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Showing posts with label #Grace. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Grace. Show all posts

23 February 2017

God’s grace is sufficient: What we mean, what Paul meant.

We use “sufficient” to mean God’s salvation or provision. Paul meant neither of those things.

2 Corinthians 12.9

One really good example of an out-of-context bible phrase is the idea God’s grace is sufficient. Sometimes phrased, “Your grace is enough for me,” or “His grace is sufficient” or if you wanna put the words in God’s mouth, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” People don’t even quote the entire verse; just the “grace is sufficient” bit.

And when we quote it, we mean one of two things.

Most of the time it’s used to state God’s grace is sufficient for salvation. It’s a reminder we humans can’t save ourselves from sin and death, no matter how many good deeds we do; and that’s fine ’cause God does all the saving. He applies Jesus’s atonement to our sins, takes care of it, forgives us utterly; all we need is God’s grace. It’s sufficient. It does the job.

Great is your faithfulness oh God
You wrestle with the sinner’s heart
You lead us by still waters into mercy
And nothing can keep us apart
So remember your people
Remember your children
Remember your promise, oh God
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough for me
—Matt Maher, “Your Grace Is Enough,” 2008

Is this what Paul meant by “grace is sufficient”? Not even close. While the idea we’re entirely saved by God’s grace is entirely true, the basis for this idea isn’t at all the verse where we find the words “grace is sufficient.” It comes from other verses, like “By grace you have been saved,” Ep 2.4, 8 NIV —not good works. There’s more to say about that, but I’ll do that later.

The rest of the time, “grace is sufficient” is used to say God will provide all our needs. ’Cause he’s gracious, generous, watches over us, answers prayers, cures our illnesses, guides our steps: We figure when we have God, we don’t need anything else. A self-sufficient person doesn’t need help, and neither does a God-sufficient person, ’cause God has us covered. Different worship song:

Jehovah Jireh, my provider
His grace is sufficient for me, for me, for me
Jehovah Jireh, my provider
His grace is sufficient for me
My God shall supply all my needs
According to his riches in glory
He will give his angels charge over me
Jehovah Jireh cares for me, for me, for me
Jehovah Jireh cares for me
—Don Moen, “Jehovah Jireh,” 1986

Horrible pronunciation of YHWH-yiréh aside, which I remind you isn’t one of God’s names but a name of an altar, Ge 22.14 the problem is this also has nothing to do with what Paul meant by “grace is sufficient.”

But you know how songs are. Once a catchy one gets in your head, it’s hard to shake the song away… much less the inaccurate bible interpretations which come along with it.

02 February 2017

Fake guilt, and where grace comes in.

If you can’t shake your guilt, it’s because your conscience is defective.

Guilt /gɪlt/ n. The culpability, and moral responsibility, attached to one who committed a deed. (Usually a misdeed.)
2. A feeling one has committed a misdeed; often regretful or remorseful.
3. v. Make someone feel remorse for wrongdoing.
[Guilty /'gɪlt.i/ adj., guiltless /'gɪlt.lɪs/ adj.]

Guilt is healthy. Fake guilt, not so much.

If I do anything, good or bad, I’m guilty of that action. Most of the time we use “guilt” in a negative sense, like when we’re responsible for sins or crimes. But we can be guilty of good deeds, particularly ones we do in secret. Like if I slipped an extra $20 into the waiter’s tip, or turned in a lost backpack to the lost and found, or deleted all the Nickelback from your iPod. Guilty. You’re welcome.

Being guilty of misdeeds—assuming you were raised with a properly-functioning conscience—tends to come with a negative emotional response. We feel bad about ourselves for what we did. Every time I turn the hose on Christmas carolers, I feel really remorseful about it. Not for long, but you get the idea.

But sometimes we don’t have a properly-functioning conscience. So we feel bad for no good reason. That’d be fake guilt.

Fake guilt is what happens when people try to program or reprogram our consciences so we feel bad over imaginary wrongs. Sometimes by convincing us more things are sins than really are, like legalists do. Sometimes by convincing us our very existence is sin: Supposedly total depravity has made us such filthy sinners, God can’t stand us, and the only reason he doesn’t blow up the earth in rage and hate is ’cause Jesus somehow placated him. (Often this idea of us being filthy sinners is their justification for all the abuse they wanna pile on us.)

