One of the greatest dangers to your spiritual growth, and mine, is trying to be a good person. I know, I know, you think I've really lost it now! But keep reading...
Christianity differs from every other belief system in that your status with God is not based on your good works; your achievements (whether moral, financial, athletic, academic, social, etc.). Your status with God is totally based on God’s grace given to you (a “free” gift), and living your life daily out of that received grace, merited through Jesus Christ.
But many Christians stop walking in the grace that they accepted when they experienced the new birth. They stop walking in that daily gift of forgiveness, new every morning. Instead, they - you and me - start working at it, and pretty soon, we start thinking it's more about our effort rather than God's gift.
Eventually we Christians start basing our spiritual journey on our activity rather than our adoption.
When John Wesley had his "Aldersgate experience" of God's acceptance by grace through faith, and realized that his sins were forgiven, he said he went from being a "servant" of God to being a "son" of God; he went from living on the porch to living in the house as a member of the family.
Many of us move back to the porch; we start acting like servants of God again instead of beloved children. We lose the joy of our relationship as a child of God, loved and cherished! We become like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, who said to his father, "Look, all these many years I have served you..." (Luke 15:29).
He had no joy in his relationship with his father; it was all work and drudgery.
And he despised his own brother.
Why? Because the younger brother didn't live up to his high standard. And even though the younger brother realized what a fool he'd been, and came home repentant - willing to be a servant to his father - the older brother judged him unworthy.
He wouldn't even call him "brother" anymore. He referred to him as,"this son of yours" when speaking to his father (15:30).
This is the danger for you and me. If we are working ourselves to the nubs for God - with the attitude of the older brother - trust me; we will be keeping score. And most people aren't going to meet our high standard. And if they get close, we'll raise the bar higher!
Because we've slipped into "works-righteousness." We've stopped receiving God's gift. Now we're trying to earn it. We set standards others can't meet, trying to make ourselves look better while everyone else comes up short.
We become Pharisees.
Paul the apostle shared his heart in Philippians 3, confessing that he used to live this kind of life:
"We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort, though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!
"I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law...and as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.
"I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." (Phil. 3:3-8, New Living Translation)
So another danger of this attitude is hinted at by Paul: if I'm earning it myself, I don't need Jesus. I can manage.
Friends, this is NOT Christianity. It is counterfeit faith. It produces judgmental Christians and churches. It divides us instead of uniting us. It's the hypocrisy that the world sees in us. And it's ugly.
Take a few moments and examine your heart. Let the Holy Spirit shine a light into the rooms in your spiritual house and check your motivations:
Are you walking freely in grace today?
Or are you anxious about all you need to do.
Are you keeping score for yourself, and for others?
After you've spent some time reflecting on this, put all the wrong motives and judgmental attitudes at the foot of the cross. Thank Jesus again for offering himself for you, and thank him again for his gift of eternal life - unmerited, unearned, yours by faith in Christ alone!
When you've left that burden at the cross, please come back in the house, and join the family at the table!