November 5, 2020

False Gospel: “I Gotta Get Myself Together”

“I’ll come to Jesus. But first, I gotta get myself together.”

My friend uttered these five damning words as he, yet again, brushed off my gospel plea. I wanted to say, “Before you finish getting yourself together, you will stand before God and be thrown in hell.”

But I didn’t say it. I should have, because it’s true.

On that day of judgement, no amount of getting yourself together will suffice. When Jesus calls a man to follow Him, He never says, “But first, take care of a few things.” No, Jesus says, “Drop everything, trust me, and follow me.”

A Works-Based Religion?

I-Gotta-Get-Myself-Together sounds reverent, yet it’s sanctimonious sacrilege.

At best, I-Gotta-Get-Myself-Together is a religion of works. At worst, it’s a lame excuse. As a works-based religion, it burdens the sinner with the hopeless message of fixing oneself without Jesus. The alcoholic, the drug addict, the homeless man, and the hustler believe they cannot come to Jesus in their sin. I-Gotta-Get-Myself-Together says: “Clean up the outside before Jesus cleans up the inside.”

Breaking it down as a gospel narrative, I-Gotta-Get-Myself-Together comes across as pious, yet it will send you to hell. This false gospel believes God created humanity morally neutral. The Fall happens as one makes poor choices due to their environment. Potential redemption is available to all who can change and make better choices. Ultimate restoration is found in living a better life.

A convert to this false gospel is a modern-day pharisee. These men clean the outside of the cup, but the inside is filled with greed and self-indulgence. Jesus says, first clean up the inside, and then then outside will become clean too (Matt. 23:26–27). 

I-Gotta-Get-Myself-Together works well for the pharisee as he cleans up what humans can control—our outward actions and appearances. Pharisees are proud people who want to manage their own salvation. For how can a person clean up the inside? With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. Jesus said, “Come to me all who are weary, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

As I’m sharing the gospel with the man I mentioned at the beginning, I am reminded of a hymn written by Joseph Hart in 1759. The hymn calls to the weary:

Come ye sinners poor and needy, weak and wounded by the fall.

Hart must have known something of this I-Gotta-Get-Myself-Together false gospel. He must have known about vain workers who seek to clean themselves up before coming to Jesus. He sent a warning in the fourth verse:

If you tarry, until you’re better, you will never come at all.

The point is simple: waiting until we “get ourselves together” is an endless interruption in coming to Christ.

A Lame Excuse

To call it a works-based religion is to believe the best about my friend’s motives. Undergirded as a religion of merit, it’s also a lame excuse. The sinner says, “I’ll come to Jesus, but first…”

But First?

In Luke 9, Jesus deals with these people who say, “But first.” Jesus calls one man to follow Him who doesn’t count the cost of discipleship. Jesus says, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58).

Meaning: will you really follow Him? What if it costs you your comforts, traditions, relationships? When the Creator of the world came into the world, He didn’t live in a luxury condo on the water. He didn’t sleep on a memory foam mattress. His concern wasn’t central air conditioning. His whole life was suffering. Even the foxes and birds had nicer lodging than Jesus.

I-Gotta-Get-Myself-Together is an excuse to pursue the flesh. The follower of Jesus doesn’t have time to chase after the luxuries and comforts of the present world. Life is too brief; the mission too urgent. Our comfort is not found in the quality of one’s house––it’s found in the quality of our Savior. Jesus is not calling us to intentional suffering, but He is calling us to intentional living.

Jesus then calls another man who says, “But first I must bury my father” (Luke 9:59). Some traditions are very good. Weddings, funerals, sports celebrations, high school graduations—these are an important part of life. Yet they can keep us from Jesus. Many will miss Jesus, not because of bad things, but because of too many good things. I-Gotta-Get-Myself-Together places our traditions in front of Jesus.

In Luke 9, there’s a third man: “But first, let me tell my family goodbye” (Luke 9:61). I-Gotta-Get-Myself-Together looks back and sees a long to-do list. Jesus is going this way. Your family is over there. Are you going to follow Him or not? The point is simple: Jesus must always come first.

I Will Arise and Go to Jesus

In the rocky soil of this life, the Jesus follower must keep his hands on the plow and not look back. The soil is hard and the terrain rough. All attention is given to the task at hand. I-Gotta-Get-Myself-Together causes us to look back, stumble, and fall.

You will never get yourself together. There is not enough time in this life. In fact, time is against you. The longer you live, the more guilt you accumulate. When faced with the burden of sin and the invitation to come to Christ, there is only one response:

I will arise and go to Jesus
He will embrace me in his arms

Author’s Note: This short series is intended to explore the subtle false gospels which pervade the inner city ministry context (and many others). While there are hundreds of additional false gospels, these simple evaluations are intended to inspire ministers and gospel workers to discover, diagnose, and dismantle false gospels in every community.

You can read part one here, part two here, and part three here.

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