Like a Pendulum
At times, I feel my life can be summed up as a pendulum swinging back and forth between pride and guilt. On my best days, I live life believing I am beyond the need for Christ, although I may never say or even consciously think that statement. Then on my worst days, I feel that I am beyond the reach of Christ, needing to work until I am acceptable again. Those are the two opposite ends of the spectrum and most days end up falling somewhere in the middle. The terminology most Christians use to describe this pendulum arc is works-based righteousness. It means that someone is trying to add to the work of Christ on the cross. In other words: Christ’s death provided me with a clean slate, but from here on out it is my responsibility to prove I was worth His sacrifice. This kind of thinking is anti-gospel thinking, but I didn’t realize that and so for most of my life it corroded my soul, draining me of joy and freedom.
The Vicious Cycle of Folly
I was born to religious parents and raised in the church, so I was very familiar with what being ‘Christian’ or at least what that’s supposed to look like. I thought if I could emulate some of those characteristics, then I would not only be acceptable to other Christians but also, ultimately, to God. Consequently, I spent much of life in short sprints of ‘Christian’ work. I served in church on the praise team and in leadership positions; I even found myself in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest spreading God’s word. For the most part, things seemed great. I lived life on my own terms, serving God according to what I thought was acceptable and necessary. However, this created a few problems. First, I developed a sense of superiority, especially over others that did not live up to my standards. Second, I would eventually feel burned out and exhausted from all my work. That’s why I used the word sprints earlier, as most of the ‘Christian’ work lasted only a short while. It never took long before I needed either a break or something new and exciting. As a result, I found myself in a vicious cycle. When I didn’t live up to the standards of what I thought it meant to be Christian (which I’d determined by myself or the counsel of others), guilt set in. This failure led me to beat myself up or try harder, then white-knuckle my way back into a prideful state which meant patting myself on the back while looking down on others who couldn’t pick themselves up.
The Good News
Fortunately, the gospel completely destroys that cycle because it kills my need to earn anything. There’s a reason it’s called good news: everything that needed to be done in salvation was already done on the cross! When I reflect on my day, week, or year, I naturally think about all of my mistakes, all of the things I wish I could redo, and then I listen to the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” God is not pleased with what I consider victories, and His love is not contingent on anything that I can do, have done or will do; it’s all because of Christ. I have acceptance with the Father because on the cross Christ was forsaken. In those moments, an amazing burden lifts off my shoulders. I feel free, free from the captivity of trying to earn any part of my salvation. A verse from the song “It Is Finished” sums this up well: “Cast your deadly doing down/Down at Jesus’ feet/Stand in Him, in Him alone/Gloriously complete.” — Benjamin currently attends Metro Presbyterian Church and volunteers his time serving as an usher and member of the music team.