Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear:
forget your people and your father’s house,
and the king will desire your beauty.
Since he is your lord, bow to him. – Psalm 45:10-11
Faith is a fragile thing and must continually hear the Lord’s words: “Forget your father’s house.” There is a monster within each person which constantly moves us to continually try and earn God’s acceptance and approval. This monster is so insidious that we are even tempted to consider faith a work we do for God, a choice, an act of will or obedience, that, with enough of it, will cause God to notice us and love us. This inner beast constantly looks for good works in which to place trust and which will bring praise.
It’s sort of like how children, in search of praise from their parents, will do a good deed without being told. But raking the leaves or taking out the trash does not save a child or an adult from eternal death, and good works should never be done in order to earn approval from our heavenly Father who sees such works as filthy rags and worthless.
But this monster’s depth of depravity goes all the more deeper when, as a good work, we forget about our good works. We say, “see, Lord, now I’m not trying to earn my way to You; will you approve of me now?” Each of us houses within us a fundamentalist religious fanatic. And when the language of faith proclaims that God’s acceptance is not about works, this inner fanatic grabs hold of this word and twists it into yet another good work. Ultimately, we end up bragging about something, be it our great religiosity, or our rejection of religiosity, our wonderful piety, or our rejection of piety, our love of liturgy, or our rejection of liturgy, and on and on it goes. A great and many divisions in the church have crept in over the years because of this inner fanatic. Even us pastors succumb to this as we gauge our success in ministry on our own accomplishments or the progress we’ve made in membership and attendance at church, in the size of the budget, how devoted the members are prayer and Bible Study. I can honestly say that I am much happier and even proud of myself when I see more people in church, more people in Bible Study, more kids in Sunday School or Youth Group. And there’s nothing wrong with being happy, but it’s an impure joy because it is not based on faith. In fact, whenever we look at our surroundings and judge our spiritual prowess by what we see or hope to see, we are living not by faith but by works. When things aren’t going as we think they should, we insist that things need to be changed. Again, the inner fanatic keeps creating more division and grief among God’s children than peace.
Arrogance is subtle but always damning. We should never be overly confident. Instead, as we walk in Christ, we should walk with a humble fear because we know how quickly we can let our own pride and sinful desire to earn salvation by good works take us over. To grow in faith means that we daily recognize the inner religious fanatic in each of us who is out to destroy our faith with the illusion of good works.
The Holy Spirit, our Comforter and Helper, provides us with what we need to fight against the illusion. He teaches us to hold on to what we have received through God’s grace, to daily repent of our sins, especially the sin of pride, and to trust His Word, that God’s approval does not come to us, in any way, by what we do. God’s approval comes through the perfect, righteous, holiness of Christ who suffered and rose from the dead. Only then can we properly understand the role of good works, that God gives them to us to help our neighbor.
Heavenly Father, teach me Your ways that I may walk in Your truth for Your Word is truth. Teach me to repent of my sinful desire to earn my acceptance with You but to instead trust in Jesus who earned it for me. In His name, amen.