Friday, May 2, 2008

Missing the Point

“Evangelical preaching that implies we are saved by grace but kept by our obedience not only undermines the work of God in sanctification but ultimately casts doubt on the nature of God (i.e. he loves us only when we are good enough) and thus makes salvation itself suspect when we honestly assess our imperfections.” Brian Chapell, Christ Centered Preaching

When my daughter was little, she was quite a storyteller. She could invent the wildest lies you could imagine. Pretty soon the lying became a solid habit with her. It got to the point I was unable to believe anything that came out of her mouth. Part of the problem was my fault, I am sure. I have always been such an exaggerator in my storytelling, she was just emulating another fish story queen.

When she was in third grade, she had the misfortune of several broken bones. The first happened when I was away, when she fell off a bed and apparently broke her wrist. It never discolored or swelled, so we ignored her complaints, chalking them up to another big story. After two weeks had lapsed, one day I grabbed her hand to cross the street, and she yelped in pain. Knowing that this was certainly not a calculated response, I took her straight to the doctor. The nurse and doctor looked at me sternly. “Do you see this lump?” they pointed out. “That is her wrist bone.” At that moment I knew I was the worst mother in the universe.

Later that school year, we were celebrating Easter with our friends, the Shandys. The four of us sat on our front porch drinking coffee and watching our children play and ride bikes on the cul-de-sac. Melanie rode up on the front lawn with her bike, lost her balance, and took a tumble. Her finger immediately began to swell. The next morning, I sent her off to the school nurse to evaluate whether or not I should take her for an x-ray. Marie came down to my classroom to talk to me. “I think it is broken,” she said. “And I told her, no more doing flips off the curb on your bike. It is too dangerous.” I rolled my eyes. Another big fish tale had been invented.

As Melanie and I drove to the doctor, I gave her a stern warning. “No more big stories about your finger,” I told her. “Just tell them exactly what happened.”

The doctor and nurse were already regarding me suspiciously when we explained the reason for our visit. Another broken bone? Was this mother some kind of child abuser? Ignoring me, they focused on the poor abused child. “Tell us how you hurt your finger,” they coaxed my daughter.

“WELL . . .” I held my breath. Here it came. “I was riding my bike, rode up on the front lawn, and fell over. And that’s REALLY what happened. Right, Mom?” She gave me a big wink.

Oh, brother. I went home and told Steve, “I am expecting social services momentarily to come and take our children from us.”

Melanie had missed the point. I was trying to give the doctor the true story and at the same time allay any fear that my daughter might be experiencing parental physical abuse. In her effort to obey me, she ultimately defeated the intent. She actually cast more doubt on my parenting than she would have had she stuck to the story of doing flips off the curb.

In the same way, I have seen preachers miss the point of the great truths contained within the Word of God. A former pastor of mine got stuck in a bad place. In his sincere effort to persuade his congregation that their salvation should result in a changed life lived for Christ, he got sidetracked. Gradually his messages became all about how we should live. And if we weren’t living that way, then we should doubt our salvation. He began to pull verses out of context, arguing that Paul himself worried that he might not really be saved. It was all about perseverance of the saints. The grace of God slowly faded out of the picture.

Steve and I worried over this turn in his teaching. Our objection was simple. Our approval from God never was and never will be about our actions or obedience. The Savior had to die because we could NEVER please God with our actions. Not before or after the point of our salvation. The point or theme of Scripture revolves around this idea. Chapell puts it this way: “Scripture seems to take great care to demonstrate how deeply flawed the entire human race is so that all will acknowledge dependence on the Savior for justification, sanctification, and all spiritual blessing. Preachers who ignore the human flaws in biblical characters out of deference to the reputation of past saints or out of a desire to hold a moral example before present believers unconsciously distract attention from the only hope of true faithfulness.”

When we as teachers begin to sing the song of obedience, but leave out the fact that our acceptance comes through Christ alone, we are missing the point. It has never been about us. It has always been about grace. In His great mercy, God provided a way for us to be right with Him. And that provision continues to be our source of life and peace with God, even after salvation. Chapell writes, “Righteous standards become spiritually deadly when they are perceived or honored as the basis of God’s acceptance.” Amen to that!

When I teach women, my ultimate goal is to give them hope. When we look at the standards of God’s holiness, it can be a source of great discouragement. We can never measure up, no matter how hard we try. The hope comes as we get our eyes off of ourselves and on to the Savior who has done it all for us. Our godliness can only come as a response to God’s unconditional love. His Holy Spirit is the enabler. It is not about us.

We will never be changed by our own efforts. Jesus forever took the burden of pleasing God off of our shoulders. We must be careful not to snatch back that responsibility as we attempt to live lives of obedience in response to His great love for us. Certainly we experience God’s blessing as we seek to obey Him. But the relationship with Him has never been nor ever will be about what we can do. It has always been about the grace and mercy of God.

1 comment:

Dave said...

Amen!