When pastors plead for their congregations to shake off their apathy and finally take action, this attempt to motivate can lead us to abandon the gospel if only for a moment. I have sought the Lord to repent of my own misplaced emphasis on what we need to do to prove ourselves as real Christians. I need to constantly remind myself of the gospel. Daily I struggle to put to death the desires I have to show myself as wild for Jesus and the impulse to do something great for him in order to win his approval. Romans 4:5 is the medicine I take daily—“And to the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness . . .” (italics mine).
What powerful, life-altering words these are! What lavish grace! Paul is saying that the one who does not go on the mission field, does not give to the homeless, does not tithe, does not throw away his TV, does not tutor at an inner-city school but believes in Christ who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. Belief is all that is required for the ungodly. How amazing is that?!
This is the medicine we all need and what I must constantly preach from the pulpit—to Christians and non-Christians alike. Otherwise, no matter how strong my words are, they will only inspire people momentarily, never sustain them. I can guilt people into giving or use inspirational stories to move them, but without the steady drumbeat of the gospel, I am leading people into a works-based righteousness no matter how good my intentions. And sure, good works will follow, but now out of a heart of gratitude and worship to Jesus.