Good News for Bad Performers

I have a friend that works at a funeral home.

He’s heard and seen it all.

He’s seen a person reach into the casket to steal jewelry from a dead relative.  On several occasions he’s had to call the police because of fights during funerals and, of course, he’s experienced more than his fair share of bad singing.

The most disturbing thing he has shared with me is the time he was at a funeral service for a Jehovah’s Witness teenager.  Everyone was very upset and the minister’s words didn’t offer much in the way of comfort.

“It’s just a shame that this young man didn’t live long enough to earn his way into heaven.”

My heart broke when he told me that.  I began to wish that I knew this young man and his family so that I could’ve shared the gospel of salvation by grace through faith before it was too late.

And then I began to think of how often I’m tempted to live my life in accord with the same bad theology that my friend heard from that mistaken minister.

Sure, I check all of the right boxes in regards to God’s grace and human effort but sometimes, in day to day matters, I’m tempted to believe that if I really want God to like me, if I really want to reach elite status in God’s kingdom, I need to be doing more.

This happens when I’m done praying and I immediately wonder if my prayer was long enough.

Should I pray for a few more minutes?  That amen came a little quick.

It happens sometimes at the end of a simple conversation.

Was I missional enough in that conversation?  Did I talk about sports too much?  I’ve got to do a better job of addressing the matters of the heart with the man that highlights my receipt at Sam’s Club.

And it all comes to a climax during the most difficult part of my week, the few hours after my sermon when I begin to critique everything I just said.

Man, I hope I didn’t sound like Joel Osteen.  I think I sounded like Joel Osteen.  I’ve got to quit being so soft.

Man, I hope I didn’t sound like Stone Cold Steve Austin.  I think I sounded like Stone Cold Steve Austin.  I’ve got to quit being so hard.

What would John MacArthur or John Piper have thought if they had heard me preach this morning?  I’m pretty sure they would have left before I ever finished.  Who invited them anyway?

One time after I preached to a group of men at another church, the guy who was driving me around told me something that really messed with me.

“Boy, I sure do love your preaching.  You remind me of the great expositors like John MacArthur, Adrian Rogers and Joel Osteen.”

Osteen?!  I still don’t know what to make of that but for the next few weeks after he told me that, I smiled a lot less and preached about hell a lot more, just to be safe.

Even though I’ve put my faith in Jesus Christ and repented of my sins, I still need the gospel.  Everyday.  Without it, I fall into a performance trap where I never can measure up.

The gospel compels me to ask God to give me a heart that longs to continually communicate with him, rather than worrying about the length of my prayers.

The gospel motivates me to live in such a way that Jesus’ light is always shining through me instead of trying to hit a missional home run during every conversation.

And the gospel reminds me of my need to be forgiven for my sin of idolatry.  God has me where I am for his own good purposes and those purposes do not include imitating and impressing other great preachers.

When we abandon the gospel of grace, we always replace it with the gospel of performance.  And as a result we end up being either self-righteous or self-condemning.  Both are false gospels.  Thankfully, Jesus’ gospel points me away from self and towards his cross.

At the cross, I’m reminded that my very best performances aren’t good enough to please God (Romans 3:23).  But the gospel is good news because it tells me that Jesus’ performance on my behalf is sufficient (2 Corinthians 5:21).

At the cross, I’m reminded of the weight of my sin and the condemnation that comes with it (Romans 6:23).  But the gospel is good news because it tells me that Jesus took that condemnation in my place (Romans 8:1).

I could never live long enough to earn my way into heaven.  Each day’s shortcomings remind me of that.

But Jesus’ life, death and resurrection earned the way for me.  The gospel reminds me of that.