The product is a feeling of guilt which lasts all the time. See, proper guilt is supposed to get us to repent, stop sinning, turn to God, get forgiven, apologize to others, maybe make restitution, and generally get on with our lives. Actual guilt goes away. Fake guilt lingers. We repent—but still feel guilt. We make restitution—and still feel guilt. We know (or think we know) God forgives all, and God forgives us, and yet we simply can’t shake this terrible feeling we’re royally screwed. It’s like we’re cursed or something.

If the human brain can’t find a connection between one event and another, but really thinks there oughta be a connection, it’ll frequently invent that connection. (Hence conspiracy theories.) Fake guilt does that too. Christians invent reasons why we inexplicably feel guilty: We must’ve committed the unpardonable sin and didn’t know it. Or there’s some weird generational curse we never properly dealt with, and we’ll continue to suffer it till we exorcise it. Or we got far more grace than we deserve (as if any grace is deserved). Or we feel if we receive grace instead of karma, if we don’t experience that eye for eye and tooth for tooth, Mt 5.38 something’s just plain wrong with the universe—and the universe might seek restitution its own way.

Ultimately there’s no good reason for fake guilt. We, or Christ—it’s usually Christ—dealt with it. So it’s done. Gone. Over.

But we can’t put it away. Like I said, it’s ’cause people have defective consciences. It functions like an autoimmune disease, where our own antibodies attack us for no good reason. It gnaws away at our insides, like a chihuahua who climbed into the Thanksgiving turkey.

30 November 2016

God can’t abide sin?

If true, it means God has a boogeyman.

“God can’t abide sin. It offends him so much, he simply can’t have it in his presence. He’s just that holy.”

It’s an idea I’ve heard repeated by many a Christian. Evangelists in particular.

It’s particularly popular among people who can’t abide sin. Certain sins offend us so much, we simply can’t have ’em in our presence. We’re just that pure.

Well, self-righteous.

You can see why Christians have found this concept so easy to adopt, and have been so quick to spread it around. It’s yet another instance of remaking God in our own image, then preaching our remake instead of the real God.

Don’t get me wrong. ’Cause Christians do, regularly: I talk about grace, and they think I’m talking about compromise. Or justification. Or nullification. Or compromise. Whatever reason they can think of to ignore grace, skip forgiveness, disguise revenge as justice, and claim they only have those prejudices and offenses because God has ’em. You claim you practice grace? Then grant me some so I can explain.

God is definitely anti-sin. He told us what he wants and expects of his people. Both through his Law, and through the teachings and example of Christ Jesus. (I was about to write “and he didn’t mince words,” but Jesus kinda did in some of his parables. Regardless, any honest, commonsense Christian—and plenty of pagans—can figure Jesus out.)

Yes, God’s offended by our willful disobedience. And he’s just as offended by the sins of people who don’t know any better: They do have consciences, after all. Ro 2.15 They were taught the difference between right and wrong. Even so, they chose what’s wrong.

But the issue isn’t whether sin bugs God. It’s whether sin bugs God so much, he can no longer practice grace. Whether he can’t abide sin—and therefore he can’t abide sinners.

If that’s the idea we’re spreading, we’re also spreading the idea we gotta clean ourselves up before we can ever approach God. Like when the Hebrews had to wash themselves for three days before the LORD could hand down his Ten Commandments. Ex 19.9-11 Like when the Hebrews sacrificed guilt offerings whenever they felt they weren’t right with God. Lv 5.15-19 Like when the ancients approached their kings with fear and trembling, knowing they could be struck down at any moment for daring to enter their presence uninvited. Es 4.11 The appearance of sin outrages God so much, it turns him into a bloodthirsty berzerker who can’t wait to fling people into fire and sulfur.

We’re also spreading the idea because God can’t abide sin, he won’t forgive it. Some of us went beyond the pale long ago, and can’t possibly approach him now. The magical substance of grace may exist, but it’s not for people who call out to God; it’s only for people whom God’s pre-selected long before, and everybody else is just plain screwed.

Basically, in order to defend our own lack of grace, we’re slandering God and making people hesitant to embrace him. Or even driving them away. Driving them to despair.

