Working Hard to Be In Control – by Greg Albrecht
I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. – Isaiah 46:4
A rich young ruler came to Jesus asking him, “…what good thing MUST I DO TO GET eternal life?” – Matthew 19:16
It’s Christ-less religion in a nutshell: What do I have to do to make God happy so he will give me what I want? This rich young man was used to getting what he wanted. He was used to being a success and making a profit. He was a winner. Author Robert Farrar Capon says the rich young ruler was a successful liver of a lawful life.
The rich young ruler was addicted to his own abilities to control life – he assumed that the kingdom of heaven operates on the same principles that work (pun intended) in the kingdoms of this world. This young man was a winner in physical pursuits and he believed that the same hard work that brought him success in the physical world would “work” in his relationship with God. In many churches and ministries pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps, self-help pep talks overwhelm the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus spoke of our response to him as surrender, faith and trust, but the pied-pipers of Christ-less religion say that we must work hard so we might one day become Spiritual Super Heroes capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound!
The purveyors and peddlers of performance-based religion proclaim FAKE NEWS which is no gospel at all (Galatians 1:7). Christ-less religion is the FAKE NEWS that one can get God to do what one wants IF one just pushes the right buttons and does the right things.
Christ-less religion is FAKE NEWS because it is based on the proposition that human beings are in control of their lives. The rich young ruler saw himself as a winner – an obedient and successful law-keeper. The rich young ruler was not about to surrender to Jesus, trust him and become what he perceived as a dependent loser.
Jesus never insisted that his followers conquer all obstacles – he told them (us) that one must lose one’s life in order to gain it (Matthew 10:39). The rich young ruler came to Jesus hoping to gain additional spiritual success by more diligently obeying the law. The rich young ruler may have hoped Jesus would clue him in about spiritual techniques, laws and rules for making a spiritual profit in a similar way that he had achieved physical gain and profits.
Jesus advised the rich young ruler to give up all he had (Matthew 19:21) – to get rid of his cherished religious techniques, rituals and ceremonies and become a disciple, enrolling in the class Jesus taught, titled Grace – Trust and Surrender 101. Performance-based religion is not at all about surrendering one’s hopes and dreams and way of life to God – religion is about control, not about surrendering control.
Religion is about the illusion of control – it’s an illusion and fool’s errand because in spite of the best efforts of people more virtuous than you or me, no one has ever been, nor will they ever be, successful at controlling life!
The FAKE NEWS of performance-based religion insists that God will finally love you when and if you improve, do better, build more character, produce more and earn more religious merit badges. Run faster and jump higher. Push, drive and propel yourself …sooner or later, hopefully if you catch God on a good day, Christ-less religion promises God will (somewhat reluctantly) give you what you want.
The wardens of performance-based religious penitentiaries assure the inmates that God will “bless” them after they do all they can to please and appease him. Why do I place quotation marks around the word bless? Blessed, as used within Christendom, particularly within the evangelical world, is a loaded term because it can blur the distinction between something given and something earned.
On the one hand, “blessed” can mean that one is thankful to God for imparting his gifts which can ultimately only come from him. In a correct, Christ-centered context, “blessed” means “thank you God” for blessing me in ways that I could never have earned or deserved.
However, Christ-less religion uses the same word “blessed” to essentially mean “I am so blessed because I did all the right things and God rewarded me.” The word “blessed” works (pun intended again) well when performance-based religion pumps out its BIG LIE promising God’s grace and favor for religious workers who will achieve his blessings through their blood, sweat and tears.
Hard work, in both the physical and religious world, is admired and valued. Surrendering and yielding in both the physical and religious world is seen as weakness and a sign of a loser. Independence is believed to be good – dependence is seen as weak and suspect. That’s why the grace of God doesn’t “sell” in the religious world.
In the kingdoms of this world, the weak are seen as those who surrender and give up, while religious Super-men and Wonder-women are perceived as those who subdue and conquer.
Religious Super-Heroes are believed to “live in victory” and never, ever have problems or suffer diseases. A good deal of what passes for Christianity in North America is more about acting and pretending that bad things don’t happen to people who do all the right things.
This nonsensical silliness is yet another product of Christ-less legalism, because when the inevitable bad things happen, people who had been indoctrinated into believing they must either be or appear to be perfect at all times and in every way must quickly retreat into a world of denial. When followers of the health-and-wealth / prosperity gospel wake up and discover that they are not living in a Disneyland-like world of victory and non-stop joy, they realize in order to be accepted in their religious culture they must start living a lie – and many thus begin living in denial.
Surrendering to God and embracing his grace means giving up the illusion that one can control one’s life. Grace involves accepting reality and it means the end of living in denial – realizing that we are weak and vulnerable – we are not capable of being religious Super Heroes.
What is it like to surrender to God’s grace? God’s grace is like undressing before huge floor-to-ceiling mirrors – pretenses and imperfections are exposed. God’s grace strips away the deception and hypocrisy of performance-based religion. When one surrenders to Jesus, one surrenders all religious costumes and masks and stands before him naked as a jay bird, completely dependent on the goodness of God.
Paul’s metaphor is that one who repents of performance-based religion and embraces God’s grace “takes off” the clothing of the world of legalistic religion and “puts on” Christ.
You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. – Galatians 3:26-27
It is so very natural to wonder “because God’s grace cannot be earned or deserved, and because Jesus has d-o-n-e for us all that we can never d-o for him, does that mean that those who surrender to Jesus and trust him are do-nothing Christ-followers?”
God asks us to 1) accept his invitation, surrendering the FAKE NEWS that God loves us in response to our good works, 2) trust in Jesus to do for us what we can never do for ourselves, and 3) yield our lives, in surrender to Jesus, so that God may use us in his service.
Ephesians 2:8-9 helps us see that we are saved by God’s grace, not by our works, because if that is the case then we might boast of our spiritual accomplishments. While we are saved BY GRACE, we are saved FOR WORKS… the works that God will produce in and through us, by his grace.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Ephesians 2:10
Make no mistake – Christ-followers are busy and active and serving! We reject religious FAKE NEWS that pretends our works earn us favorable standing with God – we embrace the grace of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ that enables and empowers us to follow Jesus and his work (which is not always one and the same as that of religion!).
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:58
Your co-worker in Christ, serving together in his name,
Friend and Partner Letter from August 2018