Today, the latest Mars Hill Music release drops: the Dispatch’s self-titled EP, which you can pick up on iTunes! In this post, Deacon Nick Lathe, who leads the Mars Hill Sammamish band with his wife, Jessica, writes about the theology behind the EP.
I spent a lot of my life trying to do “good works.” I’d work really hard, serving long hours at my church and hoping for recognition. When I didn’t get it, I’d just tell myself that I was pleasing God with my hard work and my reward would be in heaven. If I didn’t read my Bible, I’d worry that God would be angry with me, which would drive me to reading it out of duty. But really, it all came from a self-righteousness and only made me bitter. What I didn’t understand was that the act of reading the Bible didn’t save me.
While we are called to serve Jesus’ church and God desires for us to seek him, I had it all backward and upside down. I was doing all that stuff out of my own strength, and not resting in the fact that Jesus had already accomplished everything for me, and there wasn’t anything I could do to earn righteousness. I was trying to do what Jesus calls every Christian to do, but it was out of guilt and duty instead of joy and desire.
In the Heidelberg Disputation, Martin Luther writes: “Although the works of man always appear attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.” This is rooted in Matthew 23:27 where Jesus compares the works of the Pharisees to whitewashed tombs filled with dead bones. My “good works” were rooted in self-righteousness and were worthless. When the truth of the gospel shattered my idol of self-righteousness, it actually brought me great relief. Instead of hopelessly toiling for my own righteousness, Jesus makes me righteous through his perfect work.
Ephesians 2 says we were “dead in the trespasses of sin,” and “by nature children of wrath.” But in his mercy and love, God raises us to life through the work of Jesus on the cross. Paul then states very clearly that this is not a result of anything we have done, it’s God’s gift. It all culminates in verse 10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” This is what I had been missing when I was trying to do it all on my own. I had been trying to do works I thought were good, which lead to self-righteousness, instead of resting in the perfect work of Christ.
We don’t meet Jesus halfway
This is where the overarching idea for the Dispatch EP—everything is through the cross of Jesus—came from. We have salvation through Jesus’ cross. We have life through Jesus’ cross. We can and are called to work hard, but through, because of, and in light of Jesus’ work on the cross. We don’t meet Jesus halfway, toting our “good works” as partial payment for our sin—we are saved only by his grace.
We will all fight against this at some point. We want to think we bring some worth, that our works should count for something. We will all, at some point, try to work out of our own strength. But it will always leave us tired, worn out, and broken. No matter how many times we tell Jesus that we’ve got it from here, he always welcomes us back with open arms. When we stand firmly in the grace of Christ, he gives us strength beyond what is humanly possible. It’s out of that strength that God calls us to work.
Serving as a son
By God’s grace, he exposed my self-righteousness and I’m redeemed through Jesus’ blood. I’m still able to serve and work long hours, but out of his strength and Jesus’ work, not my own. As the Holy Spirit continues to regenerate me, I don’t have to do things out of duty, because God has given me a desire to please him as his son. I know that striving for something out of our own strength or doing something out of duty is just empty religion and a whitewashed tomb, both of which lead only to death.