11 November 2016

Kingdom economics: How’s your eye?

Nope, not an opthamology question. Has to do with whether God’s grace flows through you.

Matthew 6.22-23 • Luke 11.34-36

Some of Jesus’s teachings tend to get skipped entirely.

Let’s be honest: It’s because we don’t like them. Plenty of us hate the idea the Law still counts, and God judges us by it; we prefer dispensationalism. Plenty of us hate Jesus’s teachings on money, ’cause we still kinda worship it. So we borrow his parables about forgiveness, where money wasn’t even the point, and try to claim they’re about capitalism. Or socialism. Or they’re Jesus’s secret critique of socialism. Whichever suits us best.

Today’s lesson from the Sermon on the Mount is in fact about money. Not opthamology.

But because people nowadays are unfamiliar with the Hebrew idioms “good eye” and “evil eye”—and will even mix ’em up with the European idioms, and think they have to do with all-purpose blessings and curses—we’ll interpret this passage all kinds of wrong. Or claim, “Well it’s obscure,” and skip it. Usually skip it, and focus on the verses we can understand. Verses we figure we’re already following.

So in Matthew, right after saying we oughta keep our treasures in heaven, Jesus taught this:

Matthew 6.22-23 KWL
22 “The body’s light is the eye. So when your eye is healthy, your whole body will be bright.
23 When your eye is ill, your whole body is dark. So if the light in you is dark, how dark is it?”
Luke 11.34-36 KWL
34 “The body’s light is your eye. Whenever your eye is healthy, your whole body is bright too.
Once it’s ill, your body is dark too. 35 So watch out so the light in you isn’t dark.
36 So if your whole body is bright, without having any parts dark,
the whole will be bright—as if a lamp could shine lightning for you.”

In the King James Version, in both gospels, the words to describe the eye are thus:

  • Aplús/“healthy” is translated “single.”
  • Ponirós/“ill” is translated “evil.”

Why? Well… ’cause that’s what the words literally mean. That’s the problem with idioms. Literal translations, and likewise literal interpretations, give you the wrong idea. If I described you as “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” then had that phrase translated into Chinese, my poor Chinese friend would find it inaccurate if you actually have brown eyes… and be stunned to hear you have a tail at all, much less a bushy one.

By aplús and ponirós Jesus meant a healthy eye, and a sick one. If your eyes aren’t well, vision’s gonna be a problem, and you’re gonna be in the dark. But if your eyes are healthy, you’ll see just fine: Light could enter your body “as if a lamp could shine lightning for you,” Lk 11.36 which interestingly is just how 19th-century arc lamps worked.

Well, light could more or less get into us. Remember, Jesus is teaching religion, not anatomy. Only the truly dumbest of literalists are gonna insist since our eyes work, our doctors won’t need to use the lights on the laryngoscope. Or colonoscope.

26 October 2016

Resisting God’s grace. (Don’t!)

It’s sad. But it’s possible, and it happens.

God dispenses his amazing grace to everybody, as Jesus pointed out in his Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5.43-48 KWL
43 “You heard this said: ‘You’ll love your neighbor.’ Lv 19.18 And you’ll hate your enemy.
44 And I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.
45 Thus you can become your heavenly Father’s children,
since he raises his sun over evil and good, and rains on moral and immoral.
46 When you love those who love you, why should you be rewarded?
Don’t taxmen also do so themselves?
47 When you greet only your family, what did you do that was so great?
Don’t the foreigners also do so themselves?
48 Therefore you will be egalitarian,
like your heavenly Father is egalitarian.”

Our Father doesn’t skimp on the grace. He provides it, in unlimited amounts, to everybody. To those who love him, and those who don’t—which is why Jesus instructs us to be like our Father, and love those who hate us. To those he considers family, and those he doesn’t consider family—which is why Jesus instructs us to be like our Father, and love pagans. Be like our Father. Be egalitarian. Love and be gracious to everyone, without discrimination.

Yeah, Christians suck at following this command. It’s why we’ve come up with excuses why we needn’t follow it. Or invent theological beliefs which undermine it altogether, like limited grace, and irresistible grace.

