I grew up attending church and I was surrounded by some great people. My Sunday School teachers loved Jesus and seemed like they got it and we’re already there. You know what I mean? Like, they had everything in their lives together. Nothing seemed wrong. Everything seemed perfect.
That was one of the reasons why I wanted to be a Christian. I knew I didn’t have everything together. I knew that I was a sinner and what it seemed like what I wanted to get from church was a way to be better, and that these people knew how and were teaching how to get perfect (1).
So, when I became a Christian, I thought by 25 I would be better. I thought I wouldn’t struggle with my selfishness and people’s approval. It all seemed to me back then that I would pray to Jesus every once in a while and that I would be okay and a good person by now. Be a better person.
But I didn’t really understand grace and the gospel back then. I was naive and even that desire to “be better” was selfish.
I guess what I didn’t realize is that Christianity, as what Francis Spufford says, is a league of the guilty (2), not a clubhouse of the perfect.
“Christianity isn’t supposed to be about gathering up the good people (shiny! happy! squeaky clean!) and excluding the bad people (frightening! alien! repulsive!) for the simple reason that there aren’t any good people.”
The older I get (I turn 25 next month), the more I see how broken I am. The more I see how sinful I am. The more I see how much I desire people’s approval and focus. This morning, after it snowed, I wanted to go clean off my car. Told my friend and she said “Why don’t you go clean off [the nighbor’s] car; you’ll earn some brownie points.”
Now, Youth Pastor, I tell my youth group that “Everything they need, in Christ they already have” but here I am going to clear off someone else’s car before my own to gain some brownie points. I don’t need to earn brownie points from someone else because the Creator of the universe has said, “My beloved son, with you I am well pleased”(3). And I didn’t even do anything Christ All I did was sin against Him and he sent his Son to die for me so that I can know God as Father. God is well pleased in me not because of my work but because of Jesus’ work.
I even went a little slower so that maybe the neighbor would see me and say thank you …
So, what did this selfish, approval-needing man do? He remembered the talk [he gave] at youth group last night from the start of the new series on Mark’s Gospel.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:15
In the middle of the cleaning off my own car this morning, I realized my desire for approval was sinful. It was a desire for me to say how awesome I was. The act itself was a good act, but my motives, the reason, was all wrong. So I followed Jesus’ words.
Repent– Most people think that repenting is turning away from the acts that we do or have done and following in good paths. Well, the sins that you and I do are caused by the SIN in our heart. That means sin is not limited to the bad things (kill, steal, etc) we do but, yes, the good things (cleaning off cars, serving the poor) when we have impure motives. So, I confessed and repented. I said to God, “HEY! This is who I am. This is what I crave. I need you. I am sorry about this but I need you.” My repentant prayer led me to reset my focus and to
Believe in the Gospel– This is where I begin. This is my foundation. This is where I have to start. As I progress, this is what I have to do. I have to believe in the Gospel. I have to believe that I am a sinner. That even my good works have impure motives. That I seek myself. But that God loves me despite that and He sent His Son, Jesus, to go to the cross to die for my sins and give me all that he earned and he rose so that when I come to know God, when I come to Him in prayer, when I walk with Him, in my relationship with Him, it is just as if I have never sinned and just as if I always obeyed.
God isn’t angry at me anymore. He isn’t disappointed in me because there are no expectations. Christianity is a league of the guilty. It is a crutch for the broken. A family for the orphans. Don’t worry if you’re not good enough. Because when you walk through those doors, you’ll find a ton of other people who know the exact same thing. Just look at the guy leading worship and the youth.
But we do trust and believe in Jesus. So, join us in going through the Gospel of Mark and seeing what Jesus has done for us.
Because in Him, it is finished.
(1) this isn’t a knock on those that I grew up with or the church that I grew up in. Carlisle Evangelical Free Church is a place that gets the gospel. My pastor growing up, Bob Gray, taught and shared the gospel; lived it out well. I am who I am because of the ways that God worked through him, his family, his sons, his ministry. I am thankful for him. I am thankful and pray for CEFC often. I love those people. Just keep reading.
(2) Francis Spufford, Unapologetic
(3) Mark 1:11