Here are five Tenets of Grace that I believe that are radically different than anything I believed before.
1. I believe in the concept “once saved always saved”.
This means that once God has invited you into His family, there is nothing you can do to jeopardize His love for you.
This is to the Christian who killed their first baby. This is to the Christian that treated their child with so much hatred he/she committed suicide. This is to the Christian who was used and forgotten by the spouse that didn’t care. This is to the Christian who used and forgot that spouse. This is to the Christian who raped the little girl put in His care. This is to you.
God forgives you.
2. I believe that you can never do so much wrong in your life that God will give up on you.
This means that once God has invited you into His family, nothing in your past means anything. This is to Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Osama Bin Laden, the cop in Ferguson, the people who bomb abortion clinics, the people who tell others that they’re not good enough for church, the child molesters and murderers, to you.
God will forgive you.
3. I believe that Christianity isn’t a set of rules that you must get right but a growing process of your relationship with God.
This to the Baptists, the Catholics, the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the non-denominationals, the Pentecostals, the Evangelicals, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, to you.
I believe in God’s love for you, and it is not dependent on your doctrine.
4. I believe that there is nothing you can do, nothing in your past, nothing in your present, that gives me the right to question God’s love for you.
I forgive you and let go of preconceived notions of your “goodness” or “badness” and choose to see you in the light of God’s love for you.
5. I believe grace is the epitome of Who God is.
I believe in you and your worth to God and His kingdom.
I didn’t used to believe in these things. I used to believe these Tenets of Legalism.
A. Salvation could be lost at any moment. – Hebrews 10:26
B. There was a limit to God’s mercy if you committed enough past sins. – 1 Tim 1:13
C. Obeying the rules of the New Testament determines you salvation. – John 14:15
D. If I knew that there was some sin in your life that needed to be rectified, I had the responsibility to point it out. Furthermore, I could judge whether or not I could trust you as a friend according to how well you performed in my eyes. – 1 Cor 5:12-13
E. The requirement of obedience was the epitome of Who God is. – John 14:15
But, there’s something that has completely messed with me: Jesus came eating and drinking, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. I don’t know anyone like that. I know so many Christians who have “earned” my respect (see C and D above). But, there is not a Christian in my life who I would recognize as a friend of sinners. Everyone’s a sinner, and these are people of great grace. But Jesus was so close to the marginalized that He was derisively called a “friends of sinners”. His grace must run so deep, I can’t reconcile this one concept, this “friend of sinners” without reaching conclusions 1 – 5 above.
Funny though, I always viewed myself as gracious, even when A – E dominated my life. I was extremely submissive and helpful whenever I could be. I was a friend to people and loved on people who didn’t live up to my expectations, who probably failed the standard set in D. I was very careful with advice. I listened more than I spoke and did my best to speak life into the situations of others, life and love instead of judgment.
But even writing these words, I can see the ugly head of pride and arrogance. It came up often. I constantly thought of myself as ministering to people who simply were not as good of Christian as I was. But I had a great solution to these thoughts. I knew they were wrong, and I didn’t want to be the Pharisee but rather the publican.
I focused and magnified the sins and failures in my life until I wasn’t just in the same level as everyone I had judged. No, I judged myself as worse than they, a crippling broken soul. Whether, I truly believed that I don’t know. But, whenever I found myself lifted up, I fixed things by tearing myself down in my mind.
I used to measure Christianity on a scale of extreme legalism to extreme grace. I tried to be in the middle.
Extreme-legalism Christians were mean. They gave judgments without permission or concern of the hurt that they would cause. They bombed abortion clinics. The picketed the funerals of gay people. They routinely reminded people that they were going to hell. Neither Christians nor non-Christians wanted to be around them. They took concepts A – E to the extreme.
Extreme-grace Christians were hippies. They basically thought everybody could go to heaven. They basically thought that sin didn’t matter. They believed that everyone deserved to be saved and that you could say a prayer, kill a child, and God would welcome you into His kingdom with open arms. They didn’t seem to make the world better but ignored its problems under an umbrella of “God loves everyone, Yippee!”
The funny thing is that I totally believed A – E. But, I tried to be more on the gracious side of how I treated people. Ironically, this became my mask. I had to hide my legalism so that “lesser Christians” would feel loved and I had to pretend to be really good, even better than I was because I wanted the approval of the “better Christians”. If they thought, I was good enough to be one of them, maybe even to be a leader, then God must think the same, that I was good enough to be His.
Then, over the course of a few years, one of the best things that could have happened to me changed everything. I and my bride were routinely “given advice” by an extreme-legalist. We were told that we were simply not meeting God’s expectations, we’re not good enough in His eyes, and had plenty of sin to point out. The thing is that I was really good at hiding sin. And yet, the little that wasn’t hidden was enough to condemn me.
The problem was that we still believed A – E. And, the problem was that under that paradigm, it didn’t matter how good we were, how gracious we were, how nice we were, the arrogance still existed, along with the self-loathing.
Somehow, no one was good enough for me to trust, for me to love as an equal. Either I would love them as a “lesser” or respect them as a “greater”. And, somehow, I was never good enough, not for God. I never met my own expectations.
The concepts A – E became a box, a prison that kept me from feeling I could ever experience God’s love much less deserve it. But, more than that, it became an island, because there was no one who could “know”. Once they did, I would be abandoned … Not good enough to be a part.
I slowly realized that I would rather die than live in that prison. Sounds a bit melodramatic, but wouldn’t you? If life on earth was going to consist of me always trying to be better but never good enough – if it would always consist of the loneliness of always hiding the darkness in my life and only admitting it to the select few who were both better Christians than me but also ones who would not desert me (which they wouldn’t desert me because we could never become close enough for me to affect them negatively) – if that was life, death and the freedom of heaven just sounded better. Being somewhere I knew that I was loved with no expectations and nothing to live up to and no social games – it just sounded better, not in a suicidal way but in a realistic way.
Then, I realized something: as long as I held to concepts A – E, the very foundations of legalism, I would always be in that prison. Something was wrong, incredibly broken with Christianity that made me long for death. What happened to having “life in abundance”.
And it hit me, the foundations of extreme grace made more sense. Better yet, they gave me a Christianity I believed in, wanted to be a part of, and wanted to share with others. But, best of all, it gave me freedom, freedom to fail and not question my salvation, freedom to grow however slowly it happened, freedom to enjoy God’s love and not try to perform for it. When legalism was no longer the basis of my Christianity, I changed. I believed in people. I became more cognizant of my unfair expectations. I started to share more of my life and to see God and not just flaws in others.
I have a long way to grow. Years of believing in concepts A – E have left me with cynically judgmental heart. But, God is gracious, loving me and moving with me no matter how slow-going.
And, I am loved.
And, you are loved.
I used to be gracious legalist, trying to love others from a foundation of a performance-based belief in God’s love for me and them. I played my part well.
But, now I believe in grace that covers all. And, if I’m wrong I believe that God’s grace will cover that too.
I used to scoff at Christians who believed in extreme grace, but now concepts 1 – 5 are the background for my Christian beliefs. And, I wouldn’t have it any other way.