A short time ago, I, along with my family, watched the movie Avengers: Endgame. As we watched we all cheered the Avengers on hoping and waiting for the forces of good to overcome the forces of evil. For the evening at least, these superheroes captured our imaginations and our hearts. Then we went to bed.
Why are we so enamored with superheroes? At least our culture seems to be even if you as an individual aren’t. I think it’s because it’s in the superhero stories where we see good always winning over evil, where people are saved from horrible fates and bad guys always get punished.
Superheroes give us hope in a world where we are bombarded by bad news and sadness.
Superheroes give us hope in a world where we are bombarded by bad news and sadness. But also, the truth is that they are just so cool. Try wearing spandex and look good at the same time. For most of us that is utterly impossible, but these superheroes always look amazing and so downright cool.
But superheroes aren’t real. They’re a fantasy. That’s why when we see someone dressed up like Spiderman we know that he or she is either heading to a party or they’re half a puck short of a goal. And if they really thought they were Spiderman, well then, we’d know for sure that they are unbalanced in their minds. That’s because we know that superheroes don’t exist.
How come then, when it comes to the Christian life so many try to be super heroes in the Christian realm? I don’t mean the hero who saves people from death, Jesus did that on the cross already. Rather I’m talking about the self-acclaimed Super Christian who comes across as better than everyone else, as someone who is out to single handedly fight the evil they see in every corner.
Truth be told, no one wants to know a Super Christian. And just like the super heroes of Marvel & DC, they aren’t real. And we know this because too many of us have grown up in broken homes. Too many of us have been disoriented by tragedy in our lives. Too many of us have lost faith in cultural institutions, including the church. Too many of us have grown up wondering if anyone really cares about us.
There is no such thing as a ‘Super Christian’. They are fake, yet we have all been hurt by people wearing those labels. What we are all longing for is to enter into relationships with people who are not just shiny and pretty on the outside, wearing the correct clothes and cutting their hair just right, appearing to be ‘all that’. Instead we are looking for those who are real and authentic with the life that God has given them, as messy as it may be.
But here’s the thing. Too many of us, if not all of us at some point or another try to be that Super Christian. We do that in the way we’ve struggled to ‘prove’ our worthiness before God.
I’m not interested in showing you how to be a better person. Nor am I interested in showing you how to be a good or even great Christian. And I’m certainly not interested in helping someone become a Super Christian. What I am interested in is showing you how to give your life over to Jesus so that he can change you and live through you.
Because unless he does the changing and unless he does the living through us, we’ll never get this Christian life thing down and we’ll never be free to live the life we we’re created to live. Which is accepting the gospel as a part of our life. The gospel or the good news that we can live a life free from the penalty of sin, free from the power & hold of sin, and ultimately free from the presence of sin.
Paul said in Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” – Galatians 5:1-5
To Paul and the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, understanding the true gospel is vital to living the Christian life because without understanding what it means to be a real Christian by embracing the true gospel, we end up living lives that are angst driven.
But when we understand and embrace true Christianity, and understand what the gospel is really about, it frees us up from the anxiety of religiosity, and the angst of trying to prove our worth before God, other people and ourselves, of trying to be a super Christian. It’s only when we understand the gospel for what it really is that we can be free from anxiety.
We can be free from anxiety
The surface issue, which threatened to divide the church, was circumcision. There were forces in the Jerusalem church who taught that circumcision was necessary to be in church fellowship. Paul described them as “false brothers,” who were brought in to bring them into “slavery.” What does he mean by slavery? He means that by making circumcision necessary for salvation, the false teachers were dragging the church back to adherence of a system of laws.
According to them we all needed to keep all of the Torah that contains 613 specific regulations & commandments. And you’d keep them if you really wanted to be a disciple of Jesus’ and really wanted to prove your worthiness to be saved and approved by God. How hard would that be? To keep track of them all – let alone do them all, you needed to be some sort of Super Christian. And we already know that there are no Super Christians because following all those rules and regulations are impossible for any human to do.
