Trying Harder Isn’t What It’s All About
This afternoon I reread an article on the Redemption Pictures blog, and it got me thinking about the relationship this writer draws between sin and doubt. It’s so easy to accuse those of us who struggle with doubt for doing so because we’ve embraced sin in our lives (in this example, sexual sin). But it’s just a lot more complex than that. I relate so well to Micah’s story. because I’ve pursued purity and righteousness all my life. Yet I’ve always felt the need to earn God’s favor.
“As a teenager, I literally thought I could chart my “spiritual health” on a line graph, with my only data point being how many times per day I snuck an eager glance at the lingerie section of a J.C. Penney catalog. I believed that the sum total of my relationship with God could be measured by my ability to control my sexual urges. Of course, this was a ludicrously flawed approach to spirituality.
If young people today are hesitant to turn to God, it’s not because “His opinions on sex are restrictive”. It’s because they think that following God is primarily about morality, about “not having sex”. It’s because they see Christianity as a list of beliefs to accept and sins to avoid. It’s because, despite all the right teaching and doctrine, it’s so often just about “trying harder”.”
Read the rest of the article here. It’s a wonderful read.
So how should we approach this? How do we live lives that are more Christlike without falling into this soul-sucking trap of always feeling like we have to try harder to avoid sin and win God’s favor?
I’m not sure there’s an easy answer to that, but I think it starts with understanding that your identity is not based on your own merits and your own ability to avoid sin. Because, let’s face it, who among us is really capable of living a stellar moral life on our own? Instead, if we start with the foundation of God’s boundless grace, we are not shamed into trying harder to avoid sin. Instead we are driven by love to imitate Christ—not because we are trying to earn His favor, but because our hearts desire to demonstrate our love for Him.
I am reminded of that beautiful passage about the power of love in I Corinthians. The first few verses, especially, relate so powerfully to the futility of trying to earn the favor of God by good works. I mean, my goodness, if martyrdom itself is meaningless without a foundation of love, what does that say about yours or my strivings for righteousness?
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” I Corinthians 13:1-3