One of the things about the Christian faith that has been particularly liberating for me is that God’s love and forgiveness has freed me to begin to be honest about my failures (which are legion). Unfortunately, our natural tendency is sometimes to minimize our shortcomings. In this case, in order for me to have a sense that I’m okay, I have to live up to whatever standards I think will deem me worthy of that status. Maybe I need to perform well as a pastor. I need to provide wise counsel, I need to preach compelling sermons, I need excel in all of the things that we associate with pastoral ministry. Perhaps for you, it’s a certain pay grade or having the right kind of house or being the best mom or the fastest athlete. We all have things upon which rely for the sense of well being for which we long.
But what if we fail? What if I fail to do what I think I need to do in order to be what it is I think I need to be? What if my sense that I’m okay and accepted and loved and respected is threatened because I can’t live up the standard I think I need to live up to?
One way to deal with it is by minimizing or denying our failures. If we can just convince ourselves that we’ve done enough, we can continue to believe in ourselves and maintain our confidence.
Christianity presents us with a better way. Christianity teaches that we are loved and accepted and good enough, not because of what we have done or by living up to some standard, but based upon what God has done for us in Christ. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, has said, the fundamental message of Christianity is “we are more sinful and flawed than we ever dared believe, yet at the same time more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope.” The Christian faith frees us to be honest about the problem of sin in our lives. In this way, it provides us with a unique opportunity to deal with our shortcomings honestly.
Once, however, we’re liberated from trying to earn our own sense of self-worth and we can recognize and acknowledge the fact that we fall short, how do we then overcome the sin with which we struggle?
Early in my Christian walk, I embraced “Nike Christianity.” How do you overcome sin? Just do it! If you’re doing something wrong, you just need to buckle down and stop doing that.
But what if I’m not able to stop? What if I’ve tried and failed? Perhaps I’m not trying hard enough. Surely God wouldn’t really call me to do something I don’t have the ability to do, would he? I have to try harder. Just do it!
The reason Nike Christianity doesn’t work is that our outward behaviors are really just a symptom of a deeper problem. Fundamentally, our problem is that we have a worship disorder. Our sense of happiness and well-being and satisfaction are set upon things other than the God in whom we were designed to experience true and lasting joy. But those things don’t deliver on their promises. They cannot satisfy us.
The only way we can overcome sin is through the worship of Christ. Because of the forgiveness Christians have through Christ’s death and the new life we have through his resurrection, we are led to worship. We are drawn to have an awe of God. Jesus has rescued us from our guilt, he has paid the penalty for our sins, and he has taken upon himself the wrath of God which should have fallen upon us. In this we see the breathtakingly glorious beauty of the love and mercy and grace of God. This is the only thing that can cause the idols of our hearts to lose their luster.
Nike Christianity says, “just do it.” Just do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Biblical Christianity says, Jesus is so much more satisfying, he is so much more worthy of our affections and worship, that it actually only makes sense that we would leave our idols behind. The deepest and most enduring joy we can know can only be found in Christ. He is the one in whom our joy was intended to terminate and find its fullness.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11, ESV).