A story of extravagant grace in my life.
How Jesus saved me from do-it-myself religion.
How God jacked me up with joy, and still does every day.
How Holy Spirit showed me the good he put in me that I was unaware of.
During my Junior year of college I was doing a bunch of good things. I set time aside to explore the bible and talk with Jesus daily, led a Christian fellowship, did outreach in my neighborhood, helped at a homeless shelter, etc. I don’t remember all that I was doing, but I do remember that I was doing a lot of stuff. Good stuff.
I wasn’t burned out, nor was my mindset to do works to earn salvation. My thinking was, “I’m going to try to do my best to do good works because I’m so thankful to Jesus. I’m going to do things for God even when I don’t feel like it. I’m going to deny myself and finish this race strong.” Sounds good yeah? Like a good little Christian boy.
But hidden in that mindset I had was distrust in Christ’s saving and transforming work.
One day God told me to quit everything I was trying to do. I was like, “No way! If I do that, I’ll end up not doing any good works. Why would I quit trying as if that’s bad? The only reason I do good works is precisely because I try!” He responded, “Tyler. You don’t trust our union. You don’t see how deep it goes. I’ve placed my desires in you so that even the good works that you do don’t have to be born out of effort but purely out of desire. Give yourself time to recognize your true desires.”
I was scared. How could I believe that I would actually start to do good things purely out of desire? I didn’t see it and I didn’t feel it. Surely I am not that good. If I didn’t try to do stuff, I wouldn’t do anything! So I thought.
It took me a while to decide to fully give up everything I was trying to do, but I eventually gave in. After I threw in the towel, I just hung out with Jesus all the time. Just as I suspected would happen, I wasn’t doing any good works. But Jesus kept reassuring me, telling me to rest in the works that he had accomplished and not my own, and to simply learn to enjoy him all the time.
It’s kind of nice to have your Daddy tell you over and over that you don’t need to do anything. After some time I learned to relax and simply enjoy being with Jesus. Any worries I had about “not doing enough” faded. And as I continually set my eyes on Jesus and his works, something amazing started happening.
Jesus was right!
I began to do good works.
At first I didn’t even realize it. I was doing them only because I wanted to, so it was entirely effortless. I was not “intentional” at all. It was more like “if I don’t do this good thing I’m gonna explode!” I saw the fun and joy in whatever it was, and because of that I was exponentially more fruitful than I previously was when I was caught up in my own hamster wheel of effort.
That’s when I first experientially realized that sweet reality Paul spoke of, that I no longer live but Christ lives in me.
My old self always tried so hard to do good by its own willpower and missed out on the party Jesus had prepared. It just took me a while to realize that that old man always was and always will be completely dead! He doesn’t even exist anymore.
I knew my death with Christ had brought freedom from sin, and I was avoiding sin effortlessly. I had lost all interest in sin. But that was merely avoiding the bad. I had not experienced the pleasurable compulsion to live righteously and to do good.
I already was who I was all along. I was born again. I was a new creation. The old had passed away and the new had come. My identity wasn’t dependent on anything I did but only what Jesus did. I just didn’t see the full extent to which I had been transformed.
So I continued to act like I needed to try to do good, not knowing the righteous desires God had planted in me.
But Jesus helped me see what was already true of myself, what I am really like, and what he had transformed me into.
And this is why Christianity is easy, effortless in fact. Because it’s all about giving up and being guided by the desires of Jesus, which are infinitely gratifying.
Glorifying God and enjoying him are one and the same thing.
The effort is all his. My job is to trust, give up, and enjoy.
For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. – Philippians 2:13