Freezing temperatures here in Maryland have nudged me into editing my old journals. With nearly forty year’s worth of writing, I’m hoping the weather breaks before I get through the whole lot of them.
Two streams have clearly marked off my days: law and grace. Or more accurately, there’s a stream, and a catchment pond of do-it-yourself religion, law-keeping, and failed attempts at being a better Christian. Paul refers to the catchment pond as a “veil over the hearts of the people. “Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But the moment anyone returns to the Lord, the veil is gone.” (2 Corinthians 3:15-16)
Forty years distilled into dead religion or life and freedom, and I’m betting I’m not alone in this. Some of you – or maybe many of you – might even feel today like there’s a veil over your heart. God seems distant, disengaged or disappointed with you. I believe this can only mean one thing: we have returned to the law.
The stream of grace is the Spirit himself flooding our hearts with hope, encouragement, and a clear conscience towards God. It’s unleashed not by religious activity, but by simple faith in the risen Christ. So come with me, and let’s return to the God of grace, who offers all of Himself to unworthy sons and daughters who have nothing to give in return. Lets believe again that Jesus has taken every possible obstacle out of the way, (especially sin and the law), and extended His love to us freely and without merit.
“So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
We Christians have earned quite a reputation for making a front-and-center issue out of sin. (Let me be clear before I go further: Sin IS a serious issue. Not only does it kill and destroy, but it cost Jesus his life to free us from it’s poison).
But isn’t it curious that the Jesus of the Gospels seemed to preach so little against sin? (In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus never mentions the word “sin” even once!*) He never seemed to think it was necessary to lecture Zaccheaus about dishonesty, to confront the sinful woman about her prostitution, nor to have the good Father lecture the prodigal about his selfishness and debauchery. Instead Jesus went about inviting people into relationship, and seemingly forgiving them before they asked. “Come unto me, you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” “Believe in me, and you will never thirst again.”
Why do we assume that preaching the gospel means hammering on sin? Indeed, is “preaching against sin” even necessary to proclaim the good news? I’m convinced our neighbors already know about their sins. They don’t need us to point out their lies, their affairs, their selfishness and addictions. Most honest people are already painfully aware of their offenses towards God. (The exception seems to be religious people, who were the ones Jesus most often addressed about the subject). What our neighbors DON’T know is the love of a Savior who accepts them right where they are, the delight of being alive and adopted into God’s family, and the hope of a Kingdom that is making all things new.
It may take awhile to rebuild our reputation, but I believe it’s past time we hang up our fixation with sin and begin offering grace to the world.
* Since posting this, one friend pointed out that it depends on the translation. I was using the New American Standard Version at the time of writing.