In church, many times we can present Christianity as a list of things to do. The Bible is sometimes presented as a book of rules to follow to be a better person. Our Christian piety is often ranked by our good works and religious activities. Our spiritual exhaustion with church activities is a sign of our true spiritual greatness. But is this the truth? Is this the Christian freedom that Jesus came to bring?
When we make becoming more like Jesus, or sanctification as the theologians call it, about our religious performance, we build a system of spiritual achievement that is really easy to quantify yet really difficult to live. The more we try to keep the rules and the more that we try to be better Christians, the more we realize that we are worse Christians than we thought. As Paul wrestled with keeping the rules, he lamented:
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:18-24 ESV)
Paul has realized the truth of following Jesus that we so often miss – we cannot do it. We stink at checking boxes. We are horrible at following rules. We are wretched people that need to be delivered not just from the sins of our past but transformed to live for Jesus in the future.
After crying out for a deliver, Paul reminds himself of the “done” of the gospel. He says “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The hope for Paul and the hope for us is the “done” of the gospel. Following Jesus is not about doing religious activities to impress God. It is about living out of the transforming truth that Jesus has lived the perfect Christian life in our place. He is the One who died not just for our salvation but for our sanctification.
Therefore, in our churches and in the world, we must proclaim the “done” of the gospel rather than the “do” of religion. The “do” of religion robs the gospel of its power and calls Christians to work for the acceptance that they have already received because of the cross. We are free to follow Jesus with joy and complete abandon as He works in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. We get to do because it has already been done for us on the cross. We must cease our box-checking activities and embrace the grace of the gospel.
Are we empowering our people with the freedom of the “done” of the gospel or are we enslaving people with the “do” of religion?