Don’t Deny the Gospel: How Wanting to Serve God Can Be a Bad Thing

This is part four of the five-part series: Don’t Deny the Gospel.

You’ve read about how we don’t want to look to time management to give us peace. And you know that money and accomplishments aren’t where we find contentment.

But now there’s a bigger trap waiting ahead.

Many Christians want to learn how to effectively manage their time so that they may be good stewards of the resources (time in this case) that God has given them. They want to please Him with their usage of time and serve Him out of a sense of gratitude.

We have reasons to be grateful. More than we can count.
The fact that we can walk, talk, and think. The fact that our hearts are beating. The fact that we have a roof over our head and food to eat.
The fact that we have a good God who loves us, who hears our prayers, and who speaks to us. The fact that He died for our sins so that we may spend eternity with Him in heaven.

Gratitude is, after all, a great thing. It’s certainly a wonderful attitude that we should cultivate.
But gratitude can often hide something that’s not wonderful – an incorrect and distorted view of the gospel.

Christ Plus-ness

Letter after letter, Paul preached against legalism, against Judaizers, against what I have heard referred to as Christ Plus-ness. The idea that salvation comes through Christ… plus obedience. Or being a child of God comes through Christ… plus circumcision.

That’s saying that we do something to earn part of our salvation. And that goes against everything in the gospel.

Many of us recognize the perils of legalism, and we know the right words to recite. We say “salvation comes through faith alone.” We’d recognize the lie of legalism if someone told us that we had to be circumcised in order to go to heaven.

But there are craftier versions of legalism.

On the Desiring God blog, Gagan Awhad explains this well:

“[My sin and the Devil] no longer come to me with a blatant argument to earn my salvation. They are more cunning than that. Now, they use really good words for an argument that is something like, “Oh! You say you are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ? That’s great! And indeed his sacrifice is the greatest. But now, let’s consider you, what are you doing in response? He deserves so much obedience and are you really living so that he can look at you with a smile?”

The Azeem Ethic

When you hear this subtle form of legalism, it most often takes the form of gratitude. I will give, or I will serve, or I will sacrifice… out of gratitude for God.

John Piper calls it “the Tonto Ethic,” based on a character from “the Lone Ranger” TV show. I’m from a different generation (I’ve never seen one second of “the Lone Ranger”), so allow me to slightly modernize his analogy.

Remember the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves with Kevin Costner? In it, Morgan Freeman plays Robin Hood’s sidekick named Azeem.

Early in the movie, Robin Hood saves Azeem’s life. And in Azeem’s culture, when a man saves your life, you are duty bound to follow him and serve him. Azeem looks at this as an honorable thing to do – the only proper response. In the last few minutes of the movie, as Robin Hood is at his most vulnerable, Azeem courageously saves Robin’s life – declaring that now his vow of servitude has been fulfilled.

Many Christians adopt this Azeem ethic. They look to Christ’s sacrifice and then declare that, out of gratitude, they will serve Christ for the rest of their lives. But deep down, their service is their way of trying to pay back what they owe Christ.

It becomes a transactional relationship. Christ dies for me, and I respond by indebted service. Even if I acknowledge that I can never fully pay back Christ (or even come close), working to pay off any part of that debt goes against the gospel.

If you can pay back grace, then it’s not grace! You end up cheapening the grace of God when you believe internally that you’re earning anything by serving God.

God Doesn’t Need Service

Acts 17:24-25
24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

God is not served by human hands. The type of service implied in this verse is when you are helping someone out – when you are giving someone assistance. But God doesn’t need us to help him.

John Piper puts it succinctly: “The gospel is not a help wanted sign. It’s a help available sign.”

Time Stewardship Is an Act of Worship

I prefer to use the idea of worship, rather than gratitude, as a motivation for action.

To me, there’s nothing being given when we worship. Worship is simply acknowledging the supreme worth and value of Christ. Our worship doesn’t add anything to it or take anything away from it. There’s no implication that we are assisting God when we worship Him or that we are attempting to earn anything on our own when we just acknowledge who He is.

And this brings us back to the concept of Time Stewardship:

Romans 12:1
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

The way we can worship Christ is to be a living sacrifice. We present our bodies, our minds, our resources, our abilities, our time – every fiber of our being on the altar. And we do it not to earn anything. We do it not to repay anything.

We do it to worship.

Stewarding our time well is an act of worship.

Note: This post was heavily inspired by John Piper’s wonderful sermon entitled “How Not to Serve God in Going and Sending,” which can be found on Desiring God.

Part 1: (Introduction) Don’t Deny the Gospel: How Learning Time Management Can Be a Bad Thing

Part 2: Don’t Deny the Gospel: How Wanting to Reduce Stress Can Be a Bad Thing

Part 3: Don’t Deny the Gospel: How Wanting to Accomplish More Can Be a Bad Thing

Part 4: Don’t Deny the Gospel: How Wanting to Serve God Can Be a Bad Thing

Part 5: Don’t Deny the Gospel: How Good Things Can Happen

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