Most of the responses to my humble ramblings are encouraging and gracious. Sometimes the spiritual hall monitors smack me with their “ruler of truth” if they disagree with my theology. They seem to love that a little too much. But some responses stick with me and pierce my heart with sadness. I received such an email recently. The writer only identified himself/herself as “collegestudent” and gave me no way to respond. So I hope the writer is still checking in now and then. This is a place where I hope you can find grace and encouragement. Here is the email I received.
your blog has brought me some measure of… peace? hope? some kind of positive emotion amongst the intense turmoil i have found myself in lately.
I’ve known may ex-Christians. most of their reasons for not attending church, though most still believe in God, consisted of basically “bad Christians”.
I regret attending a…. religious… college. I’ve never been around more lying, cheating, hypocrites in my life. and for the most part that doesn’t bother me. we are all human. we make mistakes. but the back-stabbing, holier-than-thou attitudes, and lack of mercy and Christianity love for one another is the final straw. I am disgusted with my fellow believers. but i fear punishment for calling anyone out on it.
I am hated. for things and reasons i do not know. all i have shown others is love, and in return i have received hate.
all i can do is run to God. and try to ignore people who have nothing better to do than to tear others apart. christians is a term used to describe saved/born again believers. not people who claim to be christian because they went to church every easter sunday until they were 12.
That makes my heart hurt because I know this note represents thousands and thousands of others who feel that pain. I know the responses that this wounded soul would get in some churches.
“Suck it up. Try harder. Read the Word more. Do a Bible Study. God has not left so it must be you. Be more disciplined.”
I know that is what they would hear because that is what I heard when I struggled. You need to do more. And the implied message was that I wasn’t worth enough for them to walk through the valley with me. “Try harder. Good luck!” My message to “collegestudent” is that you are worth it. There is a better place.
Legalism/moralism takes the sweet Gospel of Jesus Christ and mixes in some “churchified” version of the law. Church by-laws occupy equal footing with God’s Word. Righteousness is no longer about Christ but about right behavior as only they define it. Moralism cherry picks verses that support behavioral control while conveniently ignoring dozens of verses about grace, forgiveness, kindness, love, gentleness and forbearance.
Focusing on right behavior can make you moral and perhaps a good person. It does not make you righteous. Such focus is not much different (if at all) from an agnostic or sporadic church-goer who really tries hard to do right and moral things. Tim Keller wrote this provocative thought about legalism in his wonderful book The Reason for God.
The devil, if anything, prefers Pharisees—men and women who try to save themselves. They are more unhappy than either mature Christians or irreligious people, and they do a lot more spiritual damage.
Without a doubt. I have been damaged. I have seen loved ones damaged. I have damaged others. I hate legalism but I don’t hate legalists. I hurt for them. I suspect they are as tired, miserable and wondering what happened to their once joyous message of the Gospel as I was. What happened is that we take God’s amazing grace and mix in our own interpretation of the law. Never watching an R-rated movie or touching alcohol does not make me righteous. Going to church six times a week does not make me righteous.
Righteousness is entirely because of Christ. Nothing I have done or will do will make me righteous. I spent three decades trying to be “righteous”. When I hit a dry spell I would try harder, read more books, buck up and beat myself up because I felt so distant from God. When I failed again I disliked myself more and tried harder and God seemed even more distant. I wrote a book about what to do with lambs that are wounded by the church and THEN I got wounded again by the church. It was like God was mocking me. I had reached the end of my spiritual rope. I cried out to Jesus something deep and insightful along these lines.
“I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!”
God does not get insulted by all-caps. In fact, I imagine that Jesus smiled at that point because I was finally ready to trust Him and not myself. I had reached the point of brokenness that allowed me to really let Him into my heart. I reached the point where I no longer had to be right. I had reached the point where I didn’t want to wear a phony mask of holiness. I had reached the point where I was willing to trust God completely with everything about me. I had reached the point where I was ready for grace. I had reached the point where I was willing to believe what God says is true about me. That I am completely forgiven. I am completely loved. I am completely changed because of Christ. I am completely empowered with the Holy Spirit to mature into all of those things that are already true about me. I am righteous not because of anything I have done but entirely because of Christ. God used a book called Truefaced to teach me these truths. Please read that book or the novel Bo’s Cafe that also communicates the theology of grace. You can download the introduction to the message for free. Please check it out.
If you are tired enough, discouraged enough, wounded enough and ready to scream you can’t do this anymore then I have good news. You are ready for grace. God is waiting for you with arms wide open to love you and to refresh you with His grace. Moralism is a dead end street to misery. There is a better road. What have you got to lose?