In Part 1 of this short blog series I tried to connect some dots between the question that tends to have a controlling influence in the lives of men: "Am I enough?" and works-righteousness. Having concluded that all of our attempts to answer that question in the affirmative by something we do is works-righteousness, I'd now like to share some thoughts on how I see the gospel applying to and freeing us from this situation.
In Part 1 I kinda shared two quotes to support my main idea: one from Tim Keller and one from the Bible in Galatians 3:10-12. In both cases I neglected to comment on the whole idea presented there. In Keller's quote he mentions the freedom in the gospel. After Galatians 3:10-12 comes verse 13:
"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” - Galatians 3:13
The first way the gospel applies is that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law! In v. 10 we read that the curse of the law is basically this: if you choose to try to save yourself by observing God's law, the only way you can actually achieve salvation is if you obey it to perfection. Therefore if you fail even at one point of it, you are under a curse. We've all sinned, so we are all under a curse. What we need then if that curse is ever to be removed from us is for someone to take it in our place. This is what Jesus does when He is crucified. On the cross Jesus is cursed by God in the place of all those who would believe in Him, so that we no longer have to live under the curse of the law. The requirement of perfection on our end is thus lifted, so we can stop seeking justification by what we do (v. 12), and instead live by faith in what Jesus has done (v. 11).
So am I enough? If I'm trying to answer that question "yes" by what I do, the answer will always be no. I can't be perfect. But if I'm living by faith in Christ, God's answer is "yes," because Jesus paid for all my failures to be enough for God. The only way we can get a definitive yes to our question is if we stop trying to earn it ourselves, and believe that Jesus earned it for us.
That's one way I see the gospel freeing us: obedience to God's law is not how we become enough. But in Part 1 I talked about how obedience to God's law is not the only form of works-righteousness; it's anytime we try to feel like we are enough by something we do. The examples given were sports, academics, and women. How does the gospel apply to these systems of works-righteousness?
The answer in my mind is that on one hand it doesn't, and yet in one major way it does. How doesn't it? Well, Jesus only paid the penalty for my sins, Jesus only bore the curse for my failures to obey God's law. That means Jesus did not pay the penalty for my failure to win a game, get an A grade, or pick up a girl. Why didn't Jesus pay the penalty for these things? Because there is no penalty for these things! What we've actually done in an attempt to justify ourselves and feel like enough is rejected God's law and created one of our own, one that's filled with demands that God has never put on us (can you think of any Bible passage that would support the idea that it's a sin or a failure to obey God to lose a sporting event? cf. Micah 6:8). In many cases we've done this because we know God's law is too hard or because our systems seem more fun or attractive. We may also feel the system we've developed deals with our "real problem." For instance, if we think our "real problem" is loneliness, the law of getting the most girls possible is the system we will create. But our real "real problem" is our failure to obey God's law and the curse that puts us under. In this narrow sense, the gospel does not apply to our failures to live up to standards that aren't God's. There is no curse for these failures, so Jesus didn't take it on Himself.
So how does the gospel apply then? You see the problem with the systems we've created is that they are still works-righteousness, and they still demand perfection for us to ever feel like we are enough. No matter how many games we win, there will always be more. No matter how good the team we beat is, there will always be one better. No matter how many A's we get, there will always be more, harder classes. No matter how much money we make, we could always make more. No matter how many girls we pick up, there are always more. We can never rest in such a situation; our systems of works-righteousness continue to demand more and more of us. We will never really achieve that sense of "enough."
The fact then still remains: the only way we will achieve that sense of "enough" is through faith in what Christ has done for us in taking our curse, namely through faith in the gospel. There God dealt definitively with our actual curse because of our actual failure to obey His actual law. In Christ we are actually "enough," so we don't have to try to make ourselves enough by any effort of ours, whether that be by obedience to God's law or some law we made up. The gospel applies in a major way to these issues!
So where does that leave us now? Should we quit trying to obey God's law? Should we give up trying to win in sports? Should we slack in our academics and jobs? Should we never pursue a girl? Part 3...