Faith! The Cure for the Drudgery of Being Good

This was a sermon I rewrote, and was preached by Pastor Guy Helms at the Worldand Presbyterian Church on march 20, 2011

I. Do Versus Done

A/  What is the difference between religion and Christianity?

  • and no, that’s not a trick question.  A quick, pop culter-esqe answer is: “the difference between religion and Christianity is the difference between Do versus Done.”  That sounds an awful lot like a bumper sticker, but “do versus done” is actually a great summary of Romans 4.

B. You see, Religion is about what you do … how you live life; it tends to involve the minute details of life, to help you at least avoid angering the deity, or at best, win divine approval.

u With religion goes the images of the spiritual account book – the balance scale – the scoreboard.  The goal is to do enough good things in order to offset the bad things, so that the final result is in your favor, and the deity will let you into heaven.   Religion emphasizes being a good enough person to have a positive balance in the account book, the good side of the scale higher than the bad side, and a winning score on the scoreboard.  Religion has a lot to do with rules, so that you will know what good things score, and what bad things put you in the penalty box.

C. Christianity though, emphasizes done.

Christianity is not about doing enough of the right things; instead, whatyou need to get into heaven has already been done for you.  God has already accomplished righteousness for you … it is done.  Therefore, doing or not doing the rules doesn’t affect whether you get into heaven or not.

II.  Promise, Not Contract

A. “Do vs. Done” may sound like a bumper sticker, like pop theology, but it is actually a concise summary of what we read in Romans this morning.  In chapter four, Paul describes the difference between religion and Christianity.  Only, he uses the terms Law and Faith.

Paul uses the story of Abraham to prove the idea that following God’s rules – the Law – “doing” – cannot make anyone right with God.  Basically, Paul claims that God didn’t make special promises to Abraham, God didn’t establish a special relationship with him, because Abraham obeyed the Law – the rules.  God made promises, and established a unique relationship with Abraham because Abraham believed God even when believing seemed ridiculous.  That is the model of how God operates … what was true for Abraham is true for us.

God’s promise of a right relationship with him is attained not by what we do, but by faith in what God has done.

B. But let’s assume for a moment, that attaining a right relationship with God, and therefore salvation, was a matter of keeping the Law – of  striving to be a good person according to God’s definition.

In that case, salvation would be the expected reward of keeping God’s rules, – it would be an agreement – a contract; It would not be a promise.  If you have a contract with an employer, or to sell produce or cattle, you know, not believe, that you will be paid, provided you keep your side of the contract.  When you keep your side of the contract, the person is obligated to pay you.

C. See how that works?

This is what Paul is getting at when he says that “if what God promises is to be given to those who obey the Law, then man’s faith means nothing and God’s promise is worthless.” If salvation is not a promise, but a contract, then we cannot use words like:

  • Promise
  • Grace
  • Free
  • Guarantee
  • Or even salvation itself.

We would have to use words like

  • Obedience
  • Contract
  • Wrath/punishment
  • Obligation

In fact, Paul tells us, the Law cannot produce salvation; it can only result in God’s anger.

But if doing the “Rules” could somehow result in salvation, there would be another problem.  Only the Jewish people would benefit, not anyone else.  Because only the Jews received the covenant – the agreement – the contract – of the Law from God.   But the Bible says that God meant for salvation to be for non-Jews too.  So it has to be God’s gift and a matter of faith so everyone can be included.

And there is one other problem – If salvation could somehow come from keeping the Law, then God would be obligated to keep his end of the bargain – it would no longer be God’s free gift.  If God was obligated, then God could not be truly God.

D. That’s why the right standing with God accomplished by the death and resurrection of Christ is a matter of faith – of trust.

It is a free gift – God’s grace.  It is a promise.  And therefore, it is for everyone … people with the Law, people without the Law, good people, not so good people, mean and rotten people, even people who plan and commit atrocities.

Christianity is about what God had done, not what we do.

III.  Free From Trying to be Good

A. That’s why the Gospel of Christ is such good news … God has done it all on our behalf – it’s a promise of a free gift.

But – even though the Law of Moses cannot put us right with God, we have a tough time letting go of the need to do something.  After all, it’s really hard to accept a gift that you have done nothing to deserve. We may say “I trust in Christ’s sacrifice to put me right with God”, but we still approach life as if we need to do something to maintain God’s approval.

So even if we agree that the Law of Moses no longer binds us, we write our own law – we create our own end of a bargain with God:

  • No drinking!
  • No smoking!
  • Use only that kind of music in worship!
  • Don’t spend time in the bar!
  • Go to church every Sunday!
  • Stand up for this cause, and stand against this other one.
  • Be happy all the time.
  • Be nice to people.

We create these external rules and carry them on our backs, measuring ourselves against them moment by moment … our words, our actions, our thoughts, our emotions – in addition to the words we don’t speak, the actions we don’t take.  Our constant concern is – “did I measure up?  Did I do good?  Or how badly did I disappoint God because I failed to do, or did the wrong thing?  What can I do to make it up to God?”  Having to please God by being good demands constant scrutiny … keeping your life under the microscope.  It demands a running balance sheet of wins and losses, which usually runs in the red.  That creates the fear that you never know if you’ve been good enough.

Isn’t it a wonderful thing that we can be free from the burden of having to do good things?

B. Now – I know exactly what that rascally voice in your head  is saying: “Oh ho!  If my behavior is not a factor in salvation, then behavior doesn’t matter”.

Of course it matters … it just doesn’t matter as far as earning the reward of heaven. The kind of life that pleases God results from obeying the two greatest commandments – as you seek to love God with all that you are, and love your neighbor with the same kind of love as you love yourself.  And obeying those two commands doesn’t make you good person doing good things, it makes you a loving people, sharing what God has done for you.

The Bible doesn’t tell Christians to do good – it tells them to be loving.

Being a good person can be such drudgery, trying to keep score, and worrying to keep the moral account book balanced. As we learn here in Romans, you have been set free from that because God’s promise is a done deal – all you have to do is trust.


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