Love’s Ladder Lost

2 September 2009

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

Today, as I was driving, I passed a church in the downtown area that had the following saying on their church marquee:

“Life is like a ladder: every step takes you either up or down.”

Ok, look.  I think I know what they’re trying to get at.  I understand their concerned efforts to encourage passersby to think about the consequences of their actions.  But I couldn’t help but feel a sense of…wrongness…with the underlying basis of this slogan.

A ladder?  Steps?  The reason I find such a metaphor distasteful is that the whole thing smacks of effort.  It’s as though life is a system of cause-and-effect relationships, instantly bringing karma according to the relative “goodness” of each deed.

This is very worst kind of message for a church to send.  And yet it’s the message that’s been sent for years: “You’re not good enough.”  “Keep working harder.”  “Keep climbing the rungs of success.”

The message of Jesus is radically different, and it’s one the apostle Paul speaks of in writing to the Church at Ephesus.  He writes to a people who were formerly “dead in [their] transgressions and sins…gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts (Ephesians 2:1-3).”

And then Paul uses the two most powerful words in the entire Bible.  “But God.”

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:4-9)

It is by God that we have been “raised up with Christ.”  No ladders here.  No room for human effort.  Grace is fundamentally opposed to the human tendency for pride and arrogance.  Grace is the free exchange of our old life for the life Christ offers, purchased not by our deeds, but by the Savior’s blood.

The message of Jesus has nothing to do with climbing ladders.  The message of Jesus has nothing to do with “earning” God’s favor.

The message of Jesus is about how bad, how “powerless” we are, and how God demonstrated His love through the sacrificial death of a Savior in the place of sinners.

To the Romans, Paul says this: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).”

Our faith takes not the shape of a ladder, but the shape of a cross.  While the message of fundamentalism is “Do more stuff,” Christ breathed His last with the words “It’s done.”

There is no ladder tall enough to allow us to escape from the mess we’re in, and no man strong enough to climb out on his own.  To the Galatians Paul says that to be guilty of one thing is to be guilty of all (cf. Galatians 5:3).  But the cross of Christ extends farther than any ladder could ever reach, higher than any man could climb.

So don’t worry about life’s ladders.  Trust in God’s grace.

2 September 2009

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

Chris is a writer and speaker. He currently serves as teaching pastor at Tri-State Fellowship and as a research writer for Docent Research Group.

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