A number of years ago I enjoyed playing with a yo-yo. I’m sure you’ve seen one of these toys, and you’ve probably played with one at some time in your life. But for those who don’t know what a yo-yo is, think of a large truck that has two tires next to each other on its back end, and of course, there’s one pair of these tires on each side of the truck. Then in your imagination take one of those pairs of tires, shrink it down so the two “tires” will fit in the palm of your hand. Then tie a string around the axle between them and wind it around till there’s only a short bit at the top. Make a loop at the end of the string that you can slip around your middle finger, and presto! You have a yo-yo!
So what do you do then? You hold your hand palm down, drop the yo-yo, and the string unwinds until the yo-yo hits the end of the string, and then it rolls back up the string to your finger. Then you can either hold the yo-yo in your hand or drop it again, and by slightly moving your hand up and down, you can keep the yo-yo dropping and coming back up.
Yo-yos are a very ancient toy. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of them as far back as 440 B.C. The first yo-yo company in the United States was established in 1928 by Pedro Flores, a Filipino immigrant to the United States, and within little more than a year he was operating three factories with 600 employees, and they were making 600,000 units a day, including a dozen other toys. Today you can even buy a yo-yo that has ball bearings!
One of the reasons for the popularity of yo-yos is that they challenge people’s skill and dexterity. You can play all kinds of throws with them. One is called “sleeping,” where the string around the axle is tied loosely enough that when the yo-yo hits the end, it just spins rather than climbing back up. The player can execute a variety of tricks while it’s spinning, and then, while it’s still spinning, he can jerk his wrist slightly and bring the yo-yo rolling back up to his hand.
As I said, I used to enjoy playing with yo-yos, and I got pretty good at just making it go up and down. I also enjoyed “sleeping” the yo-yo—though that was about the extent of my yo-yo skill. However, in this article, I want to share some thoughts with you about yo-yo religion.
By now you’re probably asking yourself, what on earth is yo-yo religion? Very simply, it’s the person who sins and feels guilty (the yo-yo hits the end of the string), so he confesses his sin and gets right with God (the yo-yo comes back to the hand), only to fall into sin the next day (the yo-yo hits the end of the string), feel profoundly guilty and be afraid that God can never accept him, but finally confesses and gets right with God again (comes back up to the hand). And this cycle goes on day after day. One day he’s in a saving relationship with Jesus, but the next day he thinks he’s lost his salvation and has to get right with God all over again. One day he’s saved, the next day he’s lost, the next day he’s saved, and the next day he’s lost.
That’s yo-yo religion, and I’m happy to tell you that this is not how the Christian religion works!
Where righteousness comes from
Yo-yo religion is based on the idea that “I have to live a perfect life in order to be acceptable to God.” Once I become aware of a sin in my life, confess it, and seek God’s help to overcome it, I need to just stop doing it. And if I do it again the next day or a week or a month later, I’ve lost my salvation and I need to get right with God again. This kind of Christianity is known as “legalism”—the false idea that I have to obey God’s law perfectly in order to be assured of my salvation.
Paul addressed this concept in Romans 3:20, when he said, “No one will be declared righteous in his [God’s] sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”1 While obedience is a very important part of the Christian life, it isn’t the basis of our acceptance by God. In verses 21 and 22, Paul explained what the basis of our salvation is: “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known. . . . This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Here are the key words in that verse: a righteousness from God. Paul means that God provides us with His righteousness—or perhaps more correctly, Christ’s righteousness—to make up for our sinfulness. It’s a righteousness from Him to us.
Paul stated this concept even more clearly in Philippians 3:9. He said that he wanted to be “found in him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (emphasis added). I like the way Ellen White expressed this concept: “He [Christ] died for [you], and now He offers to take [your] sins and give [you] His righteousness. If you give yourself to Him, and accept Him as your Saviour, then, sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous. Christ’s character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted by God just as if you had not sinned.”
Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life, and then He died to pay the death penalty for your sins. So when you confess your sins to Him and ask for His forgiveness, He immediately applies the sinless perfection that He achieved on this earth to your sinful life, and He accepts you “just as if you had not sinned”—ever! That’s what Paul meant when he said that “now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known.” It’s a righteousness from Him that He uses to cover your sinfulness. And the only thing you have to do to receive it is to believe that it’s true! That’s why Paul went on to say, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (emphasis added).
Adopted as sons and daughters
I’m sure that some readers of this article have adopted at least one child and perhaps two or three. If you are one of these, I have a question for you: Did that child obey you perfectly after you brought him or her home? Of course not! So did that disobedience nullify the adoption papers? Of course not! You will have to correct the child, and perhaps punish him, but that child has the security of knowing that he or she is still a member of your family.
It’s the same when we accept Jesus. In Galatians 4:5 Paul said that Jesus came “to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons [and daughters]” (NKJV; emphasis added).2 When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we are immediately adopted into His family, and He doesn’t “unadopt” us every time we yield to temptation.
Marriage is another illustration of this point. When two people get married and one of them does something that hurts the other person, does that break the marriage contract? Of course not! Divorce is possible, but it’s a long, drawn-out process. In the same way, we are “married” to Jesus, and the fact that we yield to temptation doesn’t break that relationship.
The apostle John had a significant comment about what happens when a Christian yields to temptation. He said, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.” In other words, God’s desire is that we not sin. But John went on to say, “If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1). John was obviously writing to born-again Christians who sometimes sinned. And what did he say happens when a Christian sins? Does he or she fall out of their relationship with Jesus? No! As their Mediator, Jesus brings their case before God, who loves them profoundly. He applies Jesus’ righteousness to them, and He accepts them “just as if they had not sinned.”
Am I saying that people who accept Jesus can’t fall out of grace and lose their eternal salvation? Not at all. It is possible to break your relationship with Jesus after you’ve repented of your sins, accepted His forgiveness, and experienced the new birth. There are two ways you can do that. One is to make a firm choice that you don’t want to have anything more to do with Him. The word for that is rebellion. The other way you can lose your salvation is to drift out of it. You immerse yourself so totally in the secular affairs of your daily life that you neglect to spend time with Him in Bible study, prayer, and staying in close relationships with other Christians, and in due time you will have broken your relationship with Jesus. You truly are lost.
Why yo-yo religion doesn’t work
People with a yo-yo religious experience can’t have the peace of mind that comes from trusting that Jesus loves them and accepts them right where they are, sins and all. Instead, they think of God as an avenging Judge who’s just looking for an excuse to reject them—and the sin they just committed is proof of His rejection. So they wallow in their guilt for a while—a few hours perhaps, or even a few days or weeks. Then they come crawling back to Him to beg for His forgiveness. Finally, they can once more have peace of mind—until the next time they yield to temptation and feel as if their avenging Judge rejects them all over again.
True peace of mind comes when we tell Jesus that we are committed to serving Him and we do our best to live the Christian life. When we sin, we recognize that what we’ve done is wrong, and we repent of it and confess it.
Sometimes it can take a while to realize that we sinned, such as when we lash out in anger at someone and tell ourselves that he or she “had it coming.” But later, after we’ve cooled down, the Holy Spirit can help us understand that we were wrong. Even then it may take a while to get up the courage to admit we were wrong and seek forgiveness. But during the entire time that we are struggling with our conscience, the Holy Spirit is by our side, encouraging us to make things right. And during that entire time, Jesus maintains His relationship with us.
The good news is that salvation is a relationship with Jesus, not just a contract that you can break and restore, again and again.
1. Unless stated otherwise, all Bible verses quoted in this article are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.
2. Bible texts marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Marvin Moore is the editor of Signs of the Times®. He lives with his wife, Lois, in Caldwell, Idaho, United States of America.