“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” Galatians 1:6-9
I love the church, and believe it is God’s manger for the Gospel of Jesus Christ to reach a broken world. Though not perfect, the Christian church is in many aspects truly beautiful. Countless lives have been changed, transformed, and blessed by the Christian church.
Yet, the chances are strong that the modern Christian church of the last 50 years while having blessed you has also perhaps misled you. Did it intentionally lie and deceive you? Doubtful. But, with good-hearted intentions, the church of today has often misunderstood the Gospel and given many a distorted view of the Christian life. At least, that is my humble view. The distinctions may be subtle, but their impact is profound on every person, including you.
As you read below, perhaps you will identify areas where you have been misled, or perhaps some of these will offend your beliefs.
In any case, I suspect these will give all of us much to consider…
1) God is angry with you.
For many of us, we have been given the impression that God may love us, but up to a point. There are limits to His love. With a wrong move His love can be diminished or withheld. He could become disappointed with you and turn His face as He keeps a close watch and record of your every move. We sing about God’s love, but secretly wonder if and when His anger will manifest. At some level or another, many people believe God is angry with them.
The truth is God loves you perfectly, completely, and unconditionally. It is not based on you or your performance, but on His nature, will, and affection for you. The simple fact that He created you, is reason enough for Him to shine His eternal love on you without restraint or reserve. God does not “kinda” love you, He completely loves you.
God is not angry with you, at all. Furthermore, the Christian life is not about communicating an angry God to people. It is not about gathering together around what we are against in the world and thumping people over the head with our religiosity.
People who feel condemned, condemn others. People who believe in an angry God, fearfully live their lives focused on what is wrong and what they are against in themselves, others, and the world.
2) Repentance means to change your ways.
Many have taught that to receive the forgiveness and favor of God, you need to stop doing bad and start doing good. They suggest that if you don’t “repent” (clean up your act) God won’t save you or give you His presence, blessing, or favor in your life.
The truth is the word “repentance” in the Bible (gk. metanoia) actually means “to change your mind.”
It has everything to do with your beliefs and nothing to do with your actions.
We receive the Gospel through faith (a changed mind) about Jesus and His love, not our performance. This is also true about our closeness with God as Christians. It is not our performance that releases God presence, favor, and blessings for our lives, but rather our faith. We are renewed in our minds, not through our behaviors.
3) You need to give your life to Jesus
You have likely heard a call to people to “give their life to Jesus” as a means of receiving salvation, or rededication. Of course, this sounds good and is well intentioned. Yet, the truth is, before faith in Christ we don’t have a life to give Him. And after faith in Christ, the life we live is Christ living in, as, and through us.
We don’t give our live to Jesus, Jesus gives us His life. This is a huge distinction. It is not Jesus and me, it is Jesus as me.
Before faith in Christ, we are as good as dead. After faith in Christ, we are as good as Him.
We give nothing, Jesus gives us everything. Grace is attracted to our weaknesses, not our strengths.
4) The more you attend church, raise your hands in worship, memorize the Bible, pray long and hard, and serve, the more spiritual you are.
There is no mistaking the fact that we live in the age of the performance-driven Christian. We have equated actions, efforts, and accomplishments with spiritual maturity. To be sure, obedience and faithfulness are important, but they are not necessarily indicators of spiritual maturity. Furthermore, we have labeled certain behaviors as primary indicators of spiritual maturity over others. Church attendance, passionate expressions of worship and devotion, bible quoting, underlining and studies, praying, and serving in church have been highlighted as defining bench marks.
The truth is, what is seen on the outside is not always congruent to what is going on in the inside. Spiritual maturity is more about what you belief first, then how you act. And more importantly, from what foundation you act.
For many, the foundation behind their church attendance, serving, prayer, devotion, study, etc. is from a lack of spiritual maturity, not the presence of it. Out of a lack of faith and trust in the Gospel and the goodness of God, they are striving, trying, earning and performing their way into God’s favor, blessing, and forgiveness. They are trying to convince themselves of what they are not really convinced, that they can truly trust in Jesus’s performance above and beyond their own. What passes as spiritual maturity is often a result of the development of the religious spirit.
