Have you ever thought about why making it to the top of a staircase is used as a metaphor for success? I have often heard that our spiritual walk is like going up stairs. In a ladies’ Bible study one time, the teacher on the video was seen standing on a step of a staircase making a comparison of herself to her colleague, whom she viewed as being on a higher step, because she believed this colleague had achieved being a better Christian, somehow, than she had. This stair climbing analogy preaches to many of us because it fits right in with the gospel we have heard.
When you go up a flight of stairs you are both moving forward and upward so you must work harder to go up a step versus walking on flat ground. Because of this, reaching the top of a stairway is often used as a metaphor for accomplishing something or for achieving a goal. Sadly, this metaphor is all too often used in the ministry for our walk in Christ.
You probably know what I’m talking about. Have you heard a sermon lately that tells you that now that Jesus died for your sins, it is your job to obey God’s ten commandments? Or maybe your faith community impresses upon you to set rules down for yourself and your family to be obedient to righteous living. Or, maybe you strive to accomplish a mixture of these two? Whichever plan you adhere to, you are determined to keep working on doing better, and when you fail, you pick yourself up by your bootstraps and get back on that stairway, hopefully climbing a couple more steps the next day.
This gospel of striving and working to satisfy old covenant laws or to accomplish a set of rules for yourself is what we call the BootStrap Gospel, or B.S. Gospel, for short. This gospel emphasizes your effort in making yourself “a better Christian,” striving for a new and improved you as you take note of your actions and words, and, in your own effort, move up the staircase to righteousness.
My dear friends, this is not how the Bible says it works. However, this gospel is being preached by mainstream Bible teachers, pastors, church leaders, and authors across our great nation. It’s not a new thing. Paul, within the first century, was already addressing this issue with his readers (Rom 4:4–5; Gal 3:1–2).
The Christian Gospel needs a reset to its original glory.
We need to get back to the true Gospel of Grace. It is time we retool and take a fresh look at what the Bible actually says is the good news of Jesus. But, to see that the Gospel needs a reset, we need to look at how it has been twisted.
I am going to run with the stairway analogy to explain my perspective on this.
Stairway to Nowhere
So much Christian teaching implies that upon becoming a Christian, believers are placed on the bottom step of the staircase to righteousness. We are taught that as time passes, God chisels away at our sinful behaviors and, eventually, we do better at avoiding certain sins or behaviors, and climb up another step, hoping that someday, we will arrive near the top. We are also told that, of course, we can never make it to the top step, because Jesus is the only one perfect enough to be there. Nevertheless, our job is to work on climbing the stairs as we focus our lives on overcoming our bad behaviors, not breaking God’s laws, or managing to succeed at a set of rules we set for ourselves. Then, oddly, when we die, we get an instantaneous escalator that takes us the rest of the way up to perfection. Does this sound familiar?
This is what I call the stairway to nowhere. Why? Because on any given day we find ourselves standing on a step somewhere mid-floor wondering if we will ever be counted worthy of God’s love. And, in addition, we live in fear that at some point, we may backslide, and go back a step or two because of sin. This endless game of Chutes and Ladders really doesn’t accomplish anything for us, for God, or for those around us whom God wants us to love and serve. It also heaps on the guilt and shame, especially if we start comparing our step to others’.
The B.S. Gospel places us on this stairway to nowhere. To advance up the stairway we must achieve fulfilling some law, rule or supposed Christian expectation.
Fulfilling God’s Law. Some Christian leaders teach that we are to try and fulfill the old covenant law. While in the book of Exodus, in context of the giving of the ten commandments, one pastor recently said, “Now that you are a Christian, it is your job to strive to fulfill the law.”
I wanted to ask him several questions: Which laws are we to strive to fulfill? The Ten Commandments? The laws of the Sabbath? Certainly not the sacrificial laws, right? Which laws of the over 600 laws we find in the Bible are we to fulfill as New Covenant believers?
Honestly, we hear a mixed and confusing message about the law from our spiritual leaders, so I am not surprised that many believers are confused about this subject. What does the Bible say about fulfilling the old covenant law?
The Bible tells us we are no longer under the law, but we are under grace.
For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace (Rom 6:14).
This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? — Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? (Gal 3:2–3).
…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified (Gal 2:16).
Man-made Rules and Christian Expectations. Another thing we tend to do to ourselves is to make up or accept rules or even certain expectations given to us by our Christian community that somehow make us feel like, if we accomplish them, we will somehow be pleasing God and be a better Christian.
Friends, please do not take on the guilt and shame of these lists either. If you have a desire to do something and are inspired by the Holy Spirit, then go all in! Please don’t waste your time or God’s, doing things because you “should.” We end up failing and feeling guilty when we put man-made pressures on ourselves. Allow the Spirit to inspire you in what you do and don’t do.
Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations — “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using — according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh (Col 2:20–23).
