A Prayer for Smug Grace Legalists, Like Me

Talk about a great title for an article, “A Prayer for Smug Grace Legalists, Like Me.” As soon as I saw the title I had to read this post by Scotty Smith. This is a prayer most of us don’t pray very often; however, we should be praying like this every day. When we  exam our lives and then confess any forms of hypocrisy we are immediately drawn into a deeper relationship with God our Father through the Lord Jesus Christ.

I pray that Scotty Smith’s post for The Gospel Coalition will touch you in a special way, and thus change the way you look at yourself, others, and the God you serve.

Smith writes:

And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” Mark 7:5-8

Lord Jesus, these are strong words. What could be more painful and humbling than to hear you say, “You talk about me a whole lot, using plenty of spiritual language and Bible quotes. You’re very quick to recognize and correct false teaching. You’re even zealous to apply what you know to others, but your heart is far from me. There’s an unacceptable disconnect between what you say and who you are.”

It would be one thing if such a rebuke came to us because we were acting like the Pharisees and scribes you publically confronted—spiritual leaders who distorted and misapplied Old Testament law; religious teachers who put your people under the yoke of performance-based spirituality; Israel’s elders who replaced your commandments with their traditions; authorities who were more scrupulous about tithing mint, dill and cumin than “the weightier matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23).

But, Lord, help us to see and grieve, that we who love the gospel and a theology of grace, can be just as disconnected, hypocritical and rebuke-worthy as any legalist we will ever encounter.

Forgive us for being just as smug with our grace theology as we were obnoxious with our legalistic theology.

Forgive us when we call ourselves “recovering Pharisees” or “recovering legalists” when in actuality, we’re not really recovering from much of anything.

Forgive us, Jesus, when we enjoy exposing bad teachers and false gospels more than we love spending time with you in prayer and fellowship.

Forgive us for having a PhD in the indicatives of the gospel yet failing so miserably when it comes to the imperatives of the gospel.

Forgive us when we are quick to tell people what obedience is not, but fail to demonstrate what the obedience of faith and love actually is.

Forgive us when talk more about “getting the gospel” than demonstrating we’ve been “gotten” by the gospel.

Forgive us when we don’t use our freedom to serve one another in love, but rather use it to put our consciences to sleep.

Forgive us when our love for the gospel does not translate into a love for holiness, world evangelism, and caring for widows and orphans.

Forgive us when we love “the gospel” more than we actually love you, Jesus, as impossible or implausible as that may seem.

Forgive us when the word “gospel” is more of a hyphenated word in our vocabulary than a life-transforming power in our lives. Forgive us; forgive me.

Lord Jesus, change us by your grace and for your glory. So very Amen we pray, with convicted and humbled hearts.

Love or Guilt?

Graceway MediaToward the end of 2011 I was reading from Matthew 15:7-9 where Jesus was addressing the Pharisees and said, “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (ESV). After reading these verses, I spent most of the day examining my own worship to see if there were any part of me that was merely honoring God with my words, but my heart was far from Him.

When I arrived home from work that evening, the first words out of my wife’s mouth were, “You didn’t call me today!” She was not angry, but surprised. You see, after eighteen years of marriage she became accustomed to my calling, emailing, or texting her several times a day to see how she is doing, say “I love you,” and just to talk for a while. So, it was very unusual for me not to contact her in any way for a whole day. Without any explanation I quickly replied, “Do you want me to call you because I love and miss you, or because I feel guilty for not calling you all day?”

Understandably, she was shocked at first, then hurt, and finally a bit concerned. She asked, “Do you ever call me out of guilt and not out of love?” I quickly assured her that it is because of my love that I call her almost every day, and that it had just been one crazy, eventful day at work. Then I talked with her about my Bible study that morning (Matt. 15:7-9). I had asked her the question, not to be a jerk, but to see her reaction to the thought that I might just be honoring her with my lips and not my heart. We want our spouse to love us, long for us, and be honest with us. My comment left her wondering, “Is he faking his love for me, and if so, for how long?”

Shirley’s reaction and the following conversation made both of us stop and reconsider our daily acts of worshipping God. Is my quiet time, which consists of prayer and Bible study, just something I cross off the list each day to feel better about myself spiritually? Do I listen for God during quiet time or just hurry through it? When attending a worship service, am I more concerned about how long it takes, what I have to do after church, or how it affects me more than lifting up praise, adoration, and thanksgiving to the One who died for me? Am I just going through the motions of what is expected? Is my spirituality a mask I put on to play a certain part when I am around my Christian friends or at church?

None of these “spiritual activities” are true worship. Jesus has commanded us, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Just as we would be offended at someone faking their feelings for us to get something they wanted, so is God! Worship, Bible study, church, living a righteous life, and obeying God’s commands are not things we do to keep from angering God. These good things are not to be practiced so that He will give us everything on our wish list of wants, needs, and desires. Worship is giving to God what He deserves. As the moon reflects the light of the sun, so Christians should reflect the character, attributes, love, and holiness of God. We don’t do it because of what we might get, but because the Spirit of God resides in us and that is who we are in Christ.

I don’t want to live a hypocritical life. I don’t want worship to be out of guilt or something I do for my benefit.  I want my worship driven by an insatiable thirst for God’s glory, honor, and praise. I want my worship to be the direct result of who I am in Christ. I want my worship to be something I live out every minute of every day. I want my worship to be sincere, honest, and from a heart of love!

Take time today to read Matthew 15:7-9 and examine your motives for worship.

The Differences Between Religion and The Gospel

Recently I saw a video posted on several Facebook pages titled “Why Jesus Hates Religion.” I personally think it would be better to say, “Jesus Hates Hypocrisy,” but I understand what the young man in this video is trying to say.  We have to be careful when we talk about religion verses Christianity.  Sometimes it is just a matter of defining our words in such a way that everyone knows exactly what we mean.

In this Tullian Tchividjian article, he quotes Tim Keller from a series of messages on self-dependence.  The article is entitled, “The Differences Between Religion and the Gospel.” Tim Keller makes clear what he means by “Religion” and “the Gospel.”  He also shines a bright light on the struggle of many people to perform good, religious works so they are self-assured of their salvation.  However, self-dependent works never equal salvation. Salvation is only found in the finished work of Christ Jesus. Resting in and submitting to Him will bring about the changes He calls for in the Bible.

I hope you enjoy “The Differences Between Religion and The Gospel” by Tim Keller.

Below is a very insightful comparison between “religion” and “the gospel” drawn from the sermons of Tim Keller. Tim does a remarkable job of probing hearts and revealing how easily we slip into self-dependence mode. As I’ve been saying each Sunday, real slavery according to the Bible is self-reliance. So, read the comparison list below with humility and care. It will do your soul good.

RELIGION: I obey-therefore I’m accepted.

THE GOSPEL: I’m accepted-therefore I obey.

RELIGION: Motivation is based on fear and insecurity.

THE GOSPEL: Motivation is based on grateful joy.

RELIGION: I obey God in order to get things from God.

THE GOSPEL: I obey God to get to God-to delight and resemble Him.

RELIGION: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or my self, since I believe, like Job’s friends that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.

THE GOSPEL: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while he may allow this for my training, he will exercise his Fatherly love within my trial.

RELIGION: When I am criticized I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a ‘good person’. Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs.

THE GOSPEL: When I am criticized I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a ‘good person.’ My identity is not built on my record or my performance but on God’s love for me in Christ. I can take criticism.

RELIGION: My prayer life consists largely of petition and it only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of the environment.

THE GOSPEL: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with Him.

RELIGION: My self-view swings between two poles. If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel insecure and inadequate. I’m not confident. I feel like a failure.

THE GOSPEL: My self-view is not based on a view of my self as a moral achiever. In Christ I am “simul iustus et peccator”—simultaneously sinful and yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad he had to die for me and I am so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time. Neither swaggering nor sniveling.

RELIGION: My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work. Or how moral I am, and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to ‘the other.’

THE GOSPEL: My identity and self-worth are centered on the one who died for His enemies, who was excluded from the city for me. I am saved by sheer grace. So I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. Only by grace I am what I am. I’ve no inner need to win arguments.

RELIGION: Since I look to my own pedigree or performance for my spiritual acceptability, my heart manufactures idols. It may be my talents, my moral record, my personal discipline, my social status, etc. I absolutely have to have them so they serve as my main hope, meaning, happiness, security, and significance, whatever I may say I believe about God.

THE GOSPEL: I have many good things in my life—family, work, spiritual disciplines, etc. But none of these good things are ultimate things to me. None of them are things I absolutely have to have, so there is a limit to how much anxiety, bitterness, and despondency they can inflict on me when they are threatened and lost.