The truth is, spiritual maturity is first right believing, then right living. It’s first about the true Gospel of Grace believed, and then the Gospel of Grace lived. And here’s the kicker, you can’t have the second without the first, as much as many Christians strive and try. Spiritual maturity is a rest, not a test. It’s about trust, not trying and striving.
God is not impressed with our raised hands, attendance records, prayer sessions, studies, expressions of devotion, and feats of Christian service that come from any other foundation than resting, trusting, and believing in the Gospel of God’s grace, where God works through you and as you as you believe, trust, and rest in Him.
Peter boasted of His love for Jesus and ended up denying Him three times. Not good. John boasted of Jesus’ love for Him and ended up reclining with Him at the table. Now, which one was more spiritually mature? The one who boasted of His love for Jesus, or the one who rested and trusted Jesus’ love for him?
Spiritual maturity happens when His performance means much more to you (and Him) than your own.
5) God does His part, but you need to do your part.
The Gospel is this… God does His part, and your part is to realize you have no part, only to believe. Yet, what is often taught is… God does His part, but you need to do yours, whether it’s about your salvation or your sanctification. You just gotta love God more!
The truth is, you have no part other than to believe.
Not only can you not produce your salvation, you cannot produce spiritual fruit, you can only bear the fruit God produces in you. And that, only by faith.
Faith is what releases God to work in and through you, not effort. When we rest, God works. When we work, God rests. God does not need you, He wants you. He does not need your service to bless Him, He enables it to bless you and others. God is the author and perfector of your faith, not a partner. As He is, so are we in this world. We co-labor with Christ as Christ in this world. It is not a condition for relationship, it is a manifestation of what He has done TO you and FOR you. What we owe Him, Christ paid.
We serve not from lack or debt, but from Grace and righteousness.
6) A believer is a sinner saved by Grace.
You have probably heard a Christian say to a non-believer, “the only difference between me and you is, I’m forgiven.” Though this is well intentioned I’m sure, it is completely false. A believer is not merely a sinner saved by Grace.
The truth is, on the cross, Jesus didn’t just do something FOR you, He did something TO you that becomes actualized the moment you believe. A believer is no longer by nature a sinner. This is not the essence nor reality of their identity.
In the NT scriptures, Paul went through great lengths to convince and declare to us as Christians, through faith in the work of Jesus on the cross, our old sinful nature has been crucified, put to death once and for all. Now, we are the righteousness of Christ, partakers of the divine nature, no longer condemned, receiving every spiritual blessing not just as children of God, but sons, daughters, priests, and kings.
Believers are not sinners saved by Grace, but saints sustained by Grace.
If you believe by nature you are still a sinner, what will you do? Sin. If you believe by nature, you are the righteousness of Christ, what will you do? Live rightly.
Right believing leads to right living.
7) Obedience is the essence of the Christian life
It is true that in the Old Testament, under the Mosaic Law, obedience was the essence of a Godly life and the key to a relationship and fellowship with God. The performance of people is the essence of relationship with God under the Old Covenant.
But when Jesus said it was “finished” as He died on the cross and was resurrected, the Old Covenant was destroyed and the New Covenant of God’s Grace was established. We are no longer under the Law, but under Grace. If you don’t rightly divide the Word of God between these covenants, you miss God’s heart and the reality of Him and His presence here and now.
The obedience of performance that was once the essence of a relationship with God under the Law, was fulfilled and therefore rendered null and void through Jesus’ performance on the cross. There is no longer an obedience of performance, but only an obedience of faith. Jesus’ performance accomplished it all because ours could never measure up.
Obedience under the New Covenant has nothing to with our performance, but everything to do with our faith. This is the “obedience of faith” Paul spoke of in NT scripture.
Right believing leads to right living. Right thinking leads to right acting. Not the other way around.
