This weekend I had the privilege to travel with 60+ male students from the Penn State Navigators to our annual men's retreat. In the past years it was always held at the famous McNutt farm, but this year we were scheduled to be at a different location. I was skeptical to say the least.
However, in terms of content alone, it was the best men's weekend I've been a part of. On the car ride down on Saturday we listened to Mark Driscoll's Marriage and Men sermon, which I can't recommend highly enough. Then on Sunday morning Dave Bowman, one of the campus staff with the Penn State Navs, shared a message from the first 3 chapters of Genesis on the effects of the fall on men.
One of the aspects of man's curse that Dave pointed out was that his work would basically rebel against him in the same way that he rebelled against God (Gen. 3:17-19). Also man's fellowship with God was broken as a result of the fall (Gen. 3:23-24). This leaves man in an interesting predicament. Rather than receiving fulfillment from a relationship with God and carrying out his duty to work for God's glory, man would now seek fulfillment through his work. Yet because his work would rebel against him, this fulfillment can never be realized.
Men then live their lives plagued with the question, "am I enough?" Basically this is man asking "ok I see that I want fulfillment through my work, but I also see that I'm prone to fail. Do I have what it takes to make this work?" So the controlling factor in life becomes feeling like we are enough. Men tend to respond to this in one of two ways: working harder and harder until they achieve enough to feel like they are enough, or giving up and punting their responsibilities so they never have to deal with the reality that they aren't enough. As Dave was sharing it reminded me of this quote by Tim Keller:
“At the root of all our disobedience are particular ways in which we continue to seek control of our lives through systems of works-righteousness. The way to progress as a Christian is to continually repent and uproot these systems the same way we become Christians, namely by the vivid depiction (and re-depiction) of Christ’s saving work for us, and the abandoning of self-trusting efforts to complete ourselves. We must go back again and again to the gospel of Christ-crucified, so that our hearts are more deeply gripped by the reality of what he did and who we are in him.” - Timothy Keller, Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2003), 61. (Taken from Of First Importance)
Every way we try to achieve the feeling that we are enough apart from Christ is simple works-righteousness. Alot of times when I think of works-righteousness I make the mistake of thinking that it only applies to trying to obey Bible commandments to earn God's favor (e.g. having enuogh quiet times, serving at a homeless shelter, not killing anyone, etc.). While that is certainly one form of works-righteousness, most of us who have been around Christian communities for some time have heard Ephesians 2:8-9 enough to know we aren't supposed to do that. But works-righteousness is really much broader than that; it is any system whereby we try to feel justified, or right with God, or "enough" by something we do. We are trying to feel justified by works, we just may not be calling it that.
The world we live in today does not explicitly presuppose God and morality the same way the culture of Jesus' time did, especially the Judaism of Jesus' time. It may then be hard sometimes for us to see how every non-believer is relying on works for salvation and is therefore under a curse (Gal. 3:10-12). We may think as I often have, "this person is not trying to earn salvation, they are simply unconcerned with salvation because they don't believe in God etc." But make no mistake about it, all of us naturally try to earn our own personal salvation to cope with the pain of our consciences as we realize we are not enough, we just may not be calling it that.
Dave pointed out that men tend to do this in 3 ways: Sports, academics/success, and women. So yes, any time I work like crazy to win a game so I can feel like I am enough, I am living in a system of works-righteousness. Any time I study like crazy for a test so I can feel like I am enough, I am living in a system of works-righteousness. Any time I work my butt off for the highest paying, most prestigious job so I can feel like I am enough, I am living in a system of works-righteousness. Any time I try to get a or many girl(s) to like me so I can feel like I am enough, I am living in a system of works-righteousness. The list goes on.
Among the many problems with this, one sticks out: We still haven't dealt with failure! If these things are going to be our righteousness, we need to be perfect in them, or else we'll never actually achieve the feeling of "enough":
"For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” - Galatians 3:10
The gospel of Jesus Christ really is our only hope of escaping this curse we find ourselves under. I'd like to talk about that more in Part 2.