There’s a new move away from the church these days. If that’s all it was, I wouldn’t be concerned. The church needs to get its act together in so many ways. We went from stuck in the past to stuck in the market. But I think that will happen over time. I think the church will return to the place and the message it should have.
What concerns me about this move away from church is that it is also a move away from Scripture and away from the Lord. The people who have made this move act like they are having a lot of fun, with new moral standards and new goals, but many of them are empty and hurting. And many of them are angry. The anger I read against the church on Facebook these days is sobering.
But anger indicates that something is unresolved. The pain that led to the separation is still there, still hurting. The confusion and feelings of betrayal and injustice continue to churn within the heart. The unresolved emotions look for cause and explanation and see the answer in the church.
What is particularly sad to me is that much of this is coming out of the grace community. Some have found freedom, but little else. They threw away their formulas and standards, left behind the condemnation and shame, and went out to enjoy life their way. And, I confess, that was all that was offered to some. They were shown the futility of striving to measure up, then set free to try to make sense of life on their own.
It is natural to chafe against the structures of religion. The rules and the expectations are binding and shaming. Who wouldn’t want out of that system? So, when the Scripture is made clear that no one ever accomplishes their own salvation and no one can earn God’s love, the human heart rejoices. Many people attend church every week only to hear how bad they are and how they should work harder. Then, when they work harder, the goals are shifted and they find that they are still lacking. When they hear the message of grace, their hearts are lifted up. They jump at the acceptance and forgiveness and freedom that is offered.
But the grace message isn’t about freedom. It isn’t even about acceptance. The message of grace is about Jesus. Freedom and rest and acceptance and peace and joy—all are found in Him. But the center of the message, the real heart of our proclamation, is Jesus. And I am afraid that Jesus is sometimes left out.
Without Jesus there will be no freedom. There might be lack of control, lack of guidance, lack of wisdom—but no real freedom. It’s like the little kid who runs away from home. Hiding under the tree, he is free of his parents’ rules, free to do whatever he wants. But without money or wisdom or the means to get what he needs, what kind of freedom will he enjoy? Instead, he becomes prey for whoever or whatever offers to meet his needs. Freedom apart from Jesus only opens people to a new bondage.
I used to have a little framed note directly across from my desk and I had to look at it all the time. It reflected the words of some people who came to Philip in John 12. They said, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” I wanted to remind myself that the people of my church didn’t need me nor did they need lessons on how to work harder. They came with longing in their hearts and only one message could truly satisfy. Whether they understood their needs or not, they needed Jesus.
Church without Jesus is a waste of time.
The Scripture without Jesus is a burden.
The message of grace without Jesus is a lie.
Freedom without Jesus is just different bondage.
Listen: if the message of grace that you have heard has not brought you into a deeper and right relationship with Jesus, a personal relationship where you are learning to walk with Him day by day, then you have not heard the true message of grace. You are not meant to be alone, left to wander in your own wisdom until the predators find you. You were set free from the bondage of legalism and performance so that you can walk hand in hand with a Friend who loves you and will guide you. The only right grace message is the message of Jesus.