The truth is, the essence of the Christian life is faith, not obedience. Believe rightly, and the rest will take care of itself.
Every sin in your life comes from wrong belief. Deal with the belief and the behavior will take care of itself.
Before the cross, God allowed us to attempt to perform our way to redemption and relationship with God to ultimately show that we can’t. At the cross, God gave His son to perform for our redemption and secure our relationship with God because only He can. Now, God calls us to faith in Him not performance from us, because the performance is finished, and only faith receives it and releases it in your life. There is no more performance, only God working through you as you believe and rest in Him.
8) Grace causes people to sin more
You hardly hear much of Grace in church today. If you do, it is often with a mixture of the Law (religious rules and conditions) mixed in. That’s why you hear spoken or unspoken messages like, “God loves you, but here’s what you need to do” or “God loves you, but here are some steps you need to take”
Why? Because like the Pharisees, we have become frightened, intimidated, and convicted by Grace. We fear if we teach, counsel, and preach the pure Grace of God through Christ as taught in scripture, people will spiral out of control and take a nose dive into an unrestrained life of sin.
The truth is the Bible teaches, it’s actually the Law (religious rules and conditions) that entices people to sin, not Grace. In fact, it specifically teaches that Grace is what teaches us to live rightly. It is God’s kindness that leads to repentance.
No one was ever made Holy through punishment. Yet, that is what we are often taught about God, sin, and Grace.
People who truly get a hold of Grace and the Grace message of the Gospel don’t sin more, they sin less. In fact, I would venture to go so far as to say that the modern church with its mixture of Law and Gospel has likely enticed and imprisoned more believers to a sinful life filled with shame and guilt than perhaps the world could ever do. Grace is the cure to sinfulness, not religious fear, intimidation, guilt, and shame.
A sin problem is an identity problem, only Grace through Jesus Christ shows us who we really are in Christ and heals our identities.
9) You need to ask God to forgive you.
Many people live their lives preoccupied with their sins. They are primarily sin conscious instead of being Jesus conscious.
No one should be surprised by that, that’s how church has taught them to be. They believe that they need to be on watch for sin in their life so as to make sure they confess it so God can forgive it. The one sin they miss confessing, could be the very one that messes up everything between them and God. Or, it could be the one straw that broke the back of God’s patience.
The truth is, God has already forgiven every sin in your life, past, present, and future. Without you even asking. When Jesus said it was finished, he meant it. God’s Grace is sufficient for you. Forgiveness is something God already accomplished on your behalf as He who knew no sin, became sin, that we might become the righteousness of Christ. Faith is what receives forgiveness, not confession.
Stop asking God to do something He already has accomplished. Rather, trust in His work on the cross and focus on Him, not your sin. As you do, the enticement of sin will depart, and your sense of identity in Christ will flourish and release you.
10) The job of the Holy Spirit is to convict you.
We have been taught in church to primarily see the Holy Spirit as a kind of policeman in your life. He’s there to make sure you stay on the straight and narrow, giving you a prod of conviction when you aren’t. Yes, we have been taught the Holy Spirit will comfort you in times of trouble, but also give you a good jab in the ribs when you cause trouble. Just hope that you don’t need His comfort when you are causing trouble, you may just get a hit instead of a hug.
To be sure, the job of the Holy Spirit in the non-believer’s life is to convict them of their unbelief in Jesus, but that is not the job of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. His role as “convictor” doesn’t carry over into the Christian’s life. To do so would merely be to convict Himself, as Paul in the NT said “it is not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.”
Rather, the job of the Holy Spirit in the believers life is not to condemn, convict or any of the alike, but rather to convince them of their righteousness in Christ.
The deepest issue in the Christian’s life is not if they are convicted of any sin in their life, but if they are convinced of their righteousness in Christ. A Christian convinced of their righteousness in Christ is a Christian who is an overcomer of sin in their life. Right believing leads to right living.
What would you add or subtract from this list?