This past week, I was handing out our Mission Journals to the students that are going on the mission trips to Maine and Queens. This is the second year I have handed out these devotional guides for our students, so it should not have been a shock to see that we give them a guide for their quiet time. On the calendar pages, each day has two passages: A Psalm and another passage. As the students started to sort through the journal, their eyes got bigger with those comic book thought bubbles racing out of their head, “He wants me to read all of this? I can’t do that.”
The students vocalized their thoughts into questions, the two most frequently asked being:
Do we have to do both passages?
What happens if I miss a day?
My responses aren’t really that surprising
Do we have to do both passages? No. You don’t have to do it at all.
What happens if I miss a day? You don’t need to catch up at all.
In fact, Christians. You don’t have to do anything. It’s amazing. You are free. No longer are you bound to religious obligations. Showing up to church is not on the check list anymore. Spending time in God’s word daily is a waste of time. Give offerings to the church? Why do that? Keep your money.
See you are free. All you need is Jesus. All you need is faith. All you need is faith in Him. In his work on the cross. With Jesus, you don’t have to earn anything anymore. You don’t have to do something because it is an obligation. Your “no” can be a “no” without any explanation.
Paul, in Galatians, actually calls your religious duties enslaving, “gods” and “worthless elementary principles of the world.” Translation: your religious obligations and duties are actually devil worship and enslaving you once again.
Our problem isn’t that we do too little … it’s that we try to do too much and we think it is in these things we have life!
Now, before you go and run me out o the church, hear me out hear Paul out:
“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be kown by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” Gal 4:8-9.
The Galatians were confused. See, they were told by Paul the freeing Gospel; no longer obligated to do work for God or to earn God’s unconditional love because in Jesus, they already have it. And Paul left to go plant more churches and tell people about Jesus and these other guys came in and saying “Yes! Grace, but also you gotta do this too. You gotta obey God’s law too.” So, all sorts of confusion. Paul is saying
Jesus + Nothing = Everything. (1)
It’s not Jesus + Church attendance, or Jesus plus your offering check, or Jesus plus daily devotions, or Jesus plus serving on a missions trip. It’s not Jesus plus Social Justice or Jesus plus speaking in tongues or Jesus plus a pro-life sticker on your car.
It’s JESUS + Nothing = Everything.
Whenever we try to add something to the gospel, it turns the focus entirely on us. Whenever we turn the focus off of grace, off of Jesus’ work and onto my work, I miss grace entirely! Whenever I feel motivated that I “have to do this” that is based on fear, not love.
When you miss a day of reading the bible, you don’t need to catch up because it isn’t about catching up! Religion says, “You need to catch up” but the Gospel says, “It’s okay, just start where you left off.” Religion says “You have to do things for God.” The Gospel says, “You can’t do anything for God. He does everything for you.”
People hate being told what to do but ya know what we hate even more? People hate being told that they can’t do anything. And that’s what the Gospel says: You can’t do anything to earn God’s unconditional love for you. You can’t do anything to get more of God’s love (there isn’t anymore) and you can’t do anything to get less of God’s love. That’s why the gospel is so offensive. It attacks our good works just as much as our bad works.
So, truly, you don’t have to do your devos. You don’t have to show up to church. You don’t have to put money in the offering plate. You don’t have to be in a small group. You don’t have to do anything for God. All you need is Jesus.
When you start to get Jesus, when you realize you can’t do anything for God, when you understand God loves you unconditionally: you will start to want to live and work and do. Not out of obligation, but our of response. Whenever we start to get the Jesus has taken hold me of, we start imitating Paul when he says
“I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Philippians 3:12.
When you are rooted and founded in the Gospel, you will pursue Jesus, his works, his teachings, his life because you are compelled by love, not motivated by fear.
So stop trying to earn God’s love by being religious. In Jesus, you already have it. Rather, He already has you. Now is time to make it your own.