I’ve been watching something playing out over the last week or so and thinking on it a lot. It’s kind of a tale of two different churches. I have friends in both. (Really, it’s a tale of a lot of churches, but I just want to talk about these two briefly.)
One of the churches wants to talk about grace and inclusion. I like the sound of that, especially if it means people are being brought into God’s family.
The other church wants to talk about the truth of grace. I like hearing the truth, even if it hurts. I know not everyone feels this way, but deep down no one really wants to be lied to.
The first church keeps talking about truth as though truth is synonymous with law. And because this church believes that we are completely free from law and only grace is in charge, a lot of truth is being swept aside as grace is pushed to the forefront of the conversation, speaking of people who hold to a particular truth as “weaker brothers.”
If you know your Bible much, (and I truly hope you love it like I do because it’s God’s direct word to you and me) you probably recognize this verse. Even if you don’t know your Bible well, you’ve probably heard this once or twice.
“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17 ESV)
The law was given through Moses and it was a shadow of things to come. (Hebrews 8:5-6; Hebrews 10:1) The word “law” has a lot of fear attached to it in many (if not most) Christian circles. And if we are honest, sometimes we are scared of our own shadow or other shadows looming over us – but in Jesus Christ the shadows are lifted away and we get to see the fullness of what God was teaching Israel about Who He is.
“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.” (Hebrews 10:1 ESV)
The miracle of the gospel is that both grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. We are not under the power of the law to condemn us anymore. The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared. And because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, grace is powerful and it changes us powerfully. Grace doesn’t say to us: “It’s OK to live with your sin; Jesus won’t try to make you any different than you are right now.” No, grace powerfully changes us from God’s enemies into his friends.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14 ESV)
And that’s why when my friend tells me that she’s in a grace-filled church, but she feels comfortable living with her boyfriend who doesn’t love Jesus and nobody is telling her that she’s not following Jesus as closely as she should or could, I’m worried. That’s why, when I hear about a church talking about acceptance and love without talking about the power of the gospel to change us and transform us from being members of the kingdom of darkness into people of the kingdom of the true Light, I am worried.
“for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8-10 ESV)
Satan wants to identify you by your sin. And if he can’t get you to buy into that, he will try to get you to diminish your sin and think that you are making much of Jesus and grace in the process.
The answer to how we make much of Christ is not to make little of our sin. When we are not willing to identify and name something as sin, we are diminishing the efficacy of the gospel of Christ. It’s like saying “Oh no, it’s not so bad. Jesus didn’t need to die for that.”
But what if we owned and identified our sin as our sin? What if our freedom came in knowing that we have been forgiven all? Christ died for all of it: every small mistake and slip up and every heinous crime. He died for every refusal to find our identity in Christ. He was killed for every insistence that our identity was in our sexuality, or our brokenness, or our apparent wholeness and perfection. He even died for our blindness to our own blindness. All of it gone and all washed away.
But we live in a world that would rather be identified by a particular bent towards a particular sin than be identified by the One who saved us from those sins.
Here’s a dose of truth and grace: Jesus gave his life, not so you could say, “My particular sins are just who I am,” but so that you could be freed from your bent towards particular sins. When we say things like, “Oh no, don’t worry about it. That’s not a sin, that’s just who you are.”… When we say that, we are really telling someone, “Jesus didn’t die for who you are.”
And that is a complete denial of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:10-14 ESV)
Update: Since writing this, I came across this excellent, helpful excerpt from Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s book Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. The article is called Answering Difficult Questions on Sexuality and Salvation.