Paul is telling us that these self-imposed rules that we strive to accomplish in our flesh, first, don’t make our flesh less sinful, and second, don’t make us more righteous. They just make us feel guilty if we break them, or somewhere between bored and self-righteous if we succeed at them.
A One Step Stairway
The Bible teaches that there is only a one-step stairway. You step onto it when you put your faith in the righteousness of Jesus. On this step, not only did Jesus pay our penalty for our sin, but we are given the very righteousness of Jesus! (Rom 10:10) We are imputed (assigned, credited) the very righteousness of Christ. Our spirit is made righteous and clean (John 13:10, 15:3).
For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation (Rom 10:10).
Let that sink in for a moment. We are made righteous by the sacrifice of Jesus. We do not need to work at ascending some make-believe stairway of righteousness. We need to recognize that once we are on the first step, we are on the top!
All we need to do is stay on the step. Even when you sin, stay on the step. It is a waste of time to sin, and sin creates consequences, that are devastating at times, but we don’t slide back down from righteousness when we sin. See, it is our flesh that sins, not our spirit. Our spirit is made new and holy. Sinful behavior simply makes us miss out on creating life, love, joy, peace and blessing in the world around us while at the same time risks dire and dangerous results.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you (Eze 36:26)
But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. (Rom 9:9)
If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit (Gal 5:25).
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit (Rom 8:5).
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Gal 5:16).
Don’t spend all your time trying to conquer what Jesus already conquered for you. Set your mind on the good stuff and move on!
“Keep My Commandments” ~ Jesus
So, if we are no longer under the law, what did Jesus mean when He said the following?
“If you love Me, keep My commandments (John 14:15).
What are the commandments Jesus was talking about? Are they the ten commandments found in the Torah? Many will say yes. I submit to you that it is not so. Remember, we are told we are no longer under the law (Rom 7:6; Gal 2:19). Rather, it is the new covenant commands to love God and love one another.
Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:37–40).
Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom 13:10).
A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another (John 13:34).
The writer of Hebrews tells us there is a change of the law in the new covenant (Heb 7:12). This means we are no longer under the old covenant laws which include the priesthood and all the Old Testament laws. We have one law: love. In the new covenant we cannot be made more righteous through what we do and don’t do, and our actions don’t affect how God views us or loves us. But He does ask us to love one another because He knows the good that comes from love (John 15:17).
Does this mean you should covet, lie, or lust after someone? Of course not! Those things are not loving. See, if you are loving, you are not breaking any laws. But that’s not the main point of this post.
The point is, we are free from the law and striving to fulfill it. We are free to love others, and when we do, we accomplish something more than not breaking the law.
See, if you don’t steal from your neighbor, all you have accomplished is…well, nothing. Right? Nothing happened. Sure, you didn’t break the law (civil or God's), but, when you live beyond not breaking a law, and instead, do something for a neighbor that is helpful, encouraging, or loving, then you have kept God’s commandment (love) plus birthed life, joy, peace and love. See, it is a heart issue (spiritual) not an obedience issue (fleshly).
Love is a spiritual, eternal, and life producing action.
When the woman who was caught in adultery was brought to Jesus, what did He do? Did He obey the old covenant law and have her stoned? No. He could have. But He didn’t. He loved her, and He saved her life. He produced life in a situation that, under the law, would have produced death (John 8:3–11).
But now He [Jesus] has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises (Heb 8:6).
Jesus is the Mediator of a new and better covenant.
The stairway to nowhere leaves you in an endless cycle of striving to be a better you, failing at times, picking yourself back up by those bootstraps and getting back on that cycle. This B.S. Gospel leads you on a path that keeps you so busy about your sin that you don’t accomplish the one thing God asked us to do, which is to love.
The Bible speaks of the Gospel of Grace which teaches the one-step to righteousness concept.
The Better Gospel: The Good News
The word “gospel” means good news. Striving to get up that never-ending stairway seemed like bad news to me! The Bible teaches us that our sins are forgiven. Period. Past, present and future sins are forgiven. Talk about good news!
Let’s contrast the B.S. Gospel with the true Gospel as I wrap up this post.
The B.S. Gospel tells us Jesus died to atone, or pay for, our sins. Our sins are forgiven. Since He did this for us, we need to spend the rest of our lives striving to not break any of the old covenant commandments, (which we fail at daily) and pay Him back with our obedience. This version of the “not so good news” gospel denies grace altogether. It leads to a never-ending cycle of striving, sliding, shaming and back to striving.
The true Gospel of Grace tells us Jesus died to atone for our sins. Our sins are forgiven. His death released us from the chains that were holding us to that sin. He then re-birthed us into a spiritual life with a new heart and righteous spirit then He gave us the Holy Spirit to co-pilot our lives. He did everything He could to make this as easy on us as He could. He did it all! All we need is faith to believe that what the Bible teaches us is true. Then, once we realize we have all the resources we need to love, we can choose to tap into those resources at any given moment the Spirit inspires us, to accomplish His will.
May God bless you as you walk in Him.
 Unless otherwise noted, all scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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