I can reflect on times I’ve tried to live generously with my finances through sure willpower and determination. While I saw initial fruit, this never produced lasting change in my soul. Life’s ups and downs slowly chipped away at my will and eventually I was in the same old patterns of selfishness, fear and stagnation.
Then, there’s times when I’ve seriously contemplated on the grace of God and His generosity through Jesus Christ. As a result, something exploded inside my heart, resulting in growth in my giving that has lasted long-term. It’s as if I was compelled instead of being driven to hit a target percentage of giving.
Religion vs. the Gospel
Timothy Keller summarizes this tension very well in The Prodigal God where he writes, “Religion operates on the principle of ‘I obey—therefore I am accepted by God.” The basic operating principle of the gospel is “I am accepted by God through the work of Jesus Christ—therefore I obey.”1
I am a born-again follower of Christ and have fully trusted in Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I know that I am justified freely by His grace and not by works. Yet, still, I see a constant battle within my own heart to gravitate towards religion when it comes to giving (and many other areas of my life) instead of truly embracing the fullness of the gospel and appropriating it in a way that makes a difference every single day of my life. “A fundamental insight of Martin Luther was that “religion” is the default mode of the human heart. So Luther says that even after you are converted by the gospel your heart will go back to operating on other principles unless you deliberately, repeatedly set it to gospel mode”(Keller, 2008, pgs. 128-129).
Can you relate to this struggle?
When I teach about biblical generosity within churches, I ask, “What makes Christianity any different than any religion as it pertains to generosity?” Doesn’t nearly every religion or ascribed faith acknowledge the goodness of generosity? The difference is that religion asks us to give of what we can (or the excess), yet followers of Christ are asked to give everything to God. “Behavioral compliance to rules without heart-change will be superficial and fleeting” (Keller, 2008, pg. 133). This is at the core of religion.
Yet, our Leader and Lord, Jesus Christ, set the ultimate example by giving His life, a standard none of us could ever accomplish. This act of generosity solidified our value to God, and as a result we can give freely, without a pressure to satisfy religious requirements.
I’m so grateful that when Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, He didn’t ask His Father if He could only give 10% of Himself for the world, and conclude that was enough. It required all of Him and He gave 100% so that all can be saved through Him!
Jesus gave His very life, so you and I could be pardoned of our sin and forever in relationship with our Creator. This is the radical truth of the Gospel and what sets Christianity apart from religion. This amazing truth is what transforms us to live radically generous lives and is exactly what a lost and hurting world is looking for.
How do we personally appropriate the Gospel in our life?
Dictonary.com defines appropriate as, “to take to or for oneself; take possession of.” I love this definition because I believe it helps communicate the intentionality we must have as Christians. Because we are a forgetful people, we must be intentional to daily take possession of the gospel.
- Reacquaint yourself of the generosity of Christ: 2 Corinthians 8:9 states, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” When we truly reflect and take time to think about what God did for us, it ignites within us a desire to be generous back to Him. This is one of the most important reasons I believe daily time in the Word of God is so important. The Bible provides a daily, constant reminder, of God’s plan to redeem mankind by sending His only Son. Seek to thank God daily for what He did for you.
- Reflect on those things holding you back: 2 Timothy 2:4 states, “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” Maybe it’s security in your savings account, fear that you won’t have what you need, or just plain selfishness that entangles you from a life of radical generosity for God. It’s important to understand the root of what may be holding you back, so take inventory of those and pray specifically for God to transform your thinking to match His. Be intentional about responding biblically vs. in the flesh.
- Rest in God’s care and provision: Matthew 6:31-33 states, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” So often, we rest in ourselves and then turn to God when we have need or face circumstances beyond our control. Scripture calls us to reverse the order. As a result, we will see that we will have everything materially we ever need. It’s important to note that this is not a “give to get” prescription. God provides for us regardless. The Lord is simply saying we must completely rest in Him vs. ourselves. When we choose to do this, we can give radically, and still see God provide everything we need. To rest means to make a decision. Be intentional each day to declare where you stand.
- Respond back to God by modeling his example: James 1:22 states, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says”. Galatians 5:1 also states, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” We are free because of Christ. There is no weight or burden upon us to give so that we can be accepted by God. We are already accepted fully in Christ. Therefore, we can respond back, in this freedom, and be radically generous because we want to be like our loving Father. It’s our adoration and love for Him and sparks a life of generosity.
So where do you stand? Has giving merely been a way to satisfy a perceived religious requirement or have you experienced the freedom to give that can only come from followers of Jesus Christ? Meet us in the comments!
1 – Keller, Timothy. The Prodigal God. Riverhead Books. 2008