the cross and no farther

I saw this chart the other day hidden with piles of papers and sermon notes. It showed the levels of spiritual maturity, at the bottom with the unsaved, in the middle the point of salvation, and at the top the life of a saved individual with all of the different levels of the three categories. An arrow pointed up at the top of the chart indicating further maturity and joy in obedience to God.

My stomach turned.

As I continued sorting through my stash of papers I found a quote that talked about how focus on self prevents spiritual maturity and how a believer should focus on how he can please God and serve others despite his own feelings.

Read that again.

Somehow the quote I had once considered a good reminder of what the Christian’s life  should be like now seemed somewhat ironic.


As much as I’ve enjoyed the story of Scrooge and his haunting visitors I’ve always felt that his change of personality is a bit over the top. fake. weird.

And maybe Dickens’ wanted that way. But what I hear when I hear that story is several ghost dumping a bunch of guilt on a grumpy, old, selfish man who turns around and becomes very joyous because he gets to live the rest of his life doing good in the world to make up for the wrong he’s done.

That’s not how I want to live my life. I don’t want to spend my life trying to get the good to outweigh the bad. I don’t want to live today being motivated by guilt to do good.

But we’ve been told (often subtly and unintentionally) that we should serve others to become a better Christian. that we should share the Gospel more ’cause people around the world are suffering for their faith. that we should do good because we as humans have really messed up God’s good creation.

We act like we need to fix this brokenness. like spiritual maturity is a ladder we need to climb to God.

The thing is, I can’t.

I couldn’t climb high enough to enter God’s holiness so He entered my mess and even now I can’t hold tight enough to Him. I can’t earn the access to God that I was given when the veil between myself and the H0ly of Holies was torn. I was saved {and loved} by grace. and I am saved {and loved} by grace.

And no amount of obedience and good works and trying to please God will ever repay Him for this gift. this gift of access to God. this gift of life forever.

And that’s what’s missing in Scrooge’s strange transformation. And when we try to keep our eyes off self so as not to hinder our quest for spiritual maturity, we can’t simple try to obey God and serve others. All our attention will go back to us and how well we’re measuring up. What we’re forgetting is to fix our gaze on God’s saving grace.

It’s like Dickens didn’t want to bore his readers with a describing how only really God’s love (not just some guilt-dumping ghosts) can transform self-absorbed cynics into joyful givers.

It’s like we’ve forgotten that guilt isn’t supposed to motivate us to do good, but to remind us that we can’t. It’s like we’ve forgotten the reason why the gospel really is good news … we don’t have to – we can’t- earn it.  Guilt was meant to bring us to the cross and no farther. we can leave all our sin. all our fear. all our guilt at the cross and take on the wonder of God’s mercy. of God’s grace. of God’s love.

God loves me unconditionally. His commands are an expression of that love. When I disobey Him, it doesn’t mean He loves me less – but that I’ve rejected His expression of love.

I  don’t want guilt to motivate me to obey God and serve others; I want His love to fill me and to overflow into my love for Him.

Yeah, there’s gonna be times when obedience feel more like a duty than an expression of my love for God. But I want to abide in God’s Word more so that I can rest in His love more so His love can overflow into love lived out.

Spiritual maturity isn’t a ladder toward God’s love; it’s where God’s unconditional love for me (expressed in His commands) and my reciprocal love for Him (expressed in my obedience) intersect.


2 thoughts on “the cross and no farther

  1. Thanks for the reminder, Jen. I find that it is so easy to become focused on doing good works and trying to self-improve. And, so often I need to remember that life’s not all me, its all about God.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Nicole. I really need this reminder often too, as the perfectionist in me is so concerned about measuring up rather than rejoicing in God, what He’s done and will do.

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