Sign of the Times

Many churches have signs that display messages. Sometimes the message is the scripture passage and title for next Sunday’s sermon. Other times the message is announcing an event at the church. Many times, though, the message is meant to inspire or encourage the reader. Unfortunately these messages often cause me to sigh and shake my head.

One of my favorites (in terms of favorite bad messages) was “Jesus is coming back so look busy.” (Yes that really was on a church’s sign.) As terrible as that is, the top of my list of worst church sign messages is a message I saw several years ago. The message was “When you’ve done all you can, God will do the rest.” I found this message particularly appalling. This can be understood in different ways. An unbeliever may read this and think, “I just need to be a good person, and God will welcome me in heaven.” A believer (or one who thinks they are a believer) may read this and think, “As long as I pray, do all I can do, and have faith, God will step in and give me victory.” I’m sure this sign was intended to be an encouragement to the passing motorists, but the problem is this screams to the believer and unbeliever, “Do your best and everything will work out just fine,” which is a lie. This lie is quite popular. Who doesn’t want to believe that God is up there waiting to give us a helping hand with our agenda? Non-Christians work hard, are good neighbors, keep their nose clean, and it’s off to heaven when they die. Even if they have a few missteps God is willing to let bygones be bygones. Christians do everything non-Christians do plus pray, read the bible, confess sins, serve at church, keep the faith, and wait for God’s blessing.

The idea that we do our part, and God does his part causes us to live under God’s law. According to Scripture living under the law leaves us under a curse since, evidently, God does not let bygones be bygones.

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (Galatians 3:10 ESV)

Notice that everyone “who does not abide” by every one of God’s laws “and do them” is cursed. The word abide means to continue or remain. Thus, the verse is saying constant complete obedience is required. No one can accomplish this, and, even if someone did outwardly obey every law, the inward motivation would void the benefits of obedience since “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). If unbelievers are interested in obedience to God at all, it is for selfish reasons, not to bring glory to God. Unfortunately many believers also obey for selfish reasons. They are glad their sins are forgiven but the rest of life is a quid pro quo (something for something) arrangement with God.

Now some of you are thinking, “Wow, that’s harsh! There are some good-hearted people out there (especially me).” The problem is the bible is very clear there are no good-hearted people.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 ESV)

We look at the outward appearance and actions and say, “What a nice person,” but God looks at the heart and sees wickedness. From our perspective it is not wrong to think a person is nice, but it is tragic to think niceness has any eternal value. Our definition of good is relative but God’s definition of good is absolute and is based on his character. This is what Jesus pointed out to the rich, young ruler.

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:17-18 ESV)

For there to be true salvation we must abandon the idea that we do our part and then God rewards us with heaven for doing our best. Our only hope is if God does everything since only he can cover an infinite debt. Only God satisfies God. For there to be true life in the Spirit we must abandon the idea that we do our part then God steps in and fills in what is lacking. God gets all the glory. Our deeds on God’s behalf add nothing to our standing with God, because our deeds on God’s behalf flow from our standing with God. Paul says we were “created in Christ Jesus for good works,” and these works were “prepared beforehand.”

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

This verse shows that ultimately, all our good works are the result of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. As believers we stand in Christ lacking nothing. Jesus accomplished everything.

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4 ESV)

God, through Jesus, has done what we couldn’t do. The requirements of the law are completely fulfilled for those who walk according to the Spirit, those who are in Christ. Walking (or living) according to the flesh is doing what I can then letting God take over if I can’t get it done. Those who belong to Jesus should, by faith, walk in the finished work of Christ because “The righteous shall live by faith (Romans 1:17).”

A church’s message, whether from the pulpit or on a sign, should never proclaim law without also proclaiming the gospel. A message of “Do your best and let God handle the rest” either leaves a person under delusion and under condemnation, or it leads a person to exhaustion and frustration. Maybe one day I’ll see this on a church sign.

I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”[1]

I’m not hopeful, though. It’s not a popular message.

[1] Hall, Elvina M. “Jesus Paid It All.”

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