Monday, October 6, 2014

Checklist Christianity

By Kristen Wetherell
Follow the rules, and be good enough.
Christianity often becomes a "how to get to heaven" checklist. Attended church on Sunday. Check. Didn't get (too) angry with my co-worker. Check. Read my Bible for fifteen minutes and prayed before work. Check and check. Confessed my sins. Check.

And we wonder why we're frustrated and exhausted.

So what does it take to get into heaven? Jesus, himself, was asked this very question by a young man in Matthew chapter 19. Here's the account:
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions (Matthew 19:16-22).
As I read this account this morning, it became increasingly clear that nothing is new under the sun: people today are still wondering, "What do I have to do to get into heaven?" Eastern religions seem to offer the answers to this question by claiming that salvation comes by good works, a good life, good karma. If we're good enough, then good will come to us.

But here's what is striking to me about how Jesus initially replies to the young man's question. He does not say up-front, "Sell what you possess...and follow me." No. He gives the confident young man (whom we're told is also very rich) a nice, tidy checklist of the commandments required to "enter life." Jesus knew that the young man would assert his fulfillment of those commands...but he also knew that his completed "checklist" would still leave him lacking.

The young man is not unlike us, in that he sees all his efforts to "be good," and yet he comes up short. So short that he must inquire of Jesus, "What do I still lack?" I feel like I've come up short, even still, he thinks. I feel like "being good" just isn't enough, and it hasn't satisfied me. The deep thirst of my soul for eternity is driving me mad because nothing I do has helped me to attain it. My checklist has given me no assurance whatsoever. 

Notice where Jesus carries their conversation next. He cuts to the very core of the rich young ruler's identity, to the self-made foundation he has built as an attempt at finding security and being satisfied: "Sell what you possess...and come, follow me," Jesus commands. Yet, at the heart of this is not another command, not another rule to obey to "be good." No.

At the heart of Jesus' words is a calling. A calling by the very Son of God, the Lord and Savior of all. A calling for this young man to secure his assured eternity not on the basis of his own good works, but through Christ, who perfectly completed God's checklist, who never once sinned in all his days walking the earth as God incarnate. 

Only the goodness and righteousness of Jesus Christ is sufficient to save the insufficient sinner, to save to eternity men and women who never could get there on their own efforts. To save people like you and me. 

Pastor Tim Keller writes this: "Christians, you see, are people who know that their Christianity is impossible, a miracle--there's nothing natural about it, it flies in the face of all one's merits. Everybody has to recognize that we have been resting our hopes on some form of personal merit. And it's our personal merit, our moral worth, that keeps us from understanding the cross" (King's Cross, pg. 132-3).

Come, follow Jesus. Lay down your good works as a means to your salvation, understanding that they'll never get you there. Surrender the shaky foundation of sand you've attempted to build your life upon, hoping it would satisfy you. Christ laid down his life because he was intimately aware of your inability to save yourself. He obediently went to the cross, bore God's wrath, and rose three days later for you! 

Lay aside your checklist, and come.

Precious Lord Jesus, I praise you for your perfect life! That you obeyed the Father perfectly is astounding. And even more astounding is that you would come to save a sinner like me, a rebel and a hater of God. I trust in you to be my sufficiency before God. Clothe me in your righteousness. I stand on your merit. I confess I cannot save myself, and I need you to cleanse me from my sin and give me a new heart that loves you. I rest my assurance on you.

Amen. 

[Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net]

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