December 1, 2014
I don’t have to do good things. Really. I don’t have to do good things. It sounds odd, doesn’t it? I’m not quite the type of person one might expect to hear say something like that. I was raised in the church, dedicated my life to following Jesus as a teenager, studied pastoral ministry in college, and weekly attend church. But the truth is I don’t have to do good things. I thought I had to do good things. I thought I needed to do good things. I thought that until last autumn when the Holy Spirit pulled me aside and set me straight.
What you should understand is that I love good things and I love doing them. Helping others, serving in my church, teaching the Bible, talking about Jesus, doing ministry; I’m passionate for all of these good things and many more. I understand the biblical story of God’s redemption of humanity, that God has reconciled humanity to Himself through Christ, that the world we inhabit is not our lasting home, that God is bringing his kingdom to displace the darkness that’s in the world, and that those who have been made new by believing in this truth should in turn commit themselves to furthering this work of God. I also understand my place within this biblical story, that I have been made new in Christ and that God has called me to share this new life with others in every way I can. I am overjoyed to have the privilege of such a place within God’s story, and I will gladly participate in it until the day my life in this world ends. But what I didn’t realize until this past autumn was that my desire to participate in God’s story, to do good things, had reached an unhealthy extent.
One warm, sunny, Sunday afternoon I took my Bible outside my apartment to spend time in devotions. I expected to begin with prayer and proceed to read Colossians, but as I sat down the Holy Spirit began to teach me something that I needed to understand. I can’t even remember how the sequence of thoughts began. But I began to be suddenly, deeply aware of the way I looked at doing ministry, service, and other good things. I realized that I thought I needed to do as much good as I could with the time I had. I felt like I needed to impact people, change lives, spread the Gospel, make disciples, help the needy, and do other good things as much as possible before my time on earth expired. After all, we only get one life, and we only get to live each hour once. Since I knew I was called to be a part of the advancement of God’s kingdom I felt like I needed to do as much good as possible as fast as possible. But what I also came to be deeply aware of was that this attitude was creating a deep malcontent and strain within me. You see, my life of late hasn’t exactly been replete with world-shaking ministry accomplishments. My life has consisted of the more mundane realities of a routine 9 to 5 secular job and the joys of the daily grind. I didn’t feel like I was doing much good at all. So, while it was subconscious and I was for a long time unaware of it, my attitude about doing good things made me feel like I wasn’t actually spending my days well. I felt like there was always something important missing from my daily activities.
I realized a helpful analogy to understand how I viewed doing good things. Every year at my church on Easter Sunday there is an Easter egg hunt for the children of the church. Though this year they changed the name to “Easter egg dash” because the “hunt” is really just a bunch of Easter eggs strewn across the gym floor at the school in which the church meets. The kids line up around the gym floor, someone shouts “Go!” and they all scramble to snatch up as many eggs as possible before the opportunity is gone. That’s how I viewed doing good things. Good things were the eggs, and I was a little boy trying to grab as many of them as possible before the opportunity of my life ended. The problem was that I didn’t feel like I was picking up enough “good thing eggs.” As my days went by I felt like the most important purpose of my life was being left unperformed, pushed aside by the mundane dimensions of living. And so it created a strain within me. I didn’t even realize it for a long time, but I was malcontent. This issue inclined me to feel like I needed to accomplish something rather than be at peace.
I finally realized this in that moment sitting in the grass outside my apartment. I hadn’t opened my Bible. I hadn’t even begun to pray. Yet in a few moments the Holy Spirit brought up out of my subconscious a reality that had been causing me trouble for a long time. And not only did He reveal the problem but He also taught me the solution. Words from Ephesians began to run through my mind, so I opened my Bible to read through the passage. Slowly, line by line, I read through Ephesians 2:1-10, digesting each verse, letting each truth permeate my heart. I have been different ever since.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
There was nothing good in me before God began His work in me. If there is anything good in me it is only because He has caused it to be there. I didn’t have anything good to offer Him before He took the initiative to pursue me, but in his great love He was attentive to me even in the depths of my sinfulness. How great is His love that He loved me even when I did nothing good!
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved–
It was in that dead, sinful state that God took the initiative to make me alive in Christ. When I did nothing good, He did me the greatest good I could ever hope for. He gave me new, eternal life in Christ. And all this is by his grace. It is completely uncontingent on what I do. The life He has given me in Christ is as real, true, and certain regardless of whether I spend years of my life doing good things or never do another good thing again.
and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
I am seated with Christ right now. Yes, even right now. God has already placed me in an unfathomably high position with Christ regardless of what I do. Doing good things can’t add to this. Not doing good things can’t take away from it. My place and security in Christ is set, certain, and unchangeable no matter what I do or don’t do.
so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
My life in this world isn’t the only one in which God will be able to show his goodness. My life now is only the beginning of an eternity in which I will be able to reflect the glory of God. Yes, it is good to do all the good we may with the time of our earthly lives, but I erred in thinking that I only had my limited years to do good things before the opportunity would be ended. The truth is that God’s goodness, glory, and purpose will be manifested in me for the rest of eternity.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
All of these great things God has done are because of His own grace and love. My good things do not add to them. My good things are not necessary for them. I can never say that I accomplished good things for God’s kingdom of my own power. He is the root of it all.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand,
I am not doing good things. God is doing good things in me. I am not accomplishing good things. All good things that I do are God’s accomplishment in me. He intended before I was made new in Christ that I would proceed to do good things. After all, when your nature has changed it naturally causes a change in what you do. But doing these good things isn’t something that I am tasked with accomplishing or perfecting. It is not my work. It is God’s work in me. I and all that I do are God’s workmanship, His masterpiece, His artistry. He is the one producing its excellence, not me. And I don’t have to worry that if I don’t do good things that somehow the world will suffer. God is the one bringing His kingdom, not me. He intends for me to participate in that process, not take responsibility for it. He is the one doing that. It is His work, not mine.
that we should walk in them.
A walk is not a dash. A walk is not an anxious scramble. It is a peaceful, regular, repeating, forward movement. That is how God intends for me to do good things. Not an anxious, quick, desperate attempting to do all I can before time runs out but a peaceful, natural acting out of what he has made me to be. It is a forward-moving process on my journey toward heaven and on my journey of being his workmanship. I don’t have to feel like I have to scramble to do all the good I can or fear I’ll miss something. I can peacefully walk out the reality of who He is making me to be.
That’s why I say that I don’t have to do good things. If I breathe my last tonight and never do one more good thing I will not be or have any less than if I had served God to an old age. My life is fully secured in Christ. My position has already been established in him. And I don’t have to be anxious for accomplishing the bringing of God’s kingdom. I am responsible only to faithfully walk out the life he has given me in Christ. I don’t have to do good things. I certainly will do good things. After all, it’s in my nature. But now I am free from the weight of feeling like I am lacking if I don’t have all the trappings of a super saint. I have my life set and secured in Christ. I have a lifetime in which to walk out that reality. I have the peace of knowing that all this is of God and performance isn’t necessary for it. I don’t have to do good things.