A couple Sundays ago, Tab preached a most helpful message from Hebrews 9:15-28. You can listen to the message here. The main point was that, when it comes to relating to God, there is no substitute for the gospel, the finished work of Christ. We often think of the gospel as a one-time thing, what brings us to God when we first become believers. But the gospel isn't just the gateway of first-time access to God; it's the gateway for our everyday relationship with God. Unfortunately, we're all prone to substitute other things for the finished work of Christ, thinking we need to add to the gospel or move on to something new. Tab highlighted three "gospel substitutes;" I'm going to focus on two of them.
The first gospel substitute is self-reliance. We think there is something we can do, even have to do, that will bring us to God. Do you ever think that, because you didn't make time to pray in the morning, you can't be close to the Lord or get help from him on a certain day? Or do you think that you have to work up some specific emotion in order to connect with God while singing worship? That's the gospel substitute of self-reliance. That's forgetting that faith is not based on our works but on Christ's work. What's the remedy in those times when we think our relationship with God depends on something we do? We have to go back to the gospel. Jesus appears in the presence of God on our behalf (v. 24); he has a permanent place in heaven securing the way to God. We don't have to do anything to relate to God. We simply, completely rely on the access bought by Christ's sacrifice.
The second gospel substitute is self-atonement. This is the highly insidious belief that we have to make up for our sins before we can relate to God. As if we even could! Yet we give into the lie again and again. Here's what it looks like: We sin; then, we think we have to wait to draw near to God until we've stopped sinning. ("I can't pray for help when I still feel so angry at my husband!") Or, we think we have to wait to draw near to God until we feel forgiven. ("Yes, I confessed that sin to God. But he won't really forgive me and help me change unless I feel bad enough about what I've done.") Don't we all think those kind of thoughts? When we do, we're making our own (in)ability to atone for our sins a substitute for the gospel. What's the antidote? We remind ourselves that Jesus has appeared once for all to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (v. 26). His once-for-all sacrifice leaves no room for any extra sacrifices we try to make to pay for our sins. What joy and freedom this good news brings!
I'm so glad to be at a church where I hear the regular call to accept no substitutes for the gospel. I've needed these truths during a busy season of moving, infertility treatments, and family visits. I'm going to continue needing these truths every day of my life, so that I can keep growing in the grace to rely on Christ and not myself.