Have you been trying to apply spiritual disciplines to work your way out of a sinful habit? I know so many people who dive headlong into doing Christian things in hopes of overcoming an area of sin, only to be disappointed again and again.
- Jan committed herself to memorizing a new Scripture verse each week to help remind her of the truth and keep her from falling into sexual temptation again with her best friend.
- Caed spent as much time as possible at his church and with his Christian friends so he’d have less time to be tempted to look at porn.
- Sara made herself tell her accountability partners not only when she and her boyfriend crossed physical boundaries, but also each time she thought about doing so.
- Timmy decided to fast one day for each time he’d ever slept with someone.
There’s nothing wrong with memorizing Scripture, being involved in Christian community, confessing sin, or fasting–in fact, spiritual practices like these are good, and they can indeed help you gain more freedom. Just perhaps not in the way you might think.
If you’re going to find freedom from something you’re habitually doing, be alert to a common, subtle, and disabling shift between the Gospel and a pseudo-gospel. Here’s what I mean:
We may begin knowing that the Gospel invites us, sinful and broken, to come to Jesus, and that Jesus, holy and whole, gives us Himself.
But somewhere along the way, we slide into believing in a pseudo-gospel that, in contrast, invites us to come as we are to Jesus, and where Jesus, in turn, gives us a list of things to do to become holy and whole like He is.
We might get confused because both the Gospel and this pseudo-gospel include spiritual disciplines as a vital part of life with God. But while the “things to do” might look the same, there is a big difference between practicing spiritual disciplines as a way to open ourselves to God who is here (what the Gospel invites us to do) and practicing spiritual disciplines as a way to get to God (what the pseudo-gospel tells us we have to do if God is ever going to do anything for us).
Analogies fail, but…
The pseudo-gospel is like going through the motions of cooking a great meal (cutting, measuring, stirring, heating, serving, etc.) without any food.
The Gospel, in contrast, is like cooking a meal with the tiny bit of fresh food you have, but doing so with a renowned chef, trusting he is making it a delicious feast to share.
The pseudo-gospel is like working out without weights in hopes you will become as strong as a weightlifter.
The Gospel, in contrast, is like lifting weights with a weightlifter right by your side (and even inside!) and finding day by day, you are getting stronger.
The pseudo-gospel is like going out to dinner, watching what you say, trying to be witty and charming and attractive in hopes of being asked out again.
The Gospel, in contrast, is like going to dinner with someone witty and charming and attractive who already adores you and is proud to have you on their arm.
Jesus doesn’t want us to try to work our way out of our sin by ourselves, and He doesn’t want us to try really, really hard to convince Him we’re worthy of helping. Jesus just wants us to come near and give Him our old, destructive habits, and to receive from Him the gift He is giving us: Himself.
The pseudo-gospel is like a pilgrim fleeing his ravaged home, trying desperately to learn the language of Heaven in order to be let in if only he can somehow find his way there.
The Gospel, in contrast, is discovering that the king has come to you, that he pulled you from your ravaged home, that he is humbly walking with you, that he is quietly (but surely) singing the language of your heart, and that he is walking you to your true Home.
This means you can begin today to practice spiritual disciplines as you are. Practice them imperfectly. Practice them however deserving or undeserving you feel. Practice believing He is present and giving Himself to you, however much or little your situation makes sense to you. Practice them not in an attempt to get to Him or to earn something from Him, but as a way of opening yourself to the One who is here.
If we can help you on the journey, let us know.
Does the difference between the Gospel and the pseudo-gospel as I’ve written here make sense to you? Why or why not?