The Christian’s Devotional Struggle at Easter
A lot of people feel they must somehow muster up extra piety on Easter weekend. In many churches, people fall into the trap of thinking that extra devotion on Good Friday and Easter somehow ‘counts’ more with God.
When we feel compelled to muster up devotion in order to make outward observances in calendar festivals, we are quickly reduced to an Old Covenant model of worship, with festivals, feasts, fasts, and a sacrificial system that was annual and repetitive. It can be tricky to separate Old Covenant thinking from New Covenant thinking, but we need to remember that Jesus, “entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).
The other problem that occurs when people feel compelled in this way is that they feel guilt for not being devoted enough to God. Out of that guilt, they can take on what John Piper calls, “The Debtor’s Ethic”. It is the idea that I am so indebted to God, I must do dramatic things in order to pay God back. Such thinking appears quite pious at first. And in our age of ‘virtue signalling’ it can be socially expedient to put your extra piety on display at Easter in the hope that it counts doubly with God and others.
Now the fact is that we can’t pay God back. God is high and if we consider our sins of transgression and omission, the Christian believer is still confronted with a lack of what John Owen called, “gospel obedience.” Owen explains:
"I call it Gospel obedience, not that it differs in substance from that required by the Law, which enjoins us to love the Lord our God with all our hearts — but that it moves upon principles, and is carried on unto ends, revealed only in the Gospel" ( The Doctrine of the Saints' Perseverance Explained and Confirmed, p.223).
If we feel guilt for our lack of devotion to God, lack of appreciation for the cross of Christ, and lack of joy at the resurrection of Christ, then we must go to the gospel and be reminded that we are not saved on the basis of our piety, but on God who is "faithful and just to forgive us our sins" (1 John 1:9). We can repent of our sin, and rest in the forgiveness that is in Christ alone. That is what the obedient Christian does. They repent and rest in order to rejoice!
Our religious observances do not save us. Christ saves us. He alone is our salvation. It is not a combination of our faith and our religious observances, as the Roman Catholic Church teaches. Rather, Christ alone saves and all our guilty sin has been born by Christ on the cross, while his resurrection seals the forgiveness of our guilt forever.
It is good to give special attention to the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on Good Friday and Easter. But even in our devotional life, weak as it is, we can see that our gratitude for the death and resurrection of Christ is not what it will be in heaven. Which is why we continue to confess with all true Christian believers, that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. As Paul put it:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Let us not make Good Friday and Easter an occasion of boasting in our religious works, but humbly boasting in our risen Lord alone and his mercy to sinners like us.