I hate roller coasters. I almost get seasick just watching television coverage of some theme park’s new “biggest roller coaster ever.” If they think that is going to inspire me to vacation at their park, they have another thing coming. I see absolutely no excitement to being pulled straight up several stories, only to freefall straight down before being thrown upside down and barreling through corkscrews.
I think my dislike for roller coasters is because my head doesn’t do well with fast movements. One Spring Break, Karen and I took our young children to a neighborhood carnival. Alli loved the fast rides, so we teamed her up with a little boy to ride together. When he left, Alli asked me to go on a ride with her. I looked for the slowest one I could find. When I saw Tilt-a-Wheel, I thought “how bad can that be?” As soon as the ride began, I realized I had made a BIG mistake. When the ride finally stopped, my head kept spinning. When we got back home, I immediately went to bed, where I stayed two days before feeling normal again.
Many Christians experience a spiritual roller coaster that is just as debilitating. They have absolutely no doubt that their faith in Christ has reserved a home for them in Heaven when they die. But, they are under the false impression that the GIFT of God, which is eternal life, starts only when they enter Heaven. Between now and then, though, they think God operates by the “g-IF-t” principle — IF you read your Bible enough, I’ll love you. IF you pray and fast enough, I’ll answer your requests. IF you attend church often enough and give enough money, I’ll meet your needs. IF you seek My kingdom hard enough, I’ll use you in ministry.
Their roller coaster begins on Sunday. While at church they get filled up with God and feel like they can trust Him through thick and thin. By Tuesday, they are empty and despairing. Then they attend a mid-week study and get filled up again. By Friday, they feel like they’ve been pushed through a knot hole. Come Sunday, they start the cycle all over again. Instead of describing their life as “abundant,” they are depressed and feel like a failure. It’s an oxymoron, but they think they must EARN God’s GIFT of unconditional love.
The Apostle Paul wrote the New Testament book of Galatians to help Christians get off this kind of roller coaster. He pointed out that there are only two ways to live the Christian life, either by LAW (legalism) or by GRACE (God’s power). These two are diametrically opposed, but new Christians were being confused by false teachers who infiltrated their ranks after Paul left. Legalism is obeying God IN ORDER TO BE ACCEPTED by Him, to get on His good side. Grace is obeying God because YOU ARE ALREADY ACCEPTED by Him through your faith in Christ.
Paul wrote that just as we start the Christian life by GRACE, we live out the Christian life by GRACE. The abundant life which Jesus promised is not the result of following a list of DOs and DON’Ts. That leads either to self-righteousness or despair in a person’s life. Christianity is the establishment of a love-relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. It is not a test of your willpower to keep a bunch of rules. In Galatians, Paul wrote, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” As we learn to rely on the Spirit of God and walk by grace, we finally get off the “roller coaster” life. firstname.lastname@example.org