TURNING FROM SELF TO JESUS
From one perspective, believing in the gospel is one of the easiest things you could ever do. This is because the gospel is something that God does for us, not something we do for ourselves. God loves broken, sinful people like us so much that he sent his only Son to die for us so that we could be rescued from our brokenness and sin and receive new life. All we have to do is accept what he’s done. We can stop trying so hard to be perfect, we can stop pretending that everything is ok, we can stop telling ourselves we don’t deserve God or his forgiveness. All we have to do is turn to him, and God saves us. The gospel is the wonderful news that we can stop our pointless, futile striving to make things right, to fix ourselves and others, and rest completely in God’s grace.
But from another perspective, this truth of the gospel, that it is completely a gift of God based wholly on Jesus, is also very difficult for us to believe. This is because even if we have experienced God’s grace, we still struggle to believe that we have nothing to do with it. We are still tempted to trust ourselves more than we trust God. We take control of our own lives and destinies instead of following God. We fill our own emptiness with good works we can be proud of, instead of believing that life, meaning, purpose, and satisfaction will only be found in Christ and Christ alone.
Our first parents demonstrate the reality of this struggle. God places them in a garden to live with him and for him, and in that garden is a tree of life. We don’t know exactly how that tree worked, but we do know that as they ate from it, they were continually reminded that life is a gift. Life depended on something beyond themselves, and to find life they had to keep eating, keep trusting. If they turned to God, they would know him, they would flourish.
Of course, we know they eventually decided to eat from a different tree, pursuing life on their own terms instead of receiving it as a gift from God. Even though they had experienced the wonder of God’s presence and the perfect wholeness of his grace, they struggled to believe it, and gave in to the temptation to get it their own way. Their struggle is the same one we face today, believing that we can make salvation happen on our own terms, and that is something we can accomplish and find for ourselves.
We all struggle to believe that we can do nothing in and of ourselves to gain salvation, and find life and that we can only receive life with the empty hands of faith. This is one of the reasons we have to be reminded again and again of the good news of the gospel, of how great Jesus is, and of what he has done for us. He must increase, I must decrease (John 3:30).
Unfortunately, our struggle to believe the gospel makes it impossible for us to live out the gospel. Living out the gospel means we have to realize it’s not at all about me and what I can or cannot do. It means trusting God to create love and unity among us and through us, that we can’t manufacture on our own. It means not counting on our own importance or goodness to make us pleasing to God, but forsaking ourselves and exalting together in Christ alone.
Living the gospel means saying along with the apostle Paul, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil 3:8–9).
This is only possible when we continually turn from ourselves and to Christ.