This blog post is probably the most controversial I’ve written to date, but I believe it needs to be said. It’s something I’ve started to realize many others believe as well, although most who agree are remaining silent. I guess that’s not really my personality.
Over the past seven years of my “adult life,” I have attended many different non-denominational Christian Church’s, heard hundreds and hundreds of sermons, read some of the newest Christian books, and have seen one prevalent theme. It’s the uber popular belief right now among American Christianity of “ultimate grace.” Although this message is growing Church attendance, I believe it is hurting the heart of God.
I can feel the eyes roll now of readers thinking I’m one of those “you’re going to burn in Hell people.” Settle yourself down and continue reading.
To set the records straight, the grace of God is incredible. “Amazing Grace” is a song I sang in the car by myself a few days ago and cried while thanking God for “saving a wretch like me.” God and many other people know that I was far from being a “faithful” follower of Christ for a very long time. Although I’ve been a Christian since I was 5, much of my walk with Christ was not living in His will for my life. I am disgusted with my sins from my past, even though I know He has forgiven me of them. Although I am beyond thankful and overwhelmed by God’s grace in my life, there is just one issue I have with this common message that is being preached. As we’ve emphasized more and more on the message of grace covering our sins, it seems that we’ve been talking less and less about repentance and obedience to Christ.
In John 1:17 (KJV) it says “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” Although some translations have changed “truth” to “faithfulness.” The Greek word “alētheia” was what was originally written by John and means “truth based objectively, the truth of an idea, reality, sincerity, truth in the moral sphere, a divine truth revealed to man or straightforwardness.”
I have heard plenty of grace messages, but where have the words of truth gone? I believe the Church was so far on the side of “truth through condemnation” for so long that our culture got sick of hearing it. The “law” of Moses was being preached as the truth while the grace of Jesus was often overlooked. What our culture wanted to hear was that if we come to Jesus, He’ll take away our sins so that we can live however we want… yet still feel like we’ve got the “ticket to heaven.” All we have to do is say the “sinners prayer” (not referenced in the bible, by the way) and go to church every once in a while and “we’ll be good to go.” So the Church changed its message.
The problem with both messages is that we continually forget what “truth” actually is. What was initially mistaken for many years in the Church was Jesus’s “truth” for the “law.” The Church preached the “law” and legalism so hard that it seemed nearly impossible to obey perfectly to be united with God. The issue now is again that we do not adequately understand what the “truth” actually is when referring to John 1:17.
This brings us to the question… “what is the truth“? What did the evangelist John really mean in his writing? The truth Jesus brought was the truth of God. To make sense of it all! The truth of who God is, God’s love for us, God’s redemptive plan, why we are on this earth, what our purpose is here, and what our destiny is after we pass on.
If we only preach grace, we will miss the whole point of God’s redemption. God does not forgive us just so we go back to living the same way! This was something I did for years. I treated God’s grace like a vending machine for forgiveness every time I felt bad about my sins. Then I would go on living my life in sin till the next Church service. I felt justified in doing it by the messages I heard from the pulpit, but do we really think that’s what Jesus sacrificed His very own life on the cross for?! I can’t imagine how much it hurt the heart of God when I would ask for forgiveness and then go on intentionally disobeying Him with my lifestyle. Living sinless is not an “obligation” or annoying goal we’ll never achieve, it is a BLESSING and honor to be able to live FREE from sin and in the forgiveness of it. It’s the ability to walk out my life in the fullness of joy because I am living the way Christ has called me to, living my life blamelessly. His instructions are not to hold us down, but to give us the freedom to live life to it’s fullest.
Perhaps it is not being preached because it is simply not being fully understood. To “know the truth of God” is not something that is easily taught. It has to be taught in a way that allows the listener to discover this truth on their own. When you have an encounter with God, you have a realization of what is true and what is not.
My fiancé is a financial advisor. In the banking industry, they do not teach you to study counterfeit money, they have you study the authentic dollars so well that you will instantly be able to tell what is counterfeit. I believe this is how we need to approach Church Culture. We need to know God so well, so deeply, so intimately, that sin or anything counterfeit to living in God’s will for our lives looks immediately out of place. If we know the full goodness of God, we will no longer be attracted to the false/temporal “good feelings” of sin. (Read that till it resonates)
Looking back on my life, while I was living in sin I truly thought that it was freedom, yet I felt so empty and dead on the inside. I wish so much that someone would have preached a message at that time on the blessings of righteous living. It wasn’t until I REALLY understood God’s full truth and lived my life the way He asked me to that I saw how fake it all was.
James 4:4 challenges us by saying, “Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I repeat it: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.” The Bible makes it very clear that you can’t be both. Are you a friend of the world, or a friend of God? Jesus says in John 12:25, “Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.”
I don’t “refrain from sex” with my fiancé because it’s a Christian “rule.” The truth is, having sex before marriage ruins the beauty that God Himself created it to have, to join two souls together into one. I wish more than anything that I had kept myself pure for the man I am now engaged to. Although we are choosing to wait now, I would do anything to be able to say that I saved what was so special and so holy only for him (read more on this from a recent article of mine here: Why We’re Waiting Until Marriage). It’s interesting how society told me something so different though by glamorizing a counterfeit, yet it never told me how empty I would feel after. I don’t take the time to read my Bible and pray every day because I’m afraid I might go to hell if I don’t. I read my bible and pray because I can tangibly feel the presence of God when I spend time with Him, and the peace I feel is unlike anything the world has to offer. I gain wisdom, patience, love, and grace when I read my Bible, and I genuinely LOVE reading it. I don’t keep myself from getting drunk and high just because the Bible says I shouldn’t. Although I don’t believe alcohol in moderation is a sin, I know that when I am living my life without getting drunk, I have control over my body, my choices, and I get the extra benefit of not having horrible hangovers all the time. When you know the truth, the counterfeit will no longer look like freedom, but like bondage.
Although I am not perfect and do still sin, I recognize it when I do, and I come to Jesus immediately for forgiveness. I hate having it linger over me like a cloud of guilt. It feels incredible to know that I have absolutely nothing hidden in my life!! (Seriously, it’s one of the greatest feelings ever). I live my life righteously and following after God’s will because it’s so freaking gooooood, not because I’m afraid to go to Hell. My life right now has honestly NEVER been better. Since I have fully obeyed Christ with my decisions, He has blessed me much more than I could EVER imagine. I’ve seen the truth, and everything else now looks like such a lie. God’s “manual for life” called the Bible offers instructions for the most fulfilling life possible.
My hope is for the modern Church to realize that you don’t have to try to make the Church look/sound “cool and relevant” to draw in the crowds. Just show them how INCREDIBLE the God of the universe is and how good your life can be when you’re following His will. Teach the masses to find the truth, and they’ll immediately recognize the counterfeit. We are saved by grace, and then able to live out blameless lives by staying in God’s truth. Jesus said it best through a beautiful prayer in John 17:14-19, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is the truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake, I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” -Romans 12:2
-Melissa J. Soule