Highlands Blog

The Burden of Works Righteousness

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Posted in Highlands Blog under Law & Grace, Thankfulness

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11: 28-30).

We’re wicked, God is Holy, and the way to have peace with our God is only through trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. That should end the issue for us. It’s really simple. We bring nothing to the equation. We are the ungrateful rebels and God is the Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth. And yet we mess even this up.

Christianity is the only religion that doesn’t teach some sort of works-righteousness and even a large portion of Christianity does just that. We just can’t get anything right. How much of the Christian life is spent working towards, thinking about, or just worrying about making up the gap that we think Jesus left?

Part of our struggle is that the teachings of Christianity really do ask us to walk a tightrope between two seemingly contradictory concepts. We are to trust God for our daily bread and we also are to work six days a week towards getting our daily bread. We are to pray without ceasing and simultaneously rest easy in God’s providence over all things. We are to hate our own sin and, at the same time, not sink into feeling guilty about that same sin.

It can be difficult. Each time we “do” something, there is a little voice in our heads that chimes in, “It must be a little bit about us, we’re contributing something here.”

So as we pray and work and do our good deeds, something inside of us turns this into some sort of salvation-sharing plan. We’re doing our bit towards our own salvation. If God asked us to trust Him for our daily bread and said nothing about work, after a few years of manna falling from heaven, we’d get the idea through our thick skulls that God has this one covered. We do nothing and we still get fed.

But when we throw 40-50 hours of our own blood, sweat and tears into the mix,  we start to think that we are certainly doing some of the daily bread providing. We forget that God provided us the opportunity for the work, the physical and mental ability to do the work; He placed us in a country that had such jobs as ours; He secured our borders so that we don’t get shot on the way to our job.

The same is true for the works that we rightly feel inclined to perform. We think we’re a great person because we read to the blind once a week. When the reality is that God changed our hearts, raised us from the dead, gave us the Holy Spirit to prick our conscious’s, gave us a vehicle and gas, and put a needy person in our path.

There are three common reactions to Jesus’ work on our behalf. The first is utter and complete gratitude because the recipients know who they are and who God is. They then go to serve God through a heart of gratitude and love.

The second reaction is one of guilt and shame. Rather than rejoicing in the work of Jesus, it adds to our burden. And then we seek to rid ourselves of this additional burden through works.

The third reaction and probably where most of us live is in a mix of the first two and our reactions change from day to day.

Why does one choose the path of the easy-yoke and the others add to their misery? That probably has a lot to do with sin, shame, and ultimately not really understanding who they are and indeed who all of humanity is. A person stuck in their own shame cannot fathom that others are just as bad as they. But in the spectrum of holy God on one end and humanity on the other, Adolph Hitler and we look quite similar to each other. And the difference between us and our Pagan neighbor is laughable. We all are riddled with sin.

One remedy, as strange as this sounds, to thinking we are sinners so bad that Jesus couldn’t help us, is to realize how fully and completely we do sin. The sins of commission we think are so bad may just pale in comparison to the sins of omission or the secret thoughts we have. Living in a constant state of fear or doubt, ignoring all of God’s comfort and provision just might far exceed an angry outburst or three moments of lust. The former we are comfortable with; it inhabits the dark recesses of our mind and like a low-grade fever we live with it and even get used to it. So it does not pop up on our radar as sin.

The more unusual or acts that are more visible are the ones we write down on the “sin” chart. Once we begin to fully appreciate our utter hopelessness without the help of the Holy Spirit, the easier it becomes to rest fully in the work of Jesus on our behalf. Thinking that our good works are anything we could have done on our own is such an outrageous position that just a moment of reflection sobers us up.

We are commanded to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” Can we imagine that we have kept this command fully for even an hour, a minute? Accepting ourselves where we truly are is the first step towards making progress in our sanctification.

Again, it’s a tightrope we’re asked to balance on. We’re sinners in need of a Savior and yet we are getting better, sanctified every day. But our reaction, even when we’ve come a long way from who we were, should still be utter and constant and unrelenting love and gratitude. There is still no us in the equation of our salvation. It’s only about God.

We are robbing ourselves of peace that is ours through Jesus Christ if we fail to see ourselves as helpless and His love and work on our behalf as complete. Resting in this truth will give us the peace we so desire and that our heavenly Father wants for His children.

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