Irresistible grace is a Calvinist invention. Basically it claims God is so almighty, so sovereign, so powerful, that if he pours grace upon us it’s impossible to resist. We’re gonna get it. We’re in no position to reject it. When God shines his sun on the good and evil, the evil are unable to duck into the house and turn on the air conditioner. When God showers his rain on the moral and immoral, the immoral find it impossible to book a trip to Las Vegas and dodge the rain in the desert.

Okay, obviously people can resist sunshine and rain. But Calvinists claim that’s because there are two kinds of grace:

  • Common grace. The resistible kind. Like sunshine and rain. Like free coffee, tax breaks, a good parking space, and all the other things God and our fellow humans generously offer us.
  • Saving grace. The irresistible kind. Infinitely powerful. There’s no defense against it. If God decides you’re getting saved, that’s that.

If irresistible grace sounds kinda rapey… well, it is kinda rapey.

That’s why it doesn’t accurately describe God in the slightest. God is love, 1Jn 4.8 and love behaves patiently and kindly and doesn’t demand its own way. 1Co 13.4-5 But when Calvinists picture what they’d do if they were God, love comes second to sovereignty. (You know, just like love comes a distant second to our own selfish will.) If they were almighty, and wanted you saved, you’d have no choice in the matter; no free will. You’d be saved, period, no discussion. ’Cause they love you. And you may not love them now, but give it time, and you’ll learn to love ’em back. Just stop fighting them, ’cause there’s no way you’re strong enough to resist the grace they’re sticking inside you.

…And I’d better stop this simile now, before it gets any more icky.

07 October 2016

Karma versus grace.

One’s how we work—at our best. The other’s how God works.

Matthew 5.38-42 • Luke 6.29-31

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught on reciprocity, satisfaction, and revenge. Or, as our popular culture calls it, karma.

No, what we nowadays call karma isn’t what the Hindus mean by it. Properly karma is the total of all the good and evil deeds we commit in our lives, and when you add ’em up, if the scales balance towards good, your next life will be better; if they don’t, your next life is worse; if it’s about even, you’ll be reborn in pretty much the same circumstances. So why does western culture assume karma means when we do good, good comes back; when we do evil, evil comes back? I suspect it largely comes from John Lennon’s 1970 song “Instant Karma!”:

Instant karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you right on the head
You better get yourself together
Pretty soon you’re gonna be dead

Westerners unfamiliar with Hinduism assumed “instant karma” is karma, and that’s how we’ve described it since. But the idea of instant, near-instant, or soon-coming consequences isn’t an eastern idea. It’s a middle eastern one. It’s from the bible.

1 Samuel 25.39 KWL
David heard Navál died, and said, “Bless the LORD, who fought my fight,
my slander from Navál’s hand, and spared his servant from evil.
The LORD turned back Navál’s evil to his own head.”
So David sent for and spoke with Avigayíl, to take her as his woman.

If you don’t know the story: Before David was king, a man named Navál insulted him, so David lost his temper and took 300 troops to go destroy his house. But Navál’s wife Avigayíl intercepted them, and talked David down. (Giving him a bunch of food didn’t hurt either.) David realized he totally overreacted, repented, and thanked God for stopping him. So, that’d be sorta-kinda-good karma on David’s part; bad on Navál’s.

Which played out immediately. Once Navál found out what she’d done… well, it sounds like he had a stroke. David interpreted this like most folks in his culture interpreted this: When people do evil, God lets evil happen to them in return. 1Sa 25 He turns people’s iniquity back on them; Ps 94.23 he hoists them on their own petard; he lets Wile E. Coyote’s inventions blow him up instead of the Road Runner.

We call it karma. To pagans, it’s God or “the universe” paying you back. Or karma’s treated like an intelligent force on its own. However it works. It’s an idea which gives people a lot of comfort: If justice isn’t done, the infinite cosmos itself will abhor and come after you.

Thing is, though it’s a middle eastern idea, found in the bible ’n everything, it’s actually not how God works. God does grace. We don’t. Nor, many times, do we want God to do grace; we want him to get those motherf---ers and give ’em what they deserve. And worse.

It’s why Jesus had to correct this graceless idea in his Sermon.

