As I was out doing the grocery shopping this morning I drove by one of the larger churches in our town (large enough that its services are broadcast on local cable). The church's LED sign was flashing an advertisement for an event to be held there later this week. The title of the event--a class or seminar of some kind--was "God is my role-model."
My first thought was "how odd." Usually when I see this "how to be a good Christian" type of thinking the role-model is Jesus, not God. Jesus became fully human and walked on this earth with us, so it is much easier to make him into a role model for our own behavior. In fact this "be like Jesus" approach is the foundation for much of mainstream Christianity today (the obvious example is the "What Would Jesus Do?" movement that has swept through popular culture in recent years). Yet this church appears to have moved from exhorting people to be like Jesus to exhorting them to be like God.
My second reaction to this sign was pity for the poor people who will be attending that class this week. It makes me tired just to think about it. God is God and I'm not (we can all give thanks for that), and there's no way I can possibly be like Him, nor do I want to try. I'm too busy teaching and caring for my kids, doing the laundry, cooking the meals, cleaning the house, teaching my piano students, accompanying the choirs at church and writing my blog. I don't want to be responsible for hearing the prayers of the faithful and forgiving the sins of the repentant. That's God's job and I'm happy to leave it to Him.
But what makes me even more tired than the thought of doing God's job is the thought of trying to be like Him. For "in Him is no sin" (1 John 3:5), yet I am riddled with sin, drowning in it and unable to get myself out. Try as I might to do good and to be good (and believe me, I am really good at trying to be good), I daily fall and daily fail and have to look to God my Father to pick me back up again. And miracle of miracles, every day He does just that.
God is not my role-model. God in the person of Jesus Christ is my Saviour. This is why I am glad to be a *confessional Lutheran. Much of Christianity today teaches something called "works righteousness." This is the philosophy that a person can earn his way to Heaven by being good. Yet confessional Lutheranism teaches that we are "in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves"--that because we are born into sin and are by our very nature sinful there is no act of will by which we can escape our sinful condition. If we can't get ourselves out of the quicksand called sin, how can we possibly do the good we need to do to get to Heaven? Jesus provides the glorious answer: "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 6:9). Our Blessed Saviour pulls us out of the quicksand, replaces our dirty clothes with his spotless ones, and sets us before the Father, proclaiming us perfectly clean.
As I reflect on my own life I realize that I have spent much of it trying to be good. I was the child of an alcoholic, and my coping mechanism of choice was to try to do everything I possibly could to not rock the boat, to make things run smoothly. So I overachieved. I behaved myself, I got good grades, I tried to be liked by everyone . . . I became a pleaser. Probably some of that was in my personality anyway, but the situation in which I grew up magnified it. But guess what? No matter what I did, my dad would not stop drinking. It was beyond my control--I simply couldn't be good enough to make him stop.
I also can't be good enough to please my heavenly Father. But in confessional Lutheranism I have found that I don't have to be. Jesus, knowing my sin, lived the perfect life for me. Now all I have to do is jump on His magic carpet (as one of my pastors likes to say) and enjoy the ride. In the words of James Taylor (I know, he's not a Lutheran, but this is a great song), "Try not to try too hard; it's just a lovely ride" (From "The Secret O' Life").
*There are many branches of Lutheranism today. For a definition of confessional Lutheranism, go here.