By: Amy Dalke
Sunday evening Bible study at my childhood church was called Training Union. (Feel free to take a moment to absorb that terminology.) (I think it was an old school Baptist thing.)
We were a small country church where average Sunday night attendance was roughly 45-50 people. One of my most clear memories of the church sanctuary (besides the yellowish orange carpet) is of the two attendance boards that were prominently displayed on the walls behind the pulpit.
In addition to a board for Sunday school like the one above, we had a separate board to keep track of the Training Union stats. That particular board included a section called Daily Bible Readers, which, true to its name, recorded the number of attendees who professed to read their Bible every day. (True story.)
We had a Training Union Secretary who went from class to class to take attendance and account for the number of Daily Bible Readers. From as early as I can remember, I proudly raised my hand in answer to that question. And on those weeks when the adults and kids remained in one group, I reveled in the approving looks the adults would give this 9 year old.
So much so, that it’s safe to say there were times I only claimed to be a Daily Bible Reader. (Probably a lot of times, but we won’t dwell on that.)
I haven’t thought about that Training Union scoreboard in years. Until it recently came to mind as I thought about my tendency to think I have to earn God’s approval. Nearly 30 years following my childhood entry into the Christian scoreboard system, I’ve finally realized why I continually fail at DIY Christianity: because it’s not even possible! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a do-it-yourself project.
The Gospel is not a Cross + My Efforts = Righteousness kind of equation.
We know the churches in Galatia struggled with this same issue, because the Apostle Paul’s letter to this group addressed it head-on. After Paul had introduced the Gospel of Christ to the Galatians, a group of religious rule-followers came in to put a different spin on the message. They insisted that adhering to traditional religious standards was necessary in order to be considered righteous.
“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-7)
Paul makes it clear in his letter that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a man-made tradition; and it’s not a club that demands an entry price of good behavior. Rather, the gospel of Jesus Christ is this: we are saved because of God’s sheer generosity towards us in Christ. There is no good behavior addendum; and there is no fine print requiring extra holy points.
Mainly because WE CANNOT EVER BE HOLY ON OUR OWN!
“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” (Galatians 1:8-9)
But still. I want to check boxes and keep score, and have some measure of how well I’m doing with the Holy Living. I want a scoreboard for crying out loud!
So the gospel gets twisted into DIY Christianity: Jesus + Rule-Following + Good behavior = Righteousness. Which means that if I’m not careful, all my “religious” activity (studying aka Daily Bible Reading, teaching, serving, church attendance) can easily slip into performance mode.
That kind of thinking ultimately translates to “God is happy with me as long as I’m performing well”. But if there is any kind of failure or weakness in any of these areas, I’ve basically failed at righteousness altogether.
Thank the Lord that grace tells a completely different story. Because here’s the truth: any man, method, or measure of salvation apart from Jesus Christ is false. Be done with chasing Good Enough…because you already are. And if you’re working to put up numbers on a church scoreboard…close the lid on that game.
The work of the cross is finished.
This means you and I can quit trying to earn it. (Which is a good thing because I can’t follow rules worth a darn, so basically I could never be a good Christian without Jesus.)
And frankly, that’s the point.