Just before his assassination 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., shared a hard Truth: "It's all right to tell a man to lift himself [up] by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself [up] by his own bootstraps."
Although King was addressing the oppression of African-Americans, the same sentiment applies to every soul striving for acceptance. We live in a culture where independence, self-reliance, and a can-do, make-it-happen attitude are highly valued. We toil to improve ourselves, to create a name for ourselves, to be recognized and valued. But when it comes to our standing before a holy God, we are bootless. We are utterly powerless to save our souls from the righteous wrath of God—utterly incapable of working our way into the Kingdom (see John 15:1-8).
When we strive and perform in the attempt to earn God's acceptance, we miss out on the sweetness of the Gospel.
When we strive and perform in the attempt to earn God's acceptance, we miss out on the sweetness of the Gospel. We turn God's covenant of grace, mercy, and love into a legalistic enterprise. And we corrupt the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
THE WAY OF THE PHARISEE—CHRISTIANS BEWARE
Of all the people He encountered during His earthly ministry, Jesus reserved His harshest words for the Pharisees. These leaders used God's law not to bring hope and freedom but to magnify their own self-righteousness. The failing of the Pharisees should give us pause in our own walk of faith. As Christians, we must examine our hearts: Are we testifying of God's free gift of grace—only to live as though we must earn it?
Many Christians in America think, "If I could just get up earlier for my devotional or read my Bible more or pray for 30 more minutes or forgive this person or stop getting angry . . ." But what is the end of that sentence? If we are honest, the end is something like, "then I would be right with God," or, "then I would be worthy of His love." In pursuit of righteousness, if we make righteousness for our name's sake the goal, we sin all the more!
This is why Paul cries out, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?" (Romans 7:24). Paul gives us the answer in the very next verse: "Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (v. 25). God promises us that His grace is sufficient to cover all our sins— even the sin of self-righteousness.
IT IS FOR FREEDOM THAT CHRIST HAS SET US FREE
Jesus said, "Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:34-36). This is the Truth that frees us from legalism—from trying to earn our place with God as though we were slaves. Christ is the Son of God who has freed us from the bondage of sin; it is through Him alone that we enter into the family of God.
As children of God, we are called to live holy lives, but not in our own strength (see 1 Peter 1:16; Romans 8:1-17). The fruit of the Spirit is not something we can mass-produce; it is something that can only grow as we surrender daily to God. If we hold fast to this Truth, keeping the Gospel of grace ever before us, our faith will increase all the more. Far from being puffed up in our own works, we will praise God for His loving work in and through us, and we will live out the humble attitude of Christ, having no confidence in the flesh (see Philippians 2:5-8; 3:3).
So the next time you are beating yourself up for failing to rise early for quiet time or for lacking the right words in prayer, rest in the grace of God.
The grace of God is a gift. Though our culture exalts personal achievement and independence, we must be careful not to allow this attitude to turn God's grace into a loan that we could never repay. We must receive the gift, otherwise it would cease to be grace.
Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). Children are amazingly good at receiving gifts. Today, remember you are a child of God. Receive these good gifts from your heavenly Father. Savor the goodness of the Gospel and watch as it draws you to deeper faith—not through fear or obligation, but through delight.