This post is addressing an issue that both concerns and frustrates me deeply each time I encounter it. Unfortunately, I seem to encounter it a lot. It’s an issue that lies within the context of years worth of experience that continues to wreak havoc and destruction. Which, again, I encounter far more often than I’d like. It has to do with beliefs held by those who call themselves Christians and yet they have no idea what that actually means. They were fed a lie, they believed it, and now they live it to their own (and other’s) destruction. They’re the ones who claim all the benefits of God’s goodness while ignoring all the costs and all their own responsibilities within it. To me, they are the ones who missed the proverbial boat and, in effect, lead people away from it as well. These people are everywhere both inside and outside of the church and I just keep meeting them. It’s concerning, but also maddening. So I decided to write them a letter. I apologize if it seems a bit abrupt or disjointed, I’m not really one for pleasantries when there are more important issues at hand. Anyways…
To Whom It May Concern:
If your understanding and acceptance of God’s grace has led you into spiritual laziness; meaning, it’s effectual outcome is that you do not look at, deal with, fight, or overcome your sin because you actually think it doesn’t matter and that you’re off the hook, then let me just suggest to you that what you accepted was not, in fact, grace. Let me suggest that to you that you heard a word, twisted it to suit your sinful, selfish, and lazy flesh, and are now using it as an excuse to live in denial even more than you did before. Might I submit that that does not, in fact, count as “being saved” or however you would say it. Let me suggest the possibility that you are not one of God’s favored children – a benefit you love to claim. If the Bible is true, and I believe it is, then you are precisely the ones that God prefers to spit out of his mouth.
Let me expound. ACTUAL grace is the thing that gives you the ability to see your sin and the strength to fight it. It causes humility, not total arrogance and laziness. It is what lifts you…us…out of our denial, puts the sword into our hands, and empowers us to fight. It gives us the strength to work, both internally and externally, and to put our hand to the plow….NOT to sit back and live worthless lives wallowing in apathy or denial about our sickness. Grace is what allows us to even see our filth in the first place when, without it, we live in so much clouded delusion we actually think we’re decent people who don’t really need to fight, either for our own soul or for other’s. You have lists of reasons, excuses really, in your heads for why you’re “good”, or at least “better” than so-in-so. Grace is the very thing that lifts that veil of utter denial and allows us to see ourselves for the sick, selfish, lazy, lying, manipulative, angry, vindictive, greedy, proud, scheming, arrogant, hopelessly damned souls we really are. (And we are all at least one of those). Grace, once we have seen the sick and disappointing reality, is what then comes to us and allows us to face those realities. Not to ignore or excuse them. I think C.S. Lewis speaks well to this when he says,
“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.”
If you suffer with pride, which keeps you from seeing your sin, or sloth, which keeps you from doing anything about it, then grace is the thing that both opens your eyes and motivates your heart to fight against those things. It means you will fight towards humility and action. But if you suffer with pride or sloth (or heaven forbid, both) and your response to grace is, “YAY! Now I have a reason not to care OR fight because, well, God did all the work and gave me a free pass!” and then you go onto live your entire life in your sickness without another thought….might I suggest that you…missed…the…entire…boat.
Grace is what empowers us for the spiritual, emotional, and psychological battles against that which takes us and others away from God. It inspires us to fight for ourselves and others while the Holy Spirit is what gives us the gifts to do so in our own unique way. Knowing that we are not strong to fight them alone, Grace is what causes humility in the knowledge that we are weak and helpless. If you say you’re a Christian and yet you are growing in arrogance, laziness, pride, or a general apathy towards sin…then I think you need to double-check which team you’re on. Because grace sure as heck isn’t a free pass to waste our lives in selfish denial of what we are doing both to ourselves and to others. If that is the effect of grace on your life, let me just suggest to you that you may have missed the entire point of….everything. And if that’s the case, we need to get you back to square one so you can honestly analyze who and what you are, as well as what you need. Because grace never said, “your sin doesn’t matter anymore, so go ahead and carry on doing nothing without guilt.” It says, “You’re guilty and need to change. I can help with that.”
The truth about grace is that it gives us the power to repent. And repentance takes strength, work, and power that is beyond just our human capacity. Our human capacity is to sit back and think we aren’t accountable for anything. But Jesus preached repentance. And repentance is work. Repentance is hard. Repentance feels bad and people who worship their feelings will never do it aside from grace. Repentance is a daily fight that you aren’t even addressing while you sit back thinking God isn’t holding you accountable anymore. And no, contrary to one popular Christian belief, praying one prayer when you are 6 years old and repeating a set of words is not repentance unless that prayer is a reality in your life everyday thereafter. If you just checked it off your list and think that’s all you do, that’s cheating. Because unless you’re doing what Jesus said to do (to repent) then you’re just trying to cheat the system. You’re calling yourself a soldier just because you played one in a damn video game. Meanwhile, in reality, you’ve never even been to bootcamp!! You’re not fooling anyone, except those who are looking for a good excuse as well. And Jesus has a lot to say about that.
Being a Christian is hard. Being a Christian is a fight. Being a Christian is humbling. Being a Christian will give you more enemies than you want. Being a Christian will set you apart, make you different, and change you completely. It will bring you a lot of backlash from people who aren’t Christians and it will make you terribly unpopular. If you worship your comfort and your goal is to be liked, I don’t suggest Christianity as your religion of choice. It will kill you and all your lazy desire…but it will strengthen your spirit and bring you close to God. Christianity involves daily repentance….every day…for the rest of your life. And most of the time it feels like absolute death – because it is. It is death to the flesh, which takes a lifetime. It isn’t a set of words or beliefs that you check off your list and are then finished, ready to give your life over to spiritual pride, laziness and apathy. It’s daily death to those things, which will continue until the day you actually die.
That is what it means to be a Christian, to have grace. And if you honestly believe that you don’t have to (or worse, shouldn’t have to) work or fight or see your sin, then you’ve missed the whole idea. You need to start over. Jesus said to count the cost of following him before deciding to do so. So if you aren’t willing to work hard, sacrifice everything, and fight in real battles as a real soldier, then don’t sign up. But you don’t get it both ways. If you don’t sign up, you don’t get Jesus, or grace. You don’t get to have your cake and eat it too. So think about it and decide. You can repent and change, and grace will show up to help you on that journey. Or you can keep your lies and deceptions, comforts, and excuses. The only option unavailable to you, if you wish to call yourself a Christian, is to have both.