Are you ever blown away by how easy life is, by how much free time you’ve got?
Yeah, me neither.
In fact, most of the time, my life is quite the opposite. It’s tough to juggle work, school, church, friends, family… and the list goes on. For some of you, it’s about finding time for your kids while not letting your work suffer. Maybe you’ve never slept in on a Saturday because that’s the only day you can find time to do volunteer work.
If you’re anything like me, it can be easy to let all of these things overwhelm you and make you anxious. A couple of months ago, I discussed some steps you can take to have a more peaceful life (which you can read here). In this post, we’ll be going down a similar road.
Let’s begin in Matthew 22:36-40. Chances are good that most of you are already familiar with this passage, but let’s review it just the same:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (ESV, biblegateway.com)
Just to put these verses in context, it is not a disciple asking Jesus the question in verse 36- it’s a lawyer. In the time that the New Testament records, lawyers as we know them today didn’t exist. When the Bible mentions lawyers, it isn’t talking about litigators- it’s talking about Scribes of Biblical law. (Therefore, “scribes” and “lawyers” are usually the same thing in biblical context.) These were exactly the kind of people Jesus didn’t get along with during his time on Earth. Why?
These were the religious leaders of the time- you’d think they would be the first to welcome Jesus. Yet, while they upheld the Law of Moses, they were also literal to a fault and had no mercy or compassion for not only the Gentiles but their fellow Jews as well. They said they were the most righteous but they were not living with love.
That’s why when Jesus appeared and began to teach mercy and grace and declared himself to be the Messiah, the Pharisees couldn’t understand. The savior they had been waiting on was one of merciless judgment, one who would rain down hellfire on the Gentiles and reward those who had so rigidly upheld the Law.
They were not expecting Jesus. We see the backlash of these broken expectations all throughout Jesus’ Earthly ministry. For centuries, these religious leaders had overseen all of the laws and ceremonies of the Jewish people. However, instead of viewing this as an honor and an opportunity to serve the Lord’s people, they saw it as a reflection of their own importance. They were conceited and selfish. Though they did everything they were ‘supposed’ to do, they never did it in the correct context or with the right heart. We see Jesus address this in Matthew 23. In fact, he dedicates the whole chapter to scourging the work of the Pharisees and Scribes. He upbraided them for their hypocrisy and self-righteousness.
So, when the lawyer (or scribe) asked Jesus in Matthew 22:36 what the most important commandment was, it wasn’t because he was genuinely curious. It was because he was trying to trip Jesus up. The Pharisees spent an alarming amount of their time trying to poke holes in Jesus’ ministry, but every time we see Jesus respond in wisdom and truth. We know that His heart broke for these people because they were missing the whole point of why He came, even in times like these when He spells it out for them.
For all their self-righteousness and austerity, they couldn’t see the most important thing when it was right in front of their noses: love.
That can be really discouraging if you look at it in the wrong context. After all, we don’t want to “miss” Jesus, right? If the Pharisees put in all this work and still never succeeded, what about us? It’s a little different for us because we have the advantage of knowing God’s love through Christ’s sacrifice. We know that the Holy Spirit lives in us. Yet, we are still in as much danger of missing the point as the Pharisees, maybe even more so.
Because, even though we have all of these things (promised to us in Galatians 2:19-20, Ephesians 3:16-18, and many, many more places), we still face the danger of the “righteousness-by-works” trap. For those who are unfamiliar, this is the idea that we are saved by good things we do on Earth, rather than by God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice. Just so we’re clear, Paul disproves this on multiple occasions; in fact, he takes great care to emphasize the exact opposite in his letters to the early church. Take Titus 3:5-7,
“[H]e saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to [God’s] own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (ESV, biblegateway.com, emphasis added)
What does that mean for us? It means we don’t have to do anything to receive salvation. The only thing we need to do is accept the gift that God has already given us through Christ Jesus! If you have done that (confess with your mouth and believe in your heart, says Romans 10:9), you are saved. There is nothing else you could do on earth to make yourself more or less righteous in God’s eyes. Is that not something to rejoice in?
So here’s what all of this comes down to (and this is very, very important):
Stop trying so hard.
Take a cue from Ron Swanson:
If you are living every day of your life a stressed-out mess because you’re worried that you aren’t doing enough for God, you are missing the point. If you shame yourself because you committed that sin again, you are missing Jesus.
Because here’s the thing, folks: Jesus came to earth and lived a perfect, sinless life and died on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to achieve righteousness on our own merit. That’s the entire gospel! God loved us so much that He sent us His son to die in our place so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life!*
So that means right now, in this moment, in whatever mess you are currently in, GOD LOVES YOU! He sees you as perfect because He is viewing you through the blood of Jesus.
In other words, God’s perfect love has perfected us.
I know that’s hard to comprehend. I can’t even wrap my head around it most days. I have a hard time feeling worthy of such a mighty, all-consuming, torrential love, but God gives it to me anyway. I am worthy in His eyes, and so are you.
So what do we do when we feel crushed by our insufficiency, paralyzed by our inability to do enough?
First of all, recognize that that feeling comes from the devil. As Steven Furtick (pastor of Elevation Church) so wisely said,
“The enemy can’t stop God from giving you grace, so he wants to stop you from using it**.”
Powerful stuff, right? And so, so true. It’s important that you realize it because knowing the truth gives you power against the enemy. If Satan can stop you in your tracks by amplifying your own insecurity and whispering lies in your ear, that’s what he’s going to do. You are a powerful force; you are a tool God can use to spread His gospel and love. Satan wants to stop you. Don’t let him. Realize that your anxiety stems from him, not from God. Our Father is just that- a father. Even better, He’s a good father (Matthew 7:11, Romans 8:15, 2 Corinthians 6:18, etc.). A good father doesn’t burden his children with shame and anxiety- those are not good gifts, and so we know they don’t come from God.
Don’t buy into the lie that God is constantly angry at you for your screw-ups or frustrated because you just can’t get it right. That’s not our God. That’s not our Father.
None of this is to say that we shouldn’t try at all- but that’s part of my point. When you go all in, trying your hardest to make it on your own, you will experience massive burnout and you will want to give up. On our own, we simply can’t do it. When we try, we inevitably get discouraged. We throw our hands in the air and say “I just can’t do it.” Then, we project our disappointment in ourselves onto the Lord, feel ashamed, and the cycle repeats, getting worse and more vicious the more it progresses.
But take heart! We were never meant to do it on our own. God knows we’re human. He knows we fall short of His glory. That’s why He comes alongside us.
Matthew 19:26 tells us:
“But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”” (biblegateway.com, ESV)
The Lord is our Champion. He has already gone before you in this battle. Whatever you’re struggling with right now, whether you lose or win, God already loves you. He has already lavished His grace upon you. Nothing you do can change that (Romans 8:38-40).
Therefore, instead of scrambling to be worthy out of shame and fear, let these truths spur you on. Be motivated because God’s pure and perfect love for you is unimaginable. Run the race because you remember who you were before He rescued you from darkness and because He has promised you there is no going back.
Remember what we found in Matthew 22:36-40. If you are sold out for Jesus, living your life in crazy love for Him and for the people around you, you are walking in His will and you are obeying the greatest commandment.
Everything else will come.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” -1 John 4:18 (biblegateway.com, ESV)
*If that sounds familiar, that’s because I just paraphrased John 3:16.
**That quote comes from Furtick’s sermon “The Gift in the Grind,” which you can watch here. I would highly recommend it; it’s a message full of encouragement and conviction. Be prepared to cry.