by Ruth Chou Simons
I don’t know your background with the church or your relationship with Jesus, but I want you to know that, if you’ve been given a gospel of striving—a gospel of Jesus plus performance and a whole bunch of other stuff—you’ve not experienced the true gospel of grace through Jesus alone. Perhaps you’ve been told that you must look a certain way, act in a specific manner, or perform to a certain standard in order to come to Christ. That’s simply untrue and is a false gospel akin to that of the Pharisees. And when a gospel promotes striving in your own strength, it isn’t good news at all.
But, friend, if alternatively you’ve been given a gospel that downplays holiness and obedience, eliminates God’s sovereign ways, and antiquates the law-satisfying work of the cross of Christ, you’ve been fed another version of a gospel of striving. Just because the striving is not religious or devout, or does not include churchy work, doesn’t mean it’s not still striving. Our current cultural idea of salvation through our merit (even in the church!) finds itself rooted less in “good works” and more in self-improvement and self-love. If ancient-world Phariseeism added more religious rules to God’s Law as a means of salvation, modern Western Phariseeism replaces God’s law—fulfilled God’s way—with self-made laws fulfilled in self-satisfying ways. We’ve become our own heroes—the saviors to our own stories.
Pleasing yourself doesn’t sound like burdensome striving, but that’s the lie the Enemy wants you to believe. That is the false gospel of this generation—that we can save ourselves through ourselves. That with enough practice, enough resources, and enough work, a perfectly executed version of your life is accessible. This generation is declaring: Be your own boss and make yourself happy! Save yourself!
While this self-reliant way of salvation denies an absolute standard for truth or goodness, it declares absolutely that the truth resides within ourselves. It baffles me that our culture is obsessed with the contradictions of this ideology and equates them with freedom.
Is discovering your own truth truly as freeing as we’re led to believe? Is being the hero of your own story actually a relief? Is self-reliance truly satisfying? Does constantly keeping your finger to the wind promote rest or worry? Can you be perfect enough to ensure happiness?
Just my personal observation: being your own hero doesn’t seem all that freeing; it looks exhausting.
It seems the constant obsession with appointing ourselves the heroes of our own lives is catching up with us. We’re practically hooked up to our self-bettering resources intravenously, so dependent on the latest content in books, podcasts, webinars, and more that we think continually about ourselves: Who am I? What’s my purpose? How do I belong? Am I enough? Does anyone love me? There’s nothing wrong with these questions; the answers just were never meant to be found within ourselves.
In an interview for GQ, Danish psychologist Svend Brinkmann pointed out that our “self-help craze, the imperative to perform and be flexible and optimize yourself all the time” has become pathological, with us becoming victims of self-optimization fatigue. He pinpointed the problem with self-betterment and the exhausting pursuit of arriving at the finish line of your best self, saying, “It’s a process without end. . . . if we’re only okay as long as we are striving, moving, developing, then we’re never okay.” We want to feel okay. We want to be enough. We want to arrive at the finish line as the winners. And we keep believing we can make it happen if we just optimize our performance and carry it out flawlessly.
I feel a GraceLaced hand-lettered art print coming on: Jesus is the hero of your story. (Wink.)
And, quite frankly, he is. But Jesus didn’t seek to be a hero; he simply sought to be faithful. Jesus didn’t try and steal the show, improve on God’s plan of salvation with addendum or flair, or demand honor for the Savior he was. At every turn, Jesus wanted only to do what the Father purposed for him to do. No more, no less. Even as he faced brutal death on the cross, Jesus revealed his motivation in staying faithful to the work he’d been given. It was not in pursuit of showing himself worthy or becoming his best self. It was . . .
• to do God’s will and not his own. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
• to glorify God and not himself. “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1).
• that we might know that everything is from God. “Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you” (John 17:7).
• that we might know God’s love. “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).
This is an example that is hard to follow, especially for all of us who have spent so long subscribing to the hero narrative we’ve been taught. But it is one worth mulling over as we seek a more genuine and faithful way forward.
Taken from When Strivings Cease by Ruth Chou Simons. Copyright © 2021 by Ruth Chou Simons. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. www.thomasnelson.com.
Ruth Chou Simons is a Wall Street Journal bestselling and award-winning author of several books, including her newest book When Strivings Cease. She is an artist, entrepreneur, and speaker, using each of these platforms to spiritually sow the Word of God into people’s hearts. Through her online shoppe at GraceLaced.com and her social media community, Simons shares her journey of God’s grace intersecting daily life with word and art. Ruth and her husband, Troy, are grateful parents to six boys—their greatest adventure. Follow Simons on Instagram.