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The (Anti)Gospel of Self-Effort

SONY DSCThe Gospel is “good news” and while some would say entering salvation through grace then working really hard makes sense, it’s hardly good news. Why? because it never measures up.

It’s a subtle deception to believe that if Jesus can get me in then He must expect me to do my part. Sometimes we believe that with enough determination or the right strategy, we’ll help Jesus along. It’s a formula of Jesus plus self-effort.

Jesus plus anything doesn’t diminish Him, but it does diminish us.

Frankly I am stunned. I cannot believe that you have abandoned God so quickly—even after He called you through the grace of the Anointed One—and have fallen for a different gospel. Actually there is only one true gospel of the Anointed, and you—because of divisive prodding by others—are accepting a distorted version which is not the gospel at all!

No matter the source of the false gospel, even if it is preached by us or a heavenly messenger, ignore it. May those who add to or subtract from the gospel of Jesus be eternally cursed! –Galatians 1:6-8 (VOICE)

Paul goes on to tell the Galatian church that they are foolish to start in the Spirit of grace and then try to gain approval through the keeping rules. Again, you can’t diminish the power of God by doing this, but you will wear yourself out.

Are you so foolish? Do you think you can perfect something God’s Spirit started with any human effort? –Galatians 3:3

If an angel or even the Apostle Paul himself were to come to you with a different Gospel, leave it. Ignore it. Don’t even consider it.

But what about Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27,

Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

Sounds like Paul is working hard, right? The difference is that he built up this chapter by talking about his freedom and what that freedom was intended to produce.

Discipline, from the perspective of freedom, is God-directed.
Self-effort produces only fleeting gains.

You have freedom in Christ, but true freedom produces. The more you submit yourself to your own effort and will power, the greater the bondage becomes. The seduction comes because you can feel like you’re advancing for a time, but inevitably you falter.

What happens then? You try harder and harder. You’ll get past it if it kills you (and it just might). Self-effort doesn’t produce godliness any more than an elephant can produce a luxury car.

Self-effort produces self-effort.

The disciplines you undertake whether Bible study, prayer, worship, fellowship, or anything else can be derived from freedom in Christ. It’s not because you keep telling yourself, you should be doing this or that. You experience His love and grace and can’t help but do the things that put you in line to receive more.

Faith and works–yes! Both have to be according to His love and Holy Spirit. That which is eternal produces eternal results.

I’m not saying these things like they’re easy. I struggle with this like anyone else, but at the same time, I know this is true and I’m holding onto the better. I want Gospel truth.

What do you think? Do you or have you ever struggled with this? Why or why not?


  1. I’ve learned through the process of novel writing (and blogging, too) that if God isn’t in it, I’m only spinning my helpless, hapless wheels. I always pray for His guidance and presence before beginning any creative task -- I am His vessel and servant and can produce no fruit without Him. Blessings, Jason!
    Martha Orlando recently posted..All Done in LoveMy Profile

    • So good, Martha. We can plow ahead thinking we know which way to go and what we’re doing, but that little pause and prayer can make all the difference. We can make it so complicated at times, but it’s not. Thanks Martha.

  2. You have freedom in Christ, but true freedom produces. Love this statement Jason, true freedom produces God like character and He was always about others. Going to post this on my fb today…great post brother…

    • I appreciate that, Betty! Thanks so much. 🙂

  3. I am currently starting Galatians 3 in my Sunday sermons on Freedom! This theme weaves its way through the whole book. Seems like every verse of every chapter speaks of freedom found in grace not in self-effort.
    Bill (cycelguy) recently posted..EmpathyMy Profile

    • That’s great, Bill! And man, I wish I’d have learned this lesson by now, but it comes up over and over. It’s so subtle and easy to fall into this trap. Only grace! Thank God for His grace and freedom. Thank you, Bill. 🙂

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