I’ve been reading a lot over at recoveringgrace.org these days. This is a group of young people who have come out of the teachings and influence of Bill Gothard. They represent a great deal of pain and confusion because of the legalist teachings. Many of them have found the way to the grace of God in Jesus and enjoy their walk with Him. Others, however, have given up on religion completely.
It breaks my heart to hear someone say he has rejected Jesus because of legalism. I want to scream: “Jesus was never a part of legalism. You can’t reject the true faith of Christ if you have never known it.” In some ways the first motivation of this ministry (Grace for the Heart) was to reach out to those who have either rejected or are afraid of Jesus because of what has been done to them by Christians.
But it makes sense, doesn’t it? If Jesus is presented as someone who expects rules and standards in order to love, then what happens when you can’t reach those standards or keep those rules? And if He is always angry with me because I can’t measure up, then I would naturally want to distance myself from Him. If the phrase “sinners in the hands of an angry God” refers to Christians, then who would want to be a Christian?
There’s more. According to performance spirituality, we are supposed to work for our salvation, either to earn it or to keep it. But if I could do that, why would I need a Savior at all? It seems very reasonable to reject Jesus if I just have to do it all myself anyway. And, if I reject Jesus, what is left? Even the legalist system says He is most important. I might as well come up with some “basic principles” of my own. My morality. Developed by me and for me. Do it myself.
I also understand that the name of the Lord was taken in vain by churches, preachers, parents, and others. They used His name to condemn many things, even things He never condemned. They used His name to push and pull and intimidate. They used His name to hurt and abuse. And, when they had made Him an enemy of our hearts, they told us He loved us.
BUT IT WAS ALL A LIE!
(Capitalized and ended with an exclamation point. I was tempted to underline it also. Maybe italics?)
That was never the message of the Lord. It was never about how well we could perform. The gospel accepts our failure as normal and natural, then offers real deliverance in the person of Jesus, someone who came to get us because He loves us. Performance was never the issue.
Jesus is about God’s love for you and me. Some preachers shout about His condemnation, but He says there is no condemnation. Some teach about His anger over our sin, but He says our sins have been washed away. Some tell us we should prepare for His wrath, but He tells us He has prepared a wonderful and good place for us. Some tell us of His disappointment with us, but He tells us of the joy of His heart as He thinks of us.
The message of legalism and performance, anger and hatred, was never the message of Jesus. The god of legalism is not the God of love, not the God of the Bible. It has all been a lie.
I pray for those who push away the truth because they have only heard the lie.