“Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?
No Lord, she replied.
Neither do I, Jesus said. Go, sin no more.” – John 8:12
Did you wonder whether this woman walked away, and left her life of sin entirely? If so, I wonder, was that immediate? For many, many believers, the sign-up to following Jesus is a slow start, accompanied by ‘not knowing, what I don’t know.’ In the beginning there is an attraction, but honestly we are not really sure of all the details and the requirements. Change sometimes comes slowly or more quickly, as God’s grace takes hold.
I read a blog post this week, and I feel the urge to respond. It smacks of graceless Christianity, which is a most dangerous thing. Let’s go back a little first.
The most significant change in the church over the past few centuries has been the structural change, seen first in the China church, and now happening in many other countries.
Such a movement has been much needed, a breath of life from God, jolting the conventions from their safety and preoccupation with buildings, numbers and a paid priesthood, and bringing people back to a simpler and more rigorous faith. Christians are again beginning to feel the cost of following Christ, a good thing that has long been lost in the ‘sanitised faith’ of the West.
But the passion to move onto the streets, has led at times, to aggressive tactics. A return to the teachings of the New Testament, with a much needed stricter interpretation of lifestyle, has also led to a preaching of God without grace, and a theology where the cross of Christ is not enough. The emphasis is now shifted to being based on our response, our actions and how we then live. Woe to those who aren’t up to the mark! Now, a simple faith in what Jesus has done is not quite enough.
Along with this, comes the need for ‘true’ repentance, baptism in water, the Holy Spirit, signs and wonders…and giving up everything for Christ now. If you’re not sure of what that is, one of the disciples may be ready to tell you. Fail in any of these areas, and your salvation is questioned. This week, I read in this blog that someone was unable to be filled with the Holy Spirit because they refused to renounce something in their lives, which called into question (in the writer’s mind at least) whether they had really been saved. As there was no ‘true’ repentance, so there was no salvation.
Such a Gospel doesn’t allow for any human margin of error, or any of God’s grace through Jesus Christ. In fact, we are back to the very worst of the law. Many people reading this will look at themselves and ask, ‘am I then good enough to come to God’ and we know of several of our community who struggle with anxiety and depression because they still do not know if they are acceptable. It is immensely sad, graceless; deliverance is not the answer.
This then, is the panacea Gospel: got depression, you must have demons. Sore foot, let me heal that for you. Marriage in trouble, let’s pray for deliverance. Our instant society demands an instant God. In some instances deliverance or repentance may be the answer; but, let me ask, what happened to my 40 years in the desert that Moses experienced before coming face to face with the divine. What happened to taking up my cross daily, and allowing Jesus to teach me how to live through times of great joy, and terrible suffering.
The first of Luther’s 95 Theses, banged up on the door of the Wittenberg cathedral says that ‘all of life is repentance.’ It is a phrase I will never forget. It says to me that, thanks to the grace of God I will be different tomorrow from today, and then one day ‘I will be like him’ as the transformation of grace is complete. I cannot see what he does to me on a daily basis, and often I don’t even know what needs to be changed, but I can look back and see that I am a different person from 5 years ago, or even 12 months. Grace trumps it all as the light of the world leads me.
Our panacea Gospel’s fixation with the book of Acts ignores the woes of the Corinthian church. One assumes that Paul followed the pattern, ‘repent, believe and be baptised’ and yet the lifestyles didn’t seem to reach the expectation. What, no true repentance? Welcome to the mess that is humanity.
Woe to us, when we make demands on those coming to Christ that they simply cannot stand up to. Many are so dead in their sin, it is a miracle they can even stand up at all. When we put such a burden on them, we are worse than any Pharisee. We take on the role of God with our ‘who is good enough to be saved’ and whether they meet our standard.
As mature believers, God has a right to expect a certain standard from us. But when I read people’s personal encounters with Jesus, it was his sheer Grace that knocked them off their feet. “What, even you, the very one who has the right to condemn me, sets me free?” Such love, such grace is so compelling, my whole heart is changed.
Ah, the Gospel of Grace. Let us never forget, not what I do but what he did, that is the one that saves me. Nothing else needed. Amen.