Recently I expressed some frustration to my pastor about how I am not "applying the gospel to my children." So this past Sunday he lovingly took me aside to make sure I wasn’t legalistically trying to "apply the gospel" in a slavish, duty-bound way.
It's easy to allow slavish obedience to muddy the gospel, isn't it? We discover something beautiful about Christ and the gospel, but then after some time, instead of it remaining transforming good news that overflows in worship and good works, we turn it into a means of gaining acceptance, once again taking up the yoke of our former master.
But obedience that flows from joy is so different than obedience that flows from duty! The first is delight upon delight, while the second is drudgery leading to death.
In Mark 12 a scribe says to Jesus, "to love [God] with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." To which Jesus responds, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." This scribe saw that obedience to God was deeper than externals and required love from the heart (which is far more demanding!).
What he hadn’t realized yet was that he was also incapable of heart obedience. He understood the law in principle but had not yet used it as a mirror.
Have you looked into the mirror of the law and learned that you cannot obey it? If so, praise God! Admit it to him and repent of ever hoping you could obey on your own. Then you will find rest. Christ didn’t come to call the righteous but sinners (Mark 2:17).
"But", one says, "I still have to live my life. I am duty bound to love my wife and children, work for my employer, and worship God regardless of my feelings or motivations." Yes you are, but "fleshing it out" is not obedience. In fact, it only adds to the sin (Romans 14:23).
In Christ, slavish law-keeping counts for nothing (Philippians 3:4-8) but "only faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6). "You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace." Repent, therefore, and believe the gospel; and let the duties of your life be carried out in the love that flows from this faith.
Moralistic duty is not only drudgery; it is part of a false gospel which must be cast aside.
Let us have confidence only in Jesus, that he alone is able to complete what he started:
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)