I grew up in a traditional Southern Baptist home, with parents who were very active at church. My dad led music and my mom taught and sang in the choir. I can’t remember ever not being in church as a child. As a friend of mine likes to say, the only drug problem I had was that I was always being “drug” to church.
Back in the 1950’s, the golden era of Christianity in the 20th century, we Baptists came up with a record keeping system that gave us extrinsic motivation for being “good Christians.” Each week we would dutifully bring an offering envelope to church, which also doubled as a record-keeping system. There were a number of items that we were encouraged to check off. The list included the following achievements:
2. On time
3. Staying for church
4. Studied the lesson
5. Brought an offering
6. Invited someone else to church
7. Brought our Bible
If we were able to check off each item we were considered to be 100%; good little boys and girls with whom the Lord must really be pleased.
We became very pharisaical about our achievement, and those of us who were consistently 100% tended to look down our noses at those who weren’t. There’s no telling how many boys and girls became discouraged with church simply because they couldn’t check all the boxes.
I became very adept at working the system. Many is the Sunday that I would skim over the lesson on the way to church, bum a nickel from my mom to stick in my envelope, and roll down the window on the way to church to yell an invitation to church to anyone in earshot. Whatever it took to be 100%. Later this motivation to please God showed up in other areas, such as “Sword Drill” and the Sunday night youth program. I was an eager beaver, anxious to prove myself to God.
And in church this mindset of pleasing God was reinforced with songs like “Satisfied With Jesus” (But the question comes to me as I think of Calvary: Is my Master satisfied with me?). As I grew older and began to understand sin and my own nature, I was consumed with concern that God must be really displeased and dissatisfied with me.
Then, I read Galatians, and came to realize that through faith in Christ I was dead to all the rules that I thought Christianity was all about. I read verses that told me that Christ had set me free (Galatians 5:1), and that I was dead to the law and alive through faith in Christ, and only through faith in Christ. (Galatians 3:26-29)
Many people today, as in Paul’s day, believe that salvation is something to be earned and that in order to be accepted by God they need to be 100%, or at least get a passing grade. And others fall prey to cults and certain religious groups that teach some kind of legal regimen necessary for pleasing God. What bondage, and how unnecessary.
The truth is this: When a person comes to Christ he is immediately justified (made right with God) and receives freedom, liberty, sonship, the spirit of promise, and becomes a new creation. My right standing with God has absolutely nothing to do with my merit. I couldn't earn it if I tried.