By Janet Keefe
The first Christian book I read (other than the Bible) after becoming a Christian, was The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. I remember what he said on the first page of his book. He went to speak at a church about God’s grace. The pastor of the church was upset following Brennan’s sermon, and complained that Brennan “did not explain what must be done to earn God’s grace”. Brennan then states: “Something is radically wrong”. I fear something continues to be radically wrong.
When I became a Christian, I was a rebellious wanderer returning to the fold. I was easily a combination of the Samaritan woman and Lot’s wife. Like the Samaritan woman, I had lived a fairly unsavory life, but I had made my defenses and prepared my rhetoric to dissuade any arguments for the need of God in my life (John 4:7-26). Also, like Lot’s wife looking backward (Genesis 19:26), although I knew I was suffering and felt dead inside from the wages of sin, I was uncertain I wanted to give that old life up. Some people feel exhilaration upon praying THE PRAYER. I immediately looked backward with fascination at my past and regret in losing it. I wondered how to take the prayer back. I couldn’t be one of those perfect people. I was, and knew I continued to be messy, unkempt, imperfect. I thought Jesus only wanted shiny, pretty people. I imagined the church’s disapproval of me. I feared I couldn’t be good enough for God. What I didn’t know was that the Good News is of God’s grace. I was not required to be good. God was my Abba Father, rejoicing that his prodigal daughter returned to Him in need and loneliness, seeking His love.
I thought Jesus only wanted shiny, pretty people.
I’m not sure why I didn’t know that, but as a now (somewhat) mature Christian, I hear what people say about us. Everything we do is squeaky clean and polished, but there is still an ugly core, and the cracks are showing that ugly core, just a little bit. We polish and shine and clean and pray and try to fix, and defend and…it’s exhausting. And it’s not the message of the Gospel. Our righteousness was never and could never be earned. Our “righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to ALL who believe. There is no difference between the Jew and Gentile, for ALL have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22-24).
This is truly great news for everybody! But that’s a fairly obvious statement. The less obvious question is why is becoming a Christian such a hard thing for people when the gift of Grace is free and easy to receive? I won’t presume to speak for others, but I know my own heart, and I know the things that kept me away from God and why I continued to wander. Frankly, most of it was fear of living the way I thought Christians must live; dour, angry, judgmental, in perfect homes with perfect families eagerly waiting for another social crusade to fight against and another less-savory character, like me, to guard against. I didn’t want to live that way. I wanted fun. I wanted help without judgment. I didn’t mind accountability, just not judgment. I wanted sincere love and acceptance, even when I didn’t measure up. I suppose that strongly resembles forgiveness, the divine forgiveness of Christ.
Why is becoming a Christian such a hard thing for people when the gift of Grace is free and easy to receive?
I am not convinced that the world will look at Christians and say “oh, I want to be that righteous and virtuous and always go to church, that’s cool, sign me up!” But, if the world looked at Christians and saw Jesus, then wow! Jesus, who healed a sick guy on the Sabbath (Luke 14:4) and broke with the endless rules and traditions enforced by Pharisees. Jesus who didn’t look polished, and had no “beauty or majesty to attract us to Him” (Isaiah 53:2). Jesus the servant. Jesus who forgives sins, Jesus who loves, despite being “despised and held in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:3!). Love unfailing. Love for a sinful soul like me. I don’t want people to see me or hear my story and be impressed about how perfect an righteous I am; but how I am made righteous by His sacrifice, His blood and body, and His infinite love and His saving grace. When people see me and hear my story, I want them to understand that it is not about how righteous and perfect I am, but how I am made righteous by His amazing grace.