In my twenties, I worked for a couple of years at a piano rebuilding shop south of Chicago. We rebuilt pump organs, player pianos, concert grands… just about anything with keys. We picked up and delivered everything we worked on, so I had a lot of practice moving pianos.
One day, Gary (the shop manager) and I went out to pick up a very large upright for rebuilding. It's not difficult to move a piano with the proper equipment, and we had all the proper equipment. He took one end and I took the other, but we couldn't get the thing to budge. Now keep in mind we had moved hundreds of pianos, so we knew exactly what to do. What would have normally been over with in less than two minutes had already taken five, and we were becoming exhausted? We continued to go at it until we realized we were pushing against each other. I don't know how two people could be five feet apart and not notice this, but we got a good laugh out of the experience—and some extra weight training.
It would appear we are pushing against God in the way we live our lives. And this is happening, in large part, because we do not understand His law or His grace.
If a filthy bum, reeking with strong body odor and the smell of alcohol, ran into your church on Sunday morning and cried, “What must I do to be saved?” would you welcome him with open arms? I certainly would expect you to. Only the hardest of hearts would require him to clean up before coming to the altar.
And as your church ministered to him, loved on him, encouraged him… you would be pushing in the same direction as God. Everybody—including the man himself— would be cooperating with God. Nobody would be thinking about his outward appearance or his behavior. All eyes would be on the work Christ was doing on the inside. At that point in time he would be freed from the curse of the law, and made right with God through the grace of Christ Jesus.
But if he came back the next Sunday reeking with strong body odor and the smell of alcohol, would all eyes still be on the work Christ was doing on the inside of the man. Or would you be judging him, and would he be judging himself, based on his performance? If you did what is natural to all of us as human beings, you would be focusing on his outward behavior. And you would be pushing against God.
Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it? (Galatians 3:2–4 NLT)
Let me try to describe this foolishness as plainly as I can from my own experience. I'm sure you will be able to plug in here somewhere:
I have been judged by other people all of my life by my performance. It is natural that I would judge myself by that same standard. But I could never measure up in every area (and on some days in any area). I wanted to be good but I couldn't, so several years ago I asked Jesus to help me. He did; and we had a wonderful honeymoon together.
Whenever an adult is saved, I've noticed he or she always has a honeymoon with Jesus. It can last a week or a few months. This is the time when it's just you and Jesus. All the guilt and the shame have been taken away and you don't much care about your outward appearance. You're just focused on Him. Can you relate?
Somehow I think the honeymoon was not supposed to end. But it did for me (as it does for most of us) when I took some of my attention from Him and put it back on me—on my performance. I didn't at all like what I was seeing though, because I was now seeing myself in comparison to Him.
And it didn't help much when I went to churches that emphasized holy living. I remember people groaning and moaning at the altar as if they were ridding themselves of some horrible weight—only to be back the next week, and the next, and the next… doing the same thing. This just didn't seem right. I wasn't that miserable when I was living as a sinner.
I was not happy with my progress but I didn't know what to do about it. Because it's in my nature to work hard, I thought I would just work harder at behaving better. But I got nowhere but guilty, and I'll be heck if I was going to blubber at an altar every Sunday.
So I decided to try churches that emphasized God's grace. And wow… was that wonderful. It was like being saved all over again every Sunday. People would come in beat down and leave lifted up. It felt so good you wanted to go two or three times a week. But I began to notice something in myself and in other people. We were feeling better about ourselves but we weren't changing much.
Remember what I said yesterday? “What good is it for me to preach good behavior if I don't also preach the Grace necessary to get it done? What good is it for me to preach Grace if I don't also preach the behavior necessary to receive that grace?”
We have a command to make progress here… in this life… here… on this earth:
You, therefore, must be perfect [growing into complete maturity of godliness in mind and character, having reached the proper height of virtue and integrity], as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48 Amp Bible)
But let endurance and steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work, so that you may be [people] perfectly and fully developed [with no defects], lacking in nothing. (James 1:4 Amp Bible)
But He has not given us an impossible task. What He expects of us He gives us the ability to accomplish. And if we are failing, it is because we are wasting our effort on the wrong kind of work.
Tomorrow we will continue to take a look at why our effort without His grace will never get us there; and why His grace without our effort will never get us there, either.
Have a good day,