Grace has changed my life in countless ways, but I didn’t always find it in church. John Updike said, “In general the churches…bore for me the same relation to God that billboards did to Coca-Cola: they promoted thirst without quenching it.” As I write this and reflect on my many years in church I realize that most of what I have received on Sunday mornings has been law and not grace. It should be the place that our thirst is quenched, but I often left frustrated.
Paul Zahl says most of what you hear in church is, “always the same: here is what you should do, you are not doing it, so get out there and try harder. This is the “three point sermon” of churches. I sometimes suggest to clergy that they carve over the main door to the church the following words: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” From the pulpit, what you are likely to get is the law.”
A lot of sermons I have heard have been filled with what I should do instead of what Christ has done for me. I have often heard of how I was not measuring up to what church expected of me, and how I had to do certain things in order to be accepted in the fold. What I should have been told is I was accepted without doing anything at all! In truth, a lot of sermons resemble titles of self-help books and you often can’t distinguish them from what you might hear on a talk show.
A lot of our churches are full of pharisees. The world is hungry for grace, but we give them rules to live by in lieu of a Christ that took their place because they couldn’t keep the rules.
I love what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
What if church were a place where you heard death, burial, resurrection instead of ways to bootstrap your life? What if church were a place where freedom was proclaimed instead of fear of sin and mistakes? What if church were a place you didn’t hear moralism, but you heard you were loved in-spite of the fact you aren’t moral? What if we just preached Christ instead of all the other stuff that doesn’t help anyone?
If you don’t find a place like that I hope you know that God loves you just the way you are warts and all. ”But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”, “there is therefore now no condemnation…”
I’m sorry to say you might not find grace in church, but you will find grace by simply looking to Jesus. If you are in a church that doesn’t extend grace then you have my permission to leave.