Matthew 5.38-42 KWL
38 “You heard this said: ‘Eye for eye. Tooth for tooth.’ Ex 21.24, Lv 24.20, Dt 19.21
39 And I tell you: No comparing yourself to evil.
Instead, whoever punches you on the right side of your jaw: Turn from them all the more.
40 To those who want you judged, to take your tunic: Forgive them, and let go of your clothing.
41 Whoever drafts you to carry their gear one mile, go with them two.
42 Give to one who asks you. Don’t drive off one who wishes to borrow from you.”
Luke 6.29-31 KWL
29 “To one who hits you on the jaw, submit all the more.
To one who takes your robe and tunic from you, don’t stop them.
30 Give to everyone who asks you. Don’t demand payback from those who take what’s yours.
31 Just as you want people doing for you, do likewise for them.”

Okay yes, I translated this a bit different from the more popular “Turn the other cheek,” and “If they want your tunic, give ’em your robe.” Lemme explain why.

13 September 2016

We’re not the only ones who do grace, y’know.

Grace is not unique to Christianity. Much as we’d love to think so.

Scott Hoezee told this story in his 1996 book The Riddle of Grace. Philip Yancey was so impressed by it, he retold the story in his 1997 book What’s So Amazing About Grace?

The story is told that, many years ago, a conference was convened to discuss the study of comparative religions. Theologians and experts from various fields of religious studies gathered from all over the world to tackle certain knotty questions relating to Christianity and its similarities or dissimilarities to other faiths. One particularly interesting seminary was held to determine whether there was anything unique about the Christian faith. A number of Christianity’s features were put on the table for discussion. Was it the incarnation? No; other religions also had various versions of the gods coming down in human form. Might it be the resurrection? No, various versions of the dead rising again were found in other faiths as well.

On and on the discussion went without any resolution in sight. At some point, after the debate had been underway for a time, C.S. Lewis wandered in late. Taking his seat, he asked a colleague, “What’s the rumpus about?” and was told that they were seeking to find Christianity’s unique trait among the world religions. In the straightforward, no-nonsense, commonsense approach that was to make Lewis famous, he immediately said, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.” As the other scholars thought about that for a moment, they concluded that Lewis was right: It is grace. No other religion had ever made the ultimate acceptance by the Almighty so absolutely unconditional. In other faiths, there is usually some notion of earning points. Whether it was karma, Buddhist-like steps among the path to serenity, or some similar system, the idea was that to receive the favor of the gods one had to earn the favor of the gods.

Not in Christianity, at least not in true Christianity. Hoezee 41-42

Hoezee says he heard it from Peter Kreeft at a speech in Calvin College, and no doubt he did. Too bad it’s gotta be bunk though. Told to make C.S. Lewis sound clever—smarter than those religion experts, who had to have heard about the uniqueness of Christian grace from G.K. Chesterton, at least.

But Lewis, and any religion scholar who’s not a chauvinistic ninny, would know full well grace is found in other religions.

08 June 2016

God’s unlimited grace.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. Our love: Not so steadfast.

Ordinarily Christians bring up this particular teaching of Jesus so they can point out the lesson, “Love your enemies.” Which is a good lesson; I’ll discuss it sometime. But today I’m pointing out the other lesson found in this teaching: Our heavenly Father loves both good and evil people—and grants his amazing grace to both.

Matthew 5.43-48 KWL
43 “You heard this said: ‘You’ll love your neighbor.’ Lv 19.18 And you’ll hate your enemy.
44 And I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.
45 Thus you can become your heavenly Father’s children,
since he raises his sun over evil and good, and rains on moral and immoral.
46 When you love those who love you, why should you be rewarded?
Don’t taxmen also do so themselves?
47 When you greet only your family, what did you do that was so great?
Don’t the foreigners also do so themselves?
48 Therefore you will be egalitarian,
like your heavenly Father is egalitarian.”

Usually this verse gets translated “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Mt 5.48 KJV ’Cause the word Jesus used is téleios/“perfect.” So a lot of Christians pull this verse out of its context and insist the way Jesus wants us to be perfect is to not sin. I’ve ignorantly done it myself, in the past.

In context, Jesus is speaking about loving people in perfect consistency. Not loving some and hating others, but loving all. Showing grace to all. Being egalitarian. Like our Father.

