BY CHAD BIRD
Jesus cuts right to the chase when it comes to the evil one. He calls the devil “a liar and the father of lies,” (John 8:44). And the father of lies has his pet anti-truths. These lies, repeated often enough, can slowly drown out the promises of God.
Two of Satan’s favorite lies are these:
1) With enough effort, you can do the law.
2) With enough sin, you can undo the Gospel.
Lie #1: With Enough Effort, You Can Do the Law
There are lies we taste and spit out, and there are lies we happily swallow. This one goes down easy. We not only want to believe it; it’s our default creed. It’s second nature. This lie begins in the cradle, is reinforced on the playground, and becomes an unquestionable dictum of adult life.
You want to be successful? With enough effort, you can earn a degree, land a job, climb the ladder. You want to get in shape? With enough determination, you can treadmill off the pounds, tighten the glutes, rip the abs. But you gotta want it. You gotta do more, try harder, put your heart into it. With enough effort, you can do whatever you set your mind to.
This typical can-do, American attitude becomes the default theology we bring to the Christian life. It becomes the prism through which we read the Bible. Anything God commands us to do, our response is, “With enough effort, I can do that.” Pray enough, be godly enough, go to church enough, and I’ll be able to lead an obedient, God-pleasing life. He’ll be happy with me. I’ll be a devoted, serious Christian.
But it’s all a lie, a satanic lie. The more you think you’re actually doing the law of God, the deeper into sin you are falling. The more you’re convinced that if you pray enough and read your Bible enough, you’ll be able to achieve a life of obedience, the more damnable your life becomes.
The law is not kept by us keeping it, but by believing that Christ has kept it for us. Faith in Jesus puts you into the body of the commandment-keeper. What Christ has done becomes what you have done. His obedience is deposited into your account. Not in some let’s-pretend sort of way. In reality. God sees you in Jesus. And since he sees you in Jesus, he sees you as complete, sin-free, obedient, perfect. What you could never do with enough effort, Jesus has done for you with all the effort required.
I can almost hear you saying, “But what if….” So let’s move on to the second lie.
Lie #2: With Enough Sin, You Can Undo the Gospel
This lie, while not as self-affirming as the first one, goes down just as easy. That’s no surprise. It’s simply Lie #1 in disguise.
Notice who the subject is in both falsehoods: you. With enough effort, *you* can do the law. With enough sin, *you* can undo the Gospel. This is why it’s so easy to believe both of these. Because we labor under the delusion that everything is about us. We are incurvatus in se, as Luther often said: curved in on ourselves.
Navel-gazers can’t take their eyes off their own efforts. I must work hard to earn God’s favor—that’s Lie #1. And if I don’t keep working hard, then I will fall out of that favor—that’s Lie #2. Both falsehoods make God out to be a fickle fan who sits in the bleachers to applaud or boo our performance.
How much does Gospel depend on you? Not. One. Bit. Just like you getting out of bed doesn’t make the sun rise, so your works don’t make the Gospel true. Similarly, whether you believe the sun is shining or not, doesn’t effect the sun. You can close your eyes, stomp your feet, and declare, “No, no, no! There is no sun. Only darkness,” but that only proves you prefer lies over truth.
With enough sins, with enough unbelief, with enough impenitence, you can never undo the Gospel. The Gospel is what God does and what you receive. You can deny it, run from it, close your eyes to it, but it doesn’t change. The Gospel isn’t about you doing something or not doing something. It’s about God doing everything for you. Living for you. Dying for you. Rising for you. On the cross, when Jesus said, “Father, forgive them,” all humanity—past, present, future—was absolved. It’s done. Everyone has been declared justified in Jesus Christ. And the sunshine of justification knows no sunset.
Some won’t ever believe it. They will keep their eyes closed and die eternally. Some will believe it for a time, then close their eyes again and refuse to open them. But the Gospel remains true. The sun of justification will shine on. No sin will alter the work of God.
Here is the truth: Christ has kept the law for you. In the Gospel, he keeps you in himself. Your goodness didn’t earn it and your badness won’t destroy it. Jesus gives, you receive. It is all his effort, all his gift. Believe it. It is yours.
Chad is an author and speaker who's devoted to honest Christianity that addresses the raw realities of life with the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ. Chad has served as a pastor and assistant professor of OT theology, contributed hymns to the Lutheran Service Book, and cohosts the podcast “Forty Minutes in the OT.” He holds Master's degrees from Concordia Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College. In addition to writing the books, Christ Alone and The Infant Priest, he has contributed articles to Modern Reformation, The Federalist, Concordia Pulpit Resources, and other journals. His new book with Eerdmans, Night Driving: Notes from a Prodigal Soul, is now available for pre-order at Amazon. His writings and other resources can be found at his website, chadbird.com. Chad and his wife, Stacy, enjoy life together in the Texas Hill Country.