The very faith needed to trust in its scope is alien to us - a gift of God - so why do we then chose to hide in the hovel of our own self-worth?
'Church' is here for one purpose, and one only - to point to Jesus, for He alone is the one who saves us totally. Everything else, including all those 'little goodnesses' we so easily allow to pat us on the back, are, as the old hymn says, sinking sands.
Our life can only be 'hid' in Christ before God.
May it ever be.