But that’s really hard to do, so people would much rather not interpret it that way. Way easier to just follow God’s commandments than love the unloveable. Way easier, and more fun, to be evil to evil people. Let ’em get what’s coming to them, what they deserve. If karma doesn’t smite ’em for their evil deeds, let’s help karma along.

Way easier to bend the scriptures so God hates evildoers too. To insist God doesn’t grant grace to the wicked. To insist in fact his grace and atonement and forgiveness are limited, and only granted to good people, true believers, or chosen people. And since God limits his grace, and gets to be a rotten bastard towards the lost, so do we!

See, the reason many Christians claim God’s grace is limited, has nothing to do with the scriptures, and everything to do with our own limited grace. People are vengeful, so they want a vengeful God, choose to interpret him that way, and remake him in their own image. Because we won’t love our enemies, neither will our God.

“Love the sinner, hate the sin” tends to get preached, but in practice we just skip the love part, and hate the sin so much it scorches the sinners. And these preachers claim it’s precisely like God hates the sin: He hates it with a “perfect hatred,” Ps 139.22 —just like King David described hating his enemies, and some of ’em will even claim this “perfect hatred” idea is God’s, not David’s. Since God judges the wicked, and regularly lets ’em suffer the consequences of their evil behavior, they’ll claim, “See? It proves there’s a limit to God’s grace. ’Cause someday it’s gonna run out, and they’ll get theirs, and go to hell.”

Whole lotta hatred in these people. Which they go out of their way to disguise as justice. But their lack of grace, and abundance of anger, gives them away.

13 March 2016

Does suicide send you straight to hell?

Short answer: No. But here’s why people claim otherwise.

Years ago I taught at a Christian junior high. We had the usual classes you’ll find at most schools, but we also had bible classes and a weekly chapel service. Principals led most chapel services, but in the last year of our junior high program, our principal handed the duties off to various guest preachers. Earnest guys, but let’s be blunt: Some of ’em didn’t know what they were talking about. Some churches have no educational standards, and’ll let anyone babysit pastor the youth.

One of our regular chapel speakers was a youth pastor, the husband of one of our daycare teachers. As far as theology is concerned, my eighth graders knew more. Not just ’cause I trained them; he was really that ignorant. One week this guy was talking about salvation, and he let slip that if you commit suicide, you go to hell. It wasn’t his main point, but one of our seventh-graders did question him on it: “You go to hell for suicide?”

“Yes you do,” he said, and went on.

Once the eighth-graders were back in my classroom, one of ’em asked, “You don’t really go to hell for suicide, right?”

Me. “What’re you saved by, God’s grace or good deeds?”
She. “Grace.”
Me. “Any of your evil deeds gonna send you to hell if you have God’s grace?”
She. “No.”
Me. “Suicide gonna send you to hell if you have God’s grace?”
She. “No.”
Me. “Okay then.”
She. “Well, why’d he say suicide will send you to hell?”
Me. “Because somebody told him that and he believed it. He didn’t bother to ask questions and get to the truth like you’re doing. He doesn’t know any better.”

Some of the kids were looking in surprise at one another—Pastors can be WRONG?—and if they didn’t know this yet, best they learn it now. We’re all wrong in one way or another. No exceptions. (And if you catch someone getting it wrong, ask questions. “Where in the bible does it say that?” usually does the job, although a lot of times they’re quoting it out of context. But I digress.)

But the youth pastor’s belief is surprisingly common among a whole lot of Christians. The rationale is simple, but graceless.

06 March 2016

Be kind. For once.

Christians know better than to pass off certain things as love… but we often overlook this thing.

We Christians don’t have a reputation for being kind. More like a reputation for being easily outraged, quick to judge, holier than thou, shunning, condemning, impatient, unforgiving buttholes. And if you were immediately offended by my using that word, you just proved my point: Our bad reputation is totally deserved.

What’s with all the Christian jerks? Largely it’s our lack of love. Love is kind, 1Co 13.4 but we Christians largely substitute the charitable, unconditional love of God, for the vastly inferior substitute: The sort of love which expects payback or reciprocity. We only love the worthy, not the undeserving; we only love good people, not sinners. Our so-called “love” has no real connection to grace.

