My friend walked away from the faith several years ago. Not all at once. It was more like a slow walk. A leisurely stroll. But one that brought him to a bad place. From his first exposure to Christianity and his profession of faith, he was full of zeal. As a young believer myself, I remember one of the first questions that always came from my friend’s mouth when we would see each other was, “What are you doing for Jesus? God’s done so much for you, what are you doing for him? What are you doing to pay him back?” I remember how uncomfortable that made me feel, even as a new Christian and being so young in the faith and naive. It made me squirm. It made me feel guilty and condemned because God had done so much for me and I seemed unable and grossly inconsistent and incompetent in doing much for Him. I eventually started avoiding my friend, at least for the first few minutes after he would arrive. Once the preliminary “what are you doing for Jesus?” Q&A with everyone else in the room would subside, I would emerge from the back room, breathing a sigh of relief and congratulating myself that I had successfully avoided another interrogation. Sad, but true.
That’s what “do more” Christianity does. It doesn’t make you do more, it makes you give up altogether! It’s not good news. It’s bad news. It ties heavy burdens on our own backs and on the backs of others that we can’t possibly bear and leaves us feeling condemned because it’s never ending and we can never do enough and we’ll never measure up. That’s what eventually happened to my friend. After years of hearing and asking “What are you doing for Jesus?” and convincing himself that he needed to be “on fire for Jesus” 24/7 for God to be pleased with him, he finally despaired of the whole thing, lost his family, and threw in the towel and walked away.
Not unlike my friend, I used to think strong and competent was what God required. I used to think I was strong and competent in myself and that my strength and competency somehow put a smile on God’s face, until I hit a wall of performance. Then I discovered the freeing and beautiful truth that Jesus doesn’t call me strong. He calls me beloved. The truth is I’m not on fire for Jesus. Jesus is on fire for me. It would be nice to be able to say that I’m on fire for Jesus 24/7 but the truth is my affections are fickle and my devotion is all over the map. But even in the midst of my divided affections and up and down devotion, Jesus both loves me and likes me. He wants to be with me. He’s not fretting or wringing his hands over my inability to be a spiritual giant. There are no spiritual giants. I’m not the hero of the story. He is. He’s holding me, I’m not holding him. He is my substitute in all of life and because of that, his perfect record is mine and nothing can tarnish it, not even me.
That means that because my prayer life is weak and there are times I can’t pray or don’t even want to pray, he intercedes for me (Romans 8:26). It means that because I am weak and unable to fix myself, I have a sympathetic and strong High Priest who lavishes non-stop grace and mercy on me even on my worst days (Heb. 4:15-16). It means that even when I sin, I have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. (1 John 2:1). Because my worship is fickle and my attentions divided, he worships perfectly for me (Heb. 2:12). That’s good news! That’s the gospel applied to my real life.
I wish I could see my friend again and tell him these things. The Christian life isn’t about me and you. The beauty of the gospel is that Jesus is the only hero of the story and he loves broken people. Jesus didn’t come to set the competent free. He came to set the captives free.