I just read a news report about some people in the Philippines who nail themselves to crosses every Good Friday. This one guy has done it 13 times! His father before him did it 15 times. They say that they do this to either fulfill a vow or to pray for the end of an illness. The local Roman Catholic church is concerned because it has turned into a bit of a media circus, and they are worried the men and women are marketing their devotion for the sake of tourism. The ones who are not being nailed to crosses are beating their backs with bamboo sticks hung from ropes. The article said that they do it to atone for their sins (!?!). The guy who'd been nailed 13 times said that after he does it, he feels "refreshed, like all my sins are washed away."
Goodness Gracious! These guys need to learn the love of God! What are they trying to do - prove their devotion? Faith? Luniacy? If we could somehow do something to prove our devotion to God, Jesus would never have had to die. Do they really think that these works will somehow convince God to heal their families? I'd have to be pretty convinced in order to let someone nail me to a cross! Why don't they just believe in the power of prayer? Why does it have to be a spectacle? And most importantly, wasn't Jesus' death on the cross enough to wash away their sins? Why do these men and women feel like they still need their sins to be washed away every year? What is their church teaching them?
It's really easy for me to look at these people and think they are 100%, certifiably, coo-coo. It's a bit harder to look at myself and question whether I do this too in some way. Do I try to work my way into God's radar so He will pay attention to my needs? Do I believe that if I stopped doing some of the work that I do, that God wouldn't notice or hear my prayers? Is the work I do based on some twisted, drunk-with-pride hope that He will consider me one of His most faithful? Would I ever consider myself in direct competition with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ for God's affection? Are you kidding? Of course not. But I do still have a bit of a teacher's pet left in me, so the urge to impress my 'leaders,' 'teachers,' and 'heroes' is something that I have to consider. I can convince myself that my motivation is nothing but honorable, but that doesn't mean that it is. That just means that I don't mind being suckered by my own pride and insane addiction to acceptance and favor.
If we truly believe what Jesus said, then we don't need to go around trying to earn our salvation. We already have it. It was given to us. A gift from God. We can't do anything special enough to earn it aside from just receiving it from Jesus. Does that mean we can put on blinders and just let the world go on as if we now don't have access to God? Of course not. There's plenty of work to be done for God's Kingdom. We shouldn't be acting as if God's grace had no affect on us whatsoever.
Now God doesn't NEED us to do His Kingdom work. He could do it all Himself without breaking a bead of sweat. And look at this world - that is a LOT of work! But He wants to lavish us with thanks and appreciation and rewards once we make it into His Kingdom. Maybe because that's one of His love languages - He's a gift giver. He wants to give us a high-five and say "Thanks. Thanks for recognizing My hand in your world. Thanks for recognizing my Son as my gift to you. Thanks for seeing my people with My eyes and taking care of them. Thanks for acting like the family I created you to be."
But if we're working so hard to impress our Father, we'll never consider the rewards we receive from Him. We'll think we've earned them in some way and pocket all the glory for ourselves. He wants us to enjoy the freedom we have in the grace that has been extended to us. It's what seperates followers of Jesus from the rest of the world. It's what God wants for us. He doesn't want us to carry around fear. What kind of faith can we have if we're acting like we're not sure we were actually saved? That is no way to treat God. After all He's done. After all the rage He holds back, waiting instead for the appointed time of things. After all the heartache from watching us hate our brothers and sisters. After all the rejection. After all He's done, all His faithfulness, His power and might proven to us, to try to steal His thunder and act as if we can do this on our own - wow. We must not know Him at all.
Here's to diving deeper into a relationship with Him where we get to truly see His love, His grace, His power, His glory, His patience, and His faithfulness. So that we never again confuse our abilities with His.