And that’s a huge problem. Hristótis, the Greek word we translate “kindness,” Ga 5.22 actually means “graciousness.” True, kindness involves being friendly, generous, and considerate, like our culture defines kindness. But it’s much more: It’s the grace of God, in action. It’s one of God’s character traits, i.e. a fruit of the Spirit. When we’re kind, we’re practicing God’s grace.

When we’re unkind, we’re still fuming over my unexpectedly dropping the B-word, and plan to write an angry email… and then never, ever read this blog again. And feel totally justified in such behavior. Grace and kindness is for people who don’t deliberately use TV-safe profanities. Fr’instance people who accidentally use ’em… ’cause they don’t know any better, or they were stressed out or something. But they need to clean up their act, and stop doing it. Three strikes and they’re out. (Which is less than half of Simon Peter’s seven strikes, and way less than Jesus’s 490. Mt 18.21-22)

When we’re kind, we’re gonna be gracious, friendly, generous, humble, courteous—and nice. Yeah, I know plenty of Christians who are quick to point out kind and nice aren’t the same thing: Niceness is entirely about getting along with other people. And frequently people will lie, deceive, stifle their opinions, compromise their standards, or choose other evils, just to get along with others. They’ll be nice hypocrites.

I say we don’t have to deceive people to be nice to them: Why can’t we just be good for a change? Be better, more agreeable, more forgiving, more patient?

Besides, pagans are looking for niceness. They may not have any organized religious belief system, but most of ’em firmly do believe nice people are closer to God than mean people. So when they finally do start looking at religion, they try the nice ones first. The nice cults. The nice heretics. The nice con artists, who’ll lead them away, fleece the very clothes off ’em, and abandon them to hell.

Seems to me, if all it takes to win people over is to be nice to them, why are we objecting to niceness? Why is being a thorn in everyone’s side, so fundamental to our integrity?

10 November 2015

Taking God’s amazing grace for granted.

Legalism is the opposite of grace. But we’re quick to cry legalism if it gets us out of stuff.

CHEAP GRACE /tʃip greɪs/ n. Treatment of God’s forgiveness, generosity, and loving attitude, as if it’s nothing special; as if it cost him little.

Whenever I bring up the subject of cheap grace, some Christian invariably objects: “Grace is not cheap.” Even if I’ve explained in advance what I mean by cheap grace; even if I’ve written an entire essay defining the idea.

Every. Single. Time.

’Cause some Christians don’t read. The title’s about cheap grace, so they skip to the comments and object: “Grace isn’t cheap!” They see a link to an article about cheap grace, so they respond to the link or the Tweet or the post, “Grace isn’t cheap!” While speaking, I use the words “cheap grace” in a sentence, and they wait for the first chance to interrupt: “Grace isn’t cheap!”

YES. I KNOW. I’M TRYING TO MAKE THAT POINT. I WOULD IF YOUD LISTEN. So can you please keep your knee from jerking just this once, and give me a minute? Okay? (Betcha I’m still gonna get those comments regardless. You just watch. Ugh.)

Adam Clayton Powell Sr. gets credited with coining this term, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer with popularizing the heck out of it in his The Cost of Discipleship. It’s used to describe “grace”—whenever this grace is misdefined and malpracticed by irreligious Christians. As Bonhoeffer put it,

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. “All for sin could not atone.” The world goes on in the same old way, and we are still sinners “even in the best life” as Luther said. Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin. […] Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Bonhoeffer 44-45

That’s cheap grace: Taking expensive, valuable, amazing grace, and demeaning it by using it as a free pass to sin. Taking God’s safety net, and bouncing on it for fun like a trampoline.

Part of the reason people object to the term “cheap grace” is they don’t like to see God’s generosity taken so casually like that. Well, me neither.

Part of it’s ’cause they don’t think God’s grace actually can be cheapened.

06 November 2015

“If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

Our misbegotten biblical justification to only help out the deserving needy—as we define deserving.

2 Thessalonians 3.10

2 Thessalonians 3.10 KJV
For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.

Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this verse quoted by people who don’t want to give to the needy.

