I have zero home improvement skills (or home repair skills for that matter). So last month, when my wife asked me to install a new closet system in my oldest daughter’s bedroom, I balked. I was tired. I was grumpy. And when it comes to projects like this, I always seem to screw things up.
This effort did not disappoint.
After an hour of missing studs with the anchor screws and hanging half-cocked support beams, I threw my worthless drill on the floor, expressed my disdain for all power tools (and at that moment life itself), mumbled a few unmentionables under my breath, and went to bed. Once again, I’d screwed it up.
I have a propensity for screwing up this Christianity thing, too. There are two (overly-simplified) ways I tend to do this, and they both start with how I view God’s character and nature. In my experience, when I make these common mistakes, I basically screw up everything else in my life, too.
Climbing Up To God
In this approach, I get ahold of God’s installation manual and think to myself, “heck yeah, I can do this.” Then I grab my amateur tool belt and have it. Sure, the shelves are a bit crooked and a few wrongly placed pilot holes have to be hidden back in the dark corner, but who will notice? And so I dumb down God’s standards into a pile of achievable goals and set out to (somewhat) fulfill them with my own manufactured morality.
The problem with moralism is that it doesn’t work. The actual standard is way too high (and God goes and starts hinting around that it’s not just what we do on the outside but why we do it on the inside that actually counts). So we either quietly acknowledge our failure and live beneath a constant weight of guilt and shame, or we arrogantly assume our efforts are at least “better than that guy’s” and settle into a smug (and detestable) air of self-righteousness.
Climbing up to God always screws up everything.
Reducing God To Me
To counterbalance this tendency, I instinctively flip the script. I’ve heard about this concept called grace. It sounds pretty awesome, especially since it means I can just throw away God’s instructions completely (right?). God is love, after all. And so I seek internal peace by flipping my pencil to the eraser side and eliminating the stress and pressure of God’s holiness altogether. Humanity has evolved. We understand things better now. Those self-righteous moralists have held us all hostage for far too long anyway.
The problem with enlightenment is that it doesn’t work. Grace isn’t about removing the standard. And yet we live in a false sense of self-made peace and arrogantly look down on anyone who might not tolerate our way of putting life together.
Reducing God to my level always screws up everything.
The Gospel Changes Everything
The only way to fix our swaying pendulum of screw ups is through the message of the Gospel. I like to summarize the Gospel this way:
The Law Crushes: The demands of a holy God are intended to destroy us. We can’t fulfill them on our own, and we can’t erase them if we try. Let it do its job.
The Gospel Resurrects: God sent His son to live the life we couldn’t live, and die the death we should’ve died. His perfection is given to us by proxy. Our rescue comes from the work of another. This is grace.
The Spirit Empowers: Our ongoing and humble trust in the finished work of Christ comes with the promise of His Spirit. This gift is what changes us and gives us the power to live lives that are pleasing to God. Not our efforts for Him, but His work in us.
Moralism screws up everything. Enlightenment screws up everything. The Gospel changes everything.
If you’re looking for true peace, maybe it’s time to put down your tool belt and surrender to something with the power to actually deliver on its promise.