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By Pat Badstibner, World Prayr, Inc.

This article has been updated as a response in the series Discussing the Law in Scripture. See that page for a detailed directory of articles in this discussion. The initial article in that discussion is The Law as Gospel.

There is something about having a mission statement for a mission that says, “Helping Christians act like Christians.” Such a mission statement creates mental images of Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible for me as I picture Tom Cruise jumping over motorcycles, walking down the side of a multi-story glass building, and other insanely impossible stunts. Yet, our minds are often so focused on Do that such a mission statement is the way we usually think.

This type of thinking once so predominately ruled my life that when faced with not being able to DO, I found myself standing on a bridge one night ready to jump, late one evening. An award-winning artist, my life was defined by being able to do DO. Now, I was facing not being able to be the man I once was. The very thing my identity and significance were found in I was faced with losing.   

Dozens depended on my ability to perform for their livelihood and the ability to feed their families. As my church’s largest employer, I was also a leader among men known for his ability to help Christians act like Christians. This was who I was until diagnosed with a crippling disease. A disease that left me with an uncertain future, wondering why God was mad at me, and feeling like I would let dozens and my church down. Entering a world of silence with doctors predicting I may never be able to walk without some aid, much less DO again!

As I stood on that bridge, there were five prominent thoughts in my mind;

  • I wanted to end the tremendous emotional and physical pain I was in.
  • Was God mad at me?
  • Hadn’t I done everything right?
  • Why did it not seem enough? Why did I get the feeling that it wasn’t enough?
  • Was God throwing me on the trash heap of life, was he done with me?
  • How could I face anyone? What would they think of me now that I couldn’t DO?

My dear friend Henry said it best recently. “The devil is a gambler; he gambled on the jump. Grace won that night.”

I didn’t have the answers that night, and the pain of not knowing the answers to those questions was as painful as the physical pain I was feeling. Yet, looking back, it was not the bright lights that hit me in the face from the emergency road crew keeping me from jumping that night but God’s loving sovereignty. It was God’s loving sovereignty as he broke my self-righteousness, my idea of obedience, my self-sufficiency, and my idea of what a Christian should be to instill a different message. A message of hope and change.

One Without The Other Doesn’t Work

A message that focuses on both the gospel and the Law and reveals the necessity for both. Without a correct understanding of the Law, the gospel is not valid. Without the Law, we cannot express what we have discovered through the gospel in our life. Yet, the Law without the gospel is nothing more than a powerless to-do list unable to accomplish anything but make one weary from living life. I know firsthand about being tired from trying to be enough, to be right in the eyes of other Christians and God. My team and my family were indeed weary from my to-do lists and my insistence they perform to an unreachable standard.

I had grown up with a Christianity that was all about DO. That night on the bridge, tens of thousands of hours of study and what is now sixteen years later has brought a different message. A message that has created what my family calls Dadisms. “It isn’t if you don’t get the gospel right, you don’t get anything right. It is if you don’t get the Law right, you don’t get anything right, including the gospel.”

The Breakdown Begins

The first breakdown in getting the Law right occurs in the game “Whose Standard Is It?” Where contestants are left to themselves to set the standard of God’s Law. After deciding the standard, each contestant can then use their determination to judge themselves and others. As one can see in this game, the law’s standard becomes subjective to each contestant’s subjective judgment. 

Creating a Law that now has a consistent change variable, a change determined by each player’s external circumstances and life experiences. When the standard of the Law is changed, we are left with no choice but to change God’s character. Instead of a God who acts independently, and perfectly we are left with a God defined by each player’s life experiences in the game. Here’s the catch though, all of us are playing the game.

The Game We All Know And Play

This is the game of life we all play. Once, we had no choice but to play this game, as we defined not only God but ourselves by our ability to play. Thus, it is the most natural thing to accept an ever-changing subjective law as we expect everyone and ourselves to hold to these standards. When we don’t, we live out of fear, we labor to control, suffer shame, loss of love, loss of connection, and we create divisions, even within ourselves. 

When we change the standard of the Law from one objectively demanding utter perfection from us to one of being subjective, we also change the gospel. Instead of a gospel that tells us that we are all moral failures, and none of them are enough, we find a gospel that pushes us to be more, do more and do better. Instead of a gospel that tells us our answers lie elsewhere outside of us, its message now places us on a tireless hamster wheel. When we rob the Law of its objective demand of perfection and thus robbing of its voice so that it ceases to scream at us of its impossibility, we will quickly fall into that which is most natural to us.

We Must Let It Scream

It is natural to us to want to be right, to find sufficiency and rightness in ourselves. This leads one to Find One’s significance in being obedient and walking the right life. Only by trusting in a law that no longer defines God, His character, or His actions can we even begin to lay claim to finding significance in such a life. Only a Law that screams failure at us can break us of such a natural bent to find significance or reason to matter in what we do, rather than what Christ did.

Those who ignore the voice of the Law screaming failure at them find no reason to run continuously to the gospel (Gal 3:24-25) or explore its depth to a deeper level (Romans 8). For them, the gospel is a one-time done event. Such thinking, as previously noted, always leaves them imprisoned on the hamster wheel, running to be enough within themselves.

All You Need Is A Little More

As they labor to meet not only their expectations, everyone else’s but what they see as God’s as they run harder and harder to be more or prove themselves enough within their abilities. Only discovering, as John Paul Getty once remarked when asked how much money is enough, “just a little more.” Except now the question isn’t about how much money is enough, but “What more do I need to do?”

They may pretend that the law is not screaming at them or hear the law laughing at them running on the hamster wheel; they may even state such, as they remain caught up on the hamster wheel of performance and perfectionism. Yet as the law screams louder to the falsity of such claims, they run faster as they remain unwilling to walk into the light with one’s failures, weaknesses, and sins (1 John 1:5-10) with both God and man, hindering the fellowship of both.  

The Struggle Is Real

Even sixteen years later, the idol of self pushes against what I know to be true about the gospel. As I labor with all of God’s elect to prove myself capable so that I might, I’m among those who are on the right side of Christianity—feeling the pangs of shame-driven guilt when I fall short of some imaginary standard. I find nothing that separates me from others as we labor in unison with a natural bent towards self-righteousness and self-sufficiency in our self-motivated efforts to be enough.

Those grace messages that do not call us to face our weaknesses or failures forget essential truths. Truths that remind us that there are two parts to the equation of “His grace is sufficient for my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).” The first part everyone seems to understand, but the second part of knowing one’s weakness either we or ignoring or unclear. Along with forgetting that grace is given to those who have heard the voice of the Law that they are not enough, nor will the most uprightness, the rightest person, the most together of us ever be enough alone (Psalm 138:6; Proverbs 3:34; Proverbs 29:23; Matthew 23:12; Luke 1:52; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). 

These messages attract like moths to light, not realizing that such light may endanger them.  The following statement regarding society as a whole reflects this truth.

“Bolstering, maintaining, and protecting self-esteem is the sacred cow of modern society. It’s a grievous evil to do anything that might cause others to feel bad about themselves or their performance.” – Dan Rockwell.  

The Message We Want Is Not The Need

Those who long ago downgraded the voice of the Law in such a way that it only gives them instructions on how to run better on the hamster wheel of life hunger and thirst to hear more of the words that tell them how to perform better, do more, be more pleasing and more worthy. As they scream out, “Give me instructions on how to improve, how to do better, then I can surely hold on to the hope that I’m improving.” “Tell me what to do,” their ego screams as it clamors for that which it falsely believes makes them significant, makes them enough, makes them matter.

Of course, it is not their ego they think they hear, but simply directions on proving themselves pleasing, they will say.

The longing for some form of righteousness is not an aberration perpetrated by capital-R Religion but a foundation of what it means to be human. – Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do About It. – David Zahl  

Possibly never coming to understand that such behavioral, morality-based teaching only keeps hidden the real bread and water that will quench their hunger and thirst to be enough, to matter, to be counted significant (John 6:35). To their detriment, they have flocked to those teachers who have left them without knowledge, The knowledge that l rightness comes not from within themselves, but outside of them (Hosea 4). It is not instruction in how to do better, manage their behavior, perform better or do more they need first.

The Course They Need

It is a course on how to hear the bark of the Law daily as it robs one of all hope in improvement of oneself to be enough. Instruction in how to listen to the voice of the Law denies any attempt to find solace in thinking that God is quite satisfied, try-hard, do your best, or give it your best shot mentality. Anything short of such a course will leave them on the same tireless hamster wheel they’ve been stuck on.

Only such a course of instruction that leads them to grow less self-dependent and more dependent on the One who gave the ultimate performance enables them to change the questions that lead to new discoveries. Discoveries that point to the top performance that closed the application process for performers of the year. A performance that has now allowed all other performers to rest from the weariness of the hamster wheel (Matthew 11:28-30).

Change Always Requires Risk

Only when we take the risk to step off the hamster wheel of laboring to be special, significant, and made of the right stuff will our answers to the question of “Why Are We Significant” shift from; being about what we are doing and what others believe about us. When our lives are no longer based on making all the right calls, being right, or having it all together, only then will our focus shift away from ourselves to another apart from us. As our focus shifts, we discover life-changing beauty in the knowledge that because God has declared us His song of glory, the praise of His grace, His Crown Jewels, the reflection of the Trinity, and the beloved of the Son, we no longer need fear being exposed. Found out or seen as not having the right stuff.

These discoveries help us understand that when Christ said, “It Is Finished,” he told us we could stop working to be enough. And accept that He had now made us enough. Here is where we discover the beauty that we no longer must find within ourselves the ability to be right or enough to have a sense of our righteousness but accept that we have Christ’s (2Corinthians 5:21). Our failure to respond and live life from the knowledge of these truths leaves our focus inward. As our focus remains inward, we are left with no choice but to maintain the predominant determining factor of our identity, worth, value, and significance based on our ability to run.

The Real Battle

This is the war that rages in us and why we, like Paul, are coveters. It is why we long to hear those “to-do” messages and why we focus so hard on being right, winning, and being seen as enough. Why is this so?

It is what we lost in the garden. In the garden, we lost the knowledge that we were accepted, loved, and known. Since then, our curvature has been inward as we covet that which we deeply desire and turn to other lovers (Idols) to recover lost love. A curvature inward is always sin, as we focus on ourselves. The more we accept that we are deeply loved in Christ and are enough is when we will slowly experience our focus shifting away from us towards God and others. 

The Real Beauty Of The Law

Then instead of the Law being a vessel of self-service to regain what we lost, it reveals the grace contained within as it gives us instruction in the art of love—teaching us to love the One who loved us first (1John 4:19) back and love others. We no longer have to change the Law for our purposes, but now can choose to outdo others in love (Matthew 22:35-40; Romans 12:9-21). Instead of laboring towards what we feel are our rights, entitled to or deserving, we now can choose sacrificial labor on behalf of others.

With the transformation of our minds, we move away from finding hope within ourselves to be right to ask, “How do I express that which I now am?”  Creating a mind shift that moves us from DOBE to BEDO.  Grow to realize that Colossians 1:10 is not an instruction on how to do more, but because we are more instruction on how to exhibit that we believe we are. Only as we give up any hope in a righteousness of our own, can we help others find the real source of righteousness, beginning with ourselves.

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