Henry Drummond once remarked, “How many prodigals are kept out of the kingdom of God by the unlovely characters of those who profess to be inside!”
To be sure, the statement is not theologically precise, but the point rings out loud and clear. The way we live our lives, our behaviors, our language, our kindness, our patience, our forgiveness, our acceptance, our critical spirit and so much more, paints a portrait of the God whom we profess to have faith in, to love, and to serve.
So based on the confession of your life today, what kind of God do those around you think you love and serve?
For the first decade of my salvation (1995-2005), those around me saw a picture of a God who was slow to listen, quick to speak and extra quick to get angry–and my anger was man-centered, not God-centered. Because I had been a coach and trainer for so many years, a performance based mind-set was simply part of my DNA.
In sports, coaches play their best athletes based on a number of factors, including performance. When athletes perform well, they get to play and the coach is happy. When they do not perform well, they sit on the bench and the coach is not so happy. I carried this mindset over into my personal life. If you performed up to my expectations, I was happy; if you did not, I was sad, disappointed or angry!
In essence, I was a legalist who believed grace had saved me, but my good works were required in order to remain in God’s favor. I was trusting in my own goodness, just like the Pharisee who went up to the temple to pray in Luke 18:11-12. “I thank you that I am not like other men,” the proud Pharisee preened before the Lord. “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” All the Pharisee could speak of was what he was doing; he said nothing about what God had already done or was continuing to do!
I was very much the same; I thought the Gospel was only designed to get me saved. I had no idea it was designed to get me sanctified too! You might say I viewed my salvation as similar to an installment contract; Jesus had made the down payment on the note, but I had to make the payments by keeping up my good works! I did not understand that the same grace that saved me was also sanctifying me.
When you get that, it changes everything!
I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
Therein lays the marvelous freedom of our faith: knowing that what God began in us He will one day bring to completion. It is His work that accomplishes the transformation in us, not ours. This is the fuel to keep the fire of faith steadily stoked, in spite of all our sins and shortcomings.
Today you might call me a gratefully recovering legalist; I no longer look to anything I do to broker God’s favor. But it was not until I caught a glimpse of the Gospel and the overwhelming grace that God has poured out on me–and continues pouring out on me daily–that I began to paint a different picture of God for those around me to see.
The last thing that a hurting, unbelieving world needs to see is a distorted portrait of God in you and me–a caricature that depicts Him as a legalist. We must live out a true portrait of the God who loves the world so much that He sent His Son to die on a cross, nailing all the sins of all who will trust in Him to that dirty tree.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!
Rev. Tommy Boland is the men’s minister and sports minister at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. He also teaches adult Sunday school. For more information, including Bible study resource materials, please e-mail [email protected] or visit www.tommyboland.com.