So, Paul’s argument was that we didn’t have to keep trying to fulfill the law anymore because God knew we couldn’t do it. Paul pointed out that God was doing a brand-new work that superseded all of the old rules and relationships. Most of us would agree with Paul, and we look back at these false teachers causing problems in the early church and we tsk tsk them.
I wonder how often we unconsciously add “extras” to the gospel message?
But I wonder how often we unconsciously add “extras” to the gospel message? Extras that make us think that we can earn God’s favour by affirming certain teachings, following prescribed rituals, dressing or acting a certain way, listening to and singing the right music, speaking the right lingo, or avoiding taboo behaviour And sometimes we get to the point where we smugly believe that we are better Christians because we don’t do this or that thing.
It’s like we think that the motto to live by is; I don’t smoke & I don’t Chew & I don’t associate with them that do! But anyone who trades freedom in Christ for a set of rules or a list of does and don’ts so that they can be considered a better Christian or a “Super Christian” is in reality accepting the handcuffs of spiritual slavery.
It’s so important to get the gospel right. That’s because the true gospel provides freedom, not slavery. Before we were in Christ, before we became a follower and disciple of Jesus’, we were in slavery to sin; now we are free in Christ from being forced to observe what often amounts to incidentals. Those activities we hold onto will not save us, and in the end, it is like being chained to the law. If we base our salvation and standing before God in a list of do’s and don’ts, we will grow very tired very fast.
Tim Keller, in his book Galatians For You, refers to this as emotional freedom, and says that when we apply a list of rules and regulations to the gospel it can become an “endless treadmill of guilt and insecurity.”Paul’s concern for the Galatians was to get the gospel right so that they could live in freedom. This needs to be my concern daily. It needs to be the concern of every Christian man or woman.
Promoting a gospel with extras is no gospel at all, and in the end, it robs us of the joy and freedom in Christ that is ours through his sacrifice and by becoming a part of Christ, united to Jesus as a disciple of his. We only can become filled with increasing anxiety, when living the old way of trying to justify our existence by our own work.
Union with Christ tells us, “you have died to yourself”. Which means that you’ve died to the angst that comes from feeling like you’re not allowed to fail, or to the feelings of inadequacy that come from feeling like you have. To those questions “Am I significant? Have I done enough? Am I accepted?” the answer is “Your life is now hidden (united) with Christ in God” – Colossians 3:1
This is the beautiful, biblical truth of justification. You no longer have to justify your life. You don’t have to worry, like Jay Gatsby in the story the Great Gatsby, about others thinking you’re a nobody. Christ marries himself to you and in a wonderful exchange, you give him all your sins, and he gives you all of his righteousness. It’s like he says to you and me “My life is perfect, right? Well yours isn’t. How would you like to trade?” The good news is that Jesus offers his life for those who are willing to turn from their own imperfect life and embrace his perfect one.
It’s like he says to you and me “My life is perfect, right? Well yours isn’t. How would you like to trade?”
In Christ, you are significant – ‘he’ makes you so. In Christ, you are secure. In Christ, you are accepted. But that acceptance no longer has to be earned or maintained; it is granted by grace and guaranteed in Christ. This doesn’t mean you stop working, but it does mean you now work in a totally new way. You no longer work for approval; you work from approval.
American Idol was one of the most popular television shows of all time, and for the contestants, one of the most nerve wracking. A single missed note could cost you the competition, but winning could change the course of your life. At the end of each season, when the contest was over and the winner had been crowned, she or he took up the microphone and sang one more time. But it was no longer singing to win; it was singing because they’d won.
It was no longer a contest. They had nothing more to prove or earn. Instead, the chosen and honoured performer could sing with all his or her heart, delighting in their gifts for the benefit of others. That’s the freedom from anxiety the gospel gives.
You, dear Christian, have already been chosen and crowned in Christ, so now you can do what you do with all your energy, delighting in whatever gifts God has given you for the benefit of serving others. That is living life knowing you don’t need to be the hero, super or otherwise. That is living life without anxiety.