Updated: Jan 31
When I take a look at my own journey toward Christ-likeness, it seems like it's easy to get stuck in a cycle called "Just Right" on one extreme and "Do It Your Own Way! Anything Goes!" on the other.
When I try to make myself "Just Right" on my own strength, I get lost in a vision of my own perfection. Then to relieve myself of the stress that goes with trying to make myself "Just Right," I relieve the stress by moving toward "God loves you no matter what. Anything goes!"
In the scriptures, we see the two extremes called "Anything goes!" and "Make yourself just right" portrayed in the apostle Paul's letters to the Corinthians ("Anything goes"), and his letters to the Galatians ("Make yourself just right!").
The Corinthians were stuck in what Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as "cheap grace."
According to Bonhoeffer, "Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” (“The Cost of Discipleship").
Bonhoeffer received a lot of inspiration from reading the apostle Paul's letter to the Romans.
"Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives."
(Romans 6:1-4, "New Living Translation of The Bible").
To sum it up, when we treat God's agape love as "cheap," we totally disregard and disrespect the sacrifice Jesus of Nazareth made on the cross. We treat our relationship with God like a smorgasbord buffet... partaking of this and that sinful behavior even if doing so disrespects and hurts God and others. Then when we feel the indigestion that accompanies sin, we look for a Tum like bottle labeled "Grace Chill Pills."
At the other end of the spectrum named "Just Right" we tend to treat the journey toward holiness like a self designed quest to make ourselves better. When we try to make ourselves whole a part from Jesus, we get tied up placing others in better and lesser than comparisons. The apostle Paul addressed this in his letter to the Galatians.
There was a group of Hebrew followers of Jesus from Jerusalem who taught Gentile followers of Jesus in the house fellowships in the region called Galatia that they had to follow all of the Jewish traditions and food laws or they were not really true followers of Jesus of Nazareth. The apostle Paul addressed this false teaching in his letter to the Galatians.
“How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?" (Galatians 3:3, “New Living Translation of The Bible”).
When we try to make ourselves "Just Right," we tend to become