Dear Brothers and Sisters, I want to tell you the story of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. They were a remarkable group of individuals who used their God-given talents to overcome tremendous adversity to build a legacy that has burned bright for more than a hundred and fifty years.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I don’t know about you, but I look forward to hearing about various April Fools jokes every year. April 1 is an unusual day where, thanks to tradition, we look forward to trickery, and find fun in joking deception. Google, the search engine, is notorious for its pranks every year. One of my favorites was last year, when they changed their searchable maps into a giant Pac Man game! A couple of years ago Netflix, the TV and movie streaming service, came out with a new original movie – a 73 minute video of rotisserie chicken cooking!
April Fools is supposed to be all in good fun, but it’s got me thinking about things we’re more likely to be fooled by, for a lot longer than one day a year. Usually, we’re fooled by a lie that has some truth in it, or appeals to something we want to believe. That seems so true of the lie of legalism, and why it continues to “fool” faithful believers.
The seed of truth in legalism is the acknowledgment that we fall short of God’s perfection. Legalism also appeals to our deep-rooted desire to bridge the distance our fallen natures keep us from God. Bridging the gap between our fallen selves and the God of the universe is an attractive idea for good reason – it’s what Jesus came to do! The deception comes in when legalism tells us we can solve that separation with our own righteousness.
The appealing lie that we can build a way to heaven with our own strength has been an attractive falsehood since the tower of Babel. Even for Christians, secure in Christ and liberated from the bonds of our former selves, the idea of being “good enough for God” can be seductive. Although Scripture assures us that we can do nothing to earn the great gift of God’s grace, it can be all too easy to slip into comparing ourselves to others or bargaining with God based on our good behavior.
This reminds me of the older brother in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. He was so angry at his father’s loving acceptance of someone who had behaved so much worse than he had, he refused to celebrate his brother’s homecoming. But his father didn’t just run out onto the road to welcome back his prodigal younger son; he also left the party to plead with his legalistic older son to join the feast. Whether we are tempted by bad behavior or tricked into thinking we can save ourselves with our good behavior, God still offers us his grace. But his grace is free – we can’t be good enough to earn it, and God doesn’t ask us to be.
Our salvation has already been accomplished through Jesus’ sinless life, atoning death, and resurrection to join his Father in glory on our behalf. All we have to do is accept God’s invitation, and show up to the celebration! This is truly the best news we can receive, a life-changing message of grace and welcome. Unfortunately, even as Christians, we’re liable to be fooled by legalism. Once we get past that initial saving mercy, it’s all too easy to slip into the idea that we need to “maintain our salvation” by living under a certain code. We start to buy into the idea that salvation is dependent on what we do after accepting God’s great offer of salvation without strings attached. And it isn’t. We are truly saved by God’s power and love, endlessly greater than our own. And the good news gets better: we’re saved not only from our separation from God, but also from our fruitless attempts to make ourselves good enough for him.
This April Fools day, keep your eyes and ears sharp for the tempting lie of legalism. Instead, I hope you’ll join with me in celebrating the biggest surprise of all – that grace is free and available to all who believe. No foolin’!
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