I think I’ve had a bit of an epiphany. I think.
Years ago I had a discussion with a pastor who seemed to concentrate on berating his congregation with the DO’s and DON’T’s of scripture. Without realizing I had come under his watchful eye, I went to church expecting to hear a good study. You see, even though he could be harsh, his theology was usually right on.
As he moved into his teaching for the evening, a few phrases I had recently said began popping up (I was a teacher with the church). It wasn’t a large congregation so much of what anyone said was quickly known. I listened. I didn’t get angry. I was amazed at that. But I did feel the need to explain myself at the close of the service. The pastor and I spent the next hour discussing our approaches to the good works we are to perform.
You see, I was beginning to understand the binding force of legalism. We’d had this discussion before, but sometimes it takes several turns for iron to sharpen iron. It was a brilliant discussion, if I do say so myself, for he was a theology professor at one of the seminaries in the Metroplex. But we had “fundamental” differences of the motivation behind DOing good works.
I tried to explain. He tried to explain. After many attempts, Phat declared it was time to leave. It never got heated, we were both kind and enjoyed the exchange. And, I must say, only recently have I begun to really put into practice what I was trying to say that evening. This was my argument:
Duty before devotion leads to self-righteousness and legalism.
Devotion before duty leads to relationship and good works.
Some people don’t think I come up with words to express myself well…because they’ve read my fumblings for a while now. However, I will admit, I didn’t say it as clearly that evening. It’s been twelve years in the mind, rolling around, trying to get it said succinctly.
Those sentences envelope my life story.
I have been self-righteous and legalistic for much of my life. It’s not pretty. It’s not godly. It’s not truth.
It is the very thing Jesus came to stop. I could give many reasons for my ways, and some, you may think legitimate. But now, I’m thinking it was all ugly. I placed duty before devotion.
I knew Jesus loved me, but I didn’t really believe He would keep me, or want me, if I did anything that wasn’t lovely. I felt I had to keep myself in Him. I felt I had to prove myself to Him to be acceptable.
When I understood His sovereignty, His choosing me, I began to realize the depth of His love. I couldn’t make myself beautiful for Him so that He would believe I was lovely enough to keep. You see, that’s backwards.
Out of His great love for me, He chose. I am His because He called me to Him. I am completely loved in the Beloved — the Son. Now, any righteous acts I DO, any good works that flow, are a result of my love and devotion to Him. Because He loved me and gave Himself up for me.
He makes me acceptable. As a result, I give out of my great love and devotion to Him.