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Try harder, be better?

I recall my high school football days. Long practice sessions to learn the skills of the game were overseen by our type A coaches who barked encouragement – and threats – as we struggled through the grueling practice sessions. After a few weeks, most of us attained a reasonable level of competency in the game. But some did not. I watched a couple of these fellows struggle in those early weeks. Try as they might they could not make the grade. The day finally came when the names of those who made it, and those who did not, were posted in the locker room. I can still see the dejected faces of the guys who did not make the cut.

What I have described above could also be adapted to describe the Christian life as it is laid out by many. Life in Christ is all too often presented as a ladder-climbing effort aimed at spiritual growth and achievement. ‘Shoulds, oughts and musts’, ‘try harder, be better’, become the rallying words for spiritual improvement. I could dwell on the details of this but I will spare you.

Some Christians come to a sort of breaking point which can be a good thing. One fellow who labored for a number of years finally said to his ‘spiritual director’ who urged him up the ladder, “But what if you can’t?”

Indeed, what if you discover in the process of religious self improvement that you are something less than varsity material! Is God going to drop you from the team? Or do I simply spend the rest of my life, like ancient Sisyphus, rolling the boulder of the Christian life up the hill of religious self-improvement only to have it roll down again and again?

The answer to the question, “But what if you can’t?” is this: You do not have to! Christ Jesus is no bargain basement Savior. He has become your righteousness, lock, stock and barrel! Christ returns us to the actual business of daily living and not to a spiritual project of religious improvement. Christ Jesus will handle your salvation. He has put the law behind you, not in front of you.

So, dear Christian, rejoice! You made the team! That is His promise to you in baptism. In Christ you have been set free. And that freedom restores you to life in this world where your work is nothing more or less than the very down-to-earth work of seeking the good, the welfare of the neighbor and the creation.

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