I often reflect on the revelation received a few years ago: “I was doing just fine in Jesus until the “church” got hold of me.” My mentors, who had been immersed in a systematized “Christian” religion not unlike those victims of the First Century Judaizers, taught a works-based Christianity. Most displays of liberation and joy were sharply forbidden by the “mature” and “holy” elders around me.
Life in Jesus was presented as being a nice, compact, confining corral with strong, high rails. I could run and play to my heart’s desire, so long as I remained inside the corral. I could stand at the fence and gaze out onto vast panoramas of open space, but I could never leave the confines (the safety and limitations) of the corral.
What I was not told in those early days of my life in Christ, what I was not taught about the corral was that the fence posts had been set and the rails nailed by men and not by God. Religion has its own concept of dimension and breadth. When our starting point is limitation itself (the law), our construction will be limited to the parameters provided by law. When our starting point is immeasurable, uncontainable, limitless (grace), the dimensions of our corral expand infinitely.
Christianity, I was taught, was intended to provide freedom within severe limitation. So “grace” became a scary, forbidden, untouchable, improbable landscape, while the law and religion formed a safe, secure but gray and lifeless “protection” “for my own good,” I was enthusiastically assured.
The joy of my salvation was replaced by the drudgery of labor and self-denial and the not-so-veiled threat of imminent judgment should I stray from the “straight and narrow.”
I learned the critical expressions of Christianity, “Thou shalt not,” and “No” and I learned about the dreaded cancer we called “worldliness,” which The Free Dictionary defines as “Of, relating to, or devoted to the temporal world. 2. Experienced in human affairs.” God forbid that any follower of Jesus should relate to the temporal world or become experienced in human affairs! As a beloved Seminary Professor was wont to say, “Horror of horrors!” (The preceding spoken in a tone of mock astonishment).
And so we young believers were counseled to “come out from among them and be separate.” We understood this to mean that Christians were not to be much like their Leader, Jesus, Who was labeled a sinner for consorting with Publicans – tax collectors for the Roman government. He even ate with them, a practice much more dangerous than merely speaking with them. He sat at table with them. He ate their food, drank their wine, heard their stories and perhaps chuckled at their jokes. And He liked them! Some might infer that He went so far as to love them as well!
In my earliest days as a believer, before “the church” got hold of me, I listened to an internal Voice. The Voice would regularly and reliably steer me towards and away from. The Voice would counsel me to speak and to be silent, to join myself to and to disengage from. Before “the church” got hold of me, I had only the Word of God, both in Book form and in Spirit form to guide me. I discovered that spending the first portion of each new day with both the Book and the Spirit brought direction and purpose to the remainder of the day.
In those early days, I witnessed manifold miracles. I saw lives transformed. I watched bodies, souls, spirits, minds, lives healed. I saw prostitutes become priests in the household of faith. I watched thieves become givers and druggies become disciples of Jesus. All this, before the “church” got hold of me.
And I knew about grace. After all, I had just been transformed myself. I had undergone a translation – I had been recently “delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.” Grace was perhaps my first, concrete observation about my new position in the earth. I didn’t yet know I was a “Christian.” I had no knowledge of the special category called, “Believer.” I wasn’t yet anybody’s “disciple,” wasn’t a proponent of Calvinism, Hyper-Calvinism, Arminianism, Pentecostalism, Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism . . . . case made.
I was doing just fine until the “church” got hold of me – The “church” of rules and regulations. The “church” of works and labors and adherence to laws long ago fulfilled but never released into the graveyard of the unproductive and the useless, the invalidated and the nullified.
If by now you are sensing the need to intercede for the poor, deluded grace people, don’t worry about those who refuse to be regulated by religion but instead revel in the of virtues of a grace created by and intended for all who follow Jesus.
And do not misunderstand or fret; the “grace folks” aren’t getting away with sin under an imagined umbrella of grace that allows anything “worldly” to invade their lives. Life in Christ is not without restraint. There can be no true freedom without restriction. Liberty requires limitation. The key, however is to understand that any restriction vital to our spiritual life must be established by heaven’s direction and not by man’s. God’s concept of liberty is far, more expansive than man’s puny at best, notion. There is a “yoke” constructed to fit each of us; a yoke connected to the Son of God that He declared is “easy, and (His) burden is light.” Heaven needs no assistance from man in designing or building the corral of our freedom.
Our safety in the wide-open space of grace is that our Mentor, Guide, Director and Friend is Himself holy, pure, righteous, altogether good, without sin, spot, wrinkle, without fault. Grace is neither an adjective nor an adverb. Grace is a Person, and the identity of that Person is Jesus, Himself. The difference between law and grace is that law designs the corral that only grace can measure and establish.
Jesus informed us of the poison of the Pharisees who He said would travel sea and land to make one convert, and turn him into twice the son of hell as they had become. Beware the adjutants of religion, who have inherited and who transmit the “generational curse” of a man-made religion of restriction.
The Son of God could not have been clearer than when He announced, “Whom the Son has set free is free, indeed.”
May God raise up a true, “Grace People” in our generation. Not those who abuse Christ’s cross by their unrestrained and fleshly liberty, but a People who live near the cross, consciously reveling in the benefits of His sacrifice, a People living in His freedom, inexorably drawn to His wounded side so that we may be made whole, and “enter into the joys of (our) Lord.”