One of the reasons we struggle in embracing the grace of God in our daily lives as Christians is an idol that we don’t recognize in our hearts. Many of us have come to believe that grace is what we need when we are converted, but we quickly transition into the hard work of growing in our faith. We think that Jesus saved me by grace, so now it’s my job to get to work becoming more like Jesus and pursuing holiness. We see our ongoing role or duty as a Christian to read the Bible, understanding what God expects from us, and then apply the “Nike” principle – “just do it.” When we take that approach we make the point of our Bible reading, prayer, and service about me becoming a better Christian, rather than knowing and loving God. If we are a little more charismatic, we may reach out to Holy Spirit as someone who can help us in our pursuit, but we still see the work of Christian growth as primarily our responsibility and the measure of our success isa better Christian me.
It is difficult for us to embrace the truth that Jesus paid for all of our sin, past, present and future; and that focusing on sinning less is not really the point. That sounds counter-intuitive to us as American Christians. Our rugged individualism says “if I don’t do it, no one will.” We see it as a cop-out or an excuse to live in habitual sin. But that is just not true. We imaging that if our life is not about me putting off my sin, then we will simply continue in it. The problem with that thinking is that both of my options, either seeking to put off sin or carelessly living in it, both have “me” in the center. That is where the idolatry comes in. My growth, my holiness, my service and my walk of faith become the point of my Christian life. And the truth is, it’s not that my holiness is not the point. It’s that I’m not the point.
If I trust in anything, other than Jesus to find value and meaning in life, I make that thing an idol; even if it is a good thing. When I need to be, a “good Christian,” (whatever that means) to feel good and right, then that becomes my idol. I begin to fantasize, “If only I can live a certain way, do this and not do that, then everything will be great in the world and I will feel good about myself.” If I can’t rest in what Jesus did for me as the source of my peace or my sense of worth and well-being, and I must have Jesus + good christian behavior or Jesus + faithful service, or Jesus + anything, then I have unknowingly erected and began worshiping an idol; and that idol probably looks a lot like me. Those Christian disciplines are a great outcome of trusting in Jesus, but I must not fall into trusting in them instead of His finished work. In other words, I must resist thinking it’s all about or it all depends on me.
There really is a third option. That option says that being a Christian is not about me at all – it’s about Jesus. It says that His sacrifice on my behalf ushers me into the Kingdom of God, where He is King and I am His subject. My sin has been dealt with once and for all and I now freely live as part of that new kingdom; in humble, willing and loving submission to my new King. I am no longer the main character in my story; actually it’s not my story at all. Whether I am doing well or poorly as a member of the kingdom is not the point. Jesus has already done it perfectly, and because I am a citizen of the kingdom, it is accredited to me. When that becomes a reality to me, I find myself swept away into a much bigger story – a grand tale of a holy God who loves sinners. The story is no longer about me, but it does affect me. I am the object of the King’s love and sacrifice. The sooner I realize this truth the more willing I am to smash the idols (me being the biggest one) that stand between me and the worship of my true Savior and King, and the sooner I will actually live a more holy life.
The less I focus on my pursuit of holiness, which had become an idol for me, and the more I focus on the Holy One, the more holy I actually become. The more I focus on what Jesus did for me rather than what I must do for Him, the more I begin to actually be, the person Jesus says that I am because He has given me His righteousness. Ironically, when I worshiped at the altar of the idol of “a holy life”, I wasn’t getting much holier. But when my heart’s desire is no longer a holy life, but the Giver of life Himself, the One who declared me holy, then I actually begin to see my heart really change, and His holiness begin to bear fruit.