Till recently if you went to any of the grocery stores in my town, you’d find a beggar, holding a sign which generally said, “Help me,” sitting on the sidewalk at the edge of the parking lot, right where the customers drive in and out. I’m serious; any of the stores. They were everywhere. So the city council passed an ordinance moving the beggars 15 feet way. Last week I caught a cop ticketing a beggar who hadn’t been notified.

I don’t know how much money they got from sitting there, but their existence really irritated people. Not because those people are outraged by the plight of the poor in this country. It’s solely because they were begging. As far as the irritated folks are concerned, nobody should beg. Especially when they appear to be able-bodied. If it were them, they’d never beg. People should work for their money.

It’s in the bible, after all. “If any would not work, neither should he eat.” Because God declared “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground.” Ge 3.19 KJV Work is mandatory. It’s part of the curse upon Adam and all humanity for sin. These beggars clearly weren’t sweating for their bread. (Although to be fair, neither are those of us with white-collar jobs.) So how dare we interfere with God’s decree? We sweat for our bread; they should sweat for their bread. And if you’re one of those bleeding-hearts who give to beggars, you’re violating the scriptures. You think you’re being kind and generous, but you’re encouraging laziness and dependency. Bad Christian.

These are just two of the many passages of the bible misappropriated so we can justify our lack of compassion.

14 September 2015

Grace. (It really is amazing.)

If you don’t understand what grace is—and many don’t—you likely aren’t practicing it.

GRACE greɪs noun. God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people.
2. A prayer of thanksgiving.
[Gracious 'greɪ.ʃəs adjective.]

Years ago I was in a kids’ Sunday school class when the head pastor visited and the kids were encouraged to ask him anything. Bad idea. We spent way too much time discussing the existence of space aliens. The pastor’s view: They’re not real, and all UFO sightings are probably devils messing with people. He was one of those dark Christians who think devils are just everywhere.

Dark Christianity is likely why this pastor punted this question: One of the kids asked him what “grace” is.

Someone had previously told her we Christians are saved by grace. Ep 2.8 So she understandably wanted to know what this “grace” substance was. She wanted to get it and be saved. Her assumption—same as that of way too many Christians—is it’s some sort of heavenly pixie dust.

Pastor’s response: “We can’t define grace. It’s a mystery. It just is.”

I know: Shouldn’t a pastor, of all people, know what grace is? Shouldn’t any Christian in church leadership? Heck, shouldn’t every Christian know what grace is?

Problem is, many Christians don’t know… because they think we’re saved by other things.

  • Saved by good karma: Be a “good person” and God’ll let you into heaven. (This is commonly called “works righteousness.”)
  • Saved by saying the sinner’s prayer.
  • Saved by getting baptized. Or taking regular holy communion. Or going to church, or by otherwise being religious. (It’s just another form of works righteousness.)
  • Saved by faith—by which they mean if they believe really, really hard they’re saved (or “have faith“ they’re saved), they are.
  • Saved by their religious faith, their belief system. If they believe all the correct things, it saves ’em. (I call it “faith righteousness.” It’s probably the most common belief among dark Christians.)
  • Saved by our relationship to some other saint, who can “get us in.”

If you imagine you’re saved by anything other than grace, stands to reason you won’t understand grace very well. You won’t care about it. You won’t practice it much; maybe with family members and certain friends, but it won’t extend to many others. Or, like Christ Jesus wants, everyone.

So since Pastor didn’t know what grace was, and I did, I explained it once he left the room. (I figured since he wasn’t clear on the concept, he wouldn’t appreciate me correcting him.)

Most of the time, I hear Christians define grace as “God’s unmerited favor.” It’s that too. But we still tend to talk about grace as if it’s a material substance. ’Cause God “pours it out” on us, or “gives” or “extends” it, or “covers us” with it. It’s a liquid, a powder, a mist, a blanket, a trinket. An object, not an attitude.

But grace is God’s attitude. He loves us despite our bad behavior, despite our rebelliousness, despite our apathy, despite our outright hostility towards him sometimes. Grace is the way God thinks of us. His attitude overwhelms and overcomes everything we totally deserve. He oughta give up on us and sweep us away with raging fire. But he forgives all, loves us regardless—even adopts us as his kids and gives us his kingdom.

That’s why we call it amazing.