This post is a guest post by my friend Matt Popovits. Matt is a pastor at Our Saviour New York and is without a doubt one of my favorite preachers around. This post began as a part of one of Matt’s sermons at OSNY and with some of my editing work, Matt and I were able to come up with a great post to share here.
We all have a crazy collection of religious ideas that we’ve gathered throughout our life. It’s a crazy collection with ideas from Grandma and Grandpa and Oprah and all kinds of other influential people in our life that we’ve crammed into a spiritual junk drawer that shapes what we believe.
Some of the ideas are just not helpful at all and others are part of biblical historic Christianity. If we rummage through that drawer, one of the most common items you will find is a ruler, one of those old 12 inch rulers that you probably took to middle school. If you pull that out of your spiritual junk drawer it’ll be just like that little ruler that you took to middle school or elementary school; it’s got drawings all over it, you colored on it with marker and pencil.
What that ruler represents in your spiritual junk drawer is this urge that we all have in our spirituality to measure. This urge that we all have to measure where we are in our faith, how far we’ve climbed in our faith and the desire to compare ourselves and measure ourselves against other people in our faith.
For many people our understanding of the Christian faith is like climbing a mountain. We think to ourselves; okay I’m a forgiven member of God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ, but that’s just the beginning. I’m a forgiven member of God’s family, but that’s really just base camp.
We need to move beyond the base of the mountain.
My job is to try and climb higher. My job is to try and reach a fuller, better experience of God and his blessings. My job is to leave the base camp of saving grace and use my hands and feet and to climb higher to where God really is.
Because at the top of the mountain is where God really is.
If I really try in my spiritual life, then I’ll have a more blessed life. I’ll have a better life with more answered prayers, more personal success. At the top of that mountain I’ll have a greater sense of God’s presence. I’ll never, ever, doubt if he’s there. I’ll never doubt if he loves me.
So I’ve got to leave the base camp of grace and climb higher through my own effort to a greater experience of God. And I’ve got to measure myself. How far am I? Am I high enough? Am I trying hard enough? Have I gotten to the top of the mountain yet?
We see this in our own everyday lives as well. Something bad happens to you: A person that you’re dating, the person that you really think you’re clicking with, all the sudden calls it off, or a job that you’re enjoying and a job that you really need suddenly lets you go, or your health, despite your prayers and your running, just does not get better.
In our sadness and in our anger, we find ourselves asking spiritual questions. We begin measuring and say, “Am I not a good enough person? If I were praying harder, or if I were giving more, if I were believing deeper, if I were being nicer, if I would just give more money to the church would my life be easier?”
We’re measuring ourselves.
Am I high enough up the spiritual mountain? We assume if we somehow climbed higher spiritually that life would be better. We believe grace and salvation and forgiveness is just the base camp; I’ve got to climb higher with my hands and feet on the mountain where God really is and get to where the good stuff resides.
God Hates Mountain Climbing
The scriptures, thankfully, give a very clear response to this desire to climb higher spiritually and measure ourselves constantly.
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish?” - Galatians 3:1-3
And he continues:
“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.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” - Galatians 3:10-11
Here’s what he’s saying: You didn’t enter God’s family through your effort. You didn’t enter God’s family by keeping the law.
You entered God’s family through faith in the promise of a crucified and resurrected Jesus, that’s it. What makes you think now, no matter what these crazy people are saying, that the rules have changed and that you’ll get more of God by being a good person? In fact, Paul says, to believe that is to invite a curse unto your life. It’s to invite an unbearable burden unto your life.
Thinking that the secret to life is climbing some spiritual mountain where you get more of God or better from God is a burden, because you can bloody your hands and bruise your feet all you want. You can camp out on that side of the mountain called “Being Better”, “Being More Spiritual” all your life. You can hang out on the rock for years. What you discover is that you will never arrive.
We don’t get closer to God. We don’t get more of God. We don’t get greater blessings from God by being better people for God. We have all of God through faith in the Son of God.
You need not climb to get closer to God. In Christ he's carried you to the top of a mountain called Mercy, where he dwells with you forever.