Session 16: Our Biggest Foe: A Theology of Works.


The attitude of the Pharisee is that keeping the law enamors him to God. Divine acceptance is secondary and is conditioned by the pharisee’s behavior. For Jesus, the circumstance is diametrically opposite. Being accepted, enamored, and loved by God comes first, motivating the disciple to live the law of love. “We are to love, then, because He loved us first” (1 John 4: 19). Suppose a child has never experienced any love from her parents. One day she meets another little girl whose parents shower her with affection. The first says to herself: “I want to be loved like that, too. I have never experienced it, but I’m going to earn the love of my mother and father by my good behavior.” So to gain the affection of her parents, she brushes her teeth, makes her bed, smiles, minds her p’s and q’s, never pouts or cries, never expresses a need, and conceals negative feelings. This is the way of pharisees. They follow the law impeccably in order to induce God’s love. The initiative is theirs. Their image of God necessarily locks them into a theology of works. Brennan Manning, Chapter Five

Isn’t it interesting that we 21st century Christians seem to be fighting the same battle Luther and the reformers fought so many centuries before?

I guess it must be true that every generation will need to square off against our biggest enemy:

A theology of works.

Oh yeah, I know that Satan is a big problem. I realize that evil is lurking out there in this world, waiting to pounce on me in a moment’s notice. And sin? Sure, I realize that our disobedience is a major stumbling block in our lives as we look to get reconciled back to God.

But, as I see it, it’s that hideous ‘theology of works’ that really takes the cake when it comes to destroying any hope I might have of finding a true, unconditional love relationship with the Creator of the Universe, my Loving King.

A theology of works. Public enemy number one.

And yet, because of its deceptive nature, this cruel taskmaster, this theology of works, lives and breathes in most of our churches and traffics in the hearts and minds of Christians world-wide.

But here’s the good news.

Every once in a while, over the course of time, there comes along a simple spokesman or two who calls this heart-less monster out for what it truly is.

Luther and the reformers fit that description. Francis of Assisi did as well. Wesley and other revivalists spoke out the truth of grace, and today, we have wise sages like Merton, Nouwen, Brennan Manning, and others who seem to get it as well.

The truth that breaks this theology of works?

I like to call it the Gospel of Grace…the Good News of God’s Unconditional Love & Acceptance. And I like to break it down into three foundational truths.

Truth #1. We are loved by God. We are His beloved sons and daughters.

Truth #2. We are liked by God. We are His forever friends.

Truth #3. God is right here, right now. We are not alone.

This Gospel of Grace, you see, motivates us to positive life-change through God’s unconditional love and acceptance, while a theology of works seeks to motivate using guilt and shame. Without the Gospel of Grace, we’re left to find our own way out of darkness. But with it, our Heavenly Father literally loves the darkness out of us. The Gospel of Grace demonstrates to us that Jesus of Nazareth can lead us into Eternal Truth, and the Holy Spirit can indwell & empower us to live freely and lightly as beloved sons and daughters of God.

There. This is truth.

And you evil bastard, you theology of works. Go back into the pit of hell where you came from.

From now on, I will chose to be free of your evil attempts to get me to work harder and smarter so that my loving God might love me more.

My prayer: Jesus, I embrace Your Gospel of Grace. I chose as well to reject a theology of works that insists I must work harder and smarter to earn the love and acceptance of my unconditionally loving God. Thank You for Truth that truly sets me free. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: A theology of works is the cornerstone of all ‘truth’ in the heart of a pharisee. How has this evil taskmaster found its way into my thinking? In what ways do I act on this horrific lie on a daily basis? What steps can I take to break away from this faulty theology and begin living more simply and freely in Jesus’ Gospel of Grace?

So what is God speaking to you today as you live as Abba’s child in the midst of His Gospel of Grace?

Over an eleven-week period, you and I will take a deeper look at God’s Gospel of Grace; Exploring the Good News of God’s Unconditional Love & Acceptance. We are using Brennan Manning’s classic book, Abba’s Child – The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging as our guide. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Gospel of Grace home page for ease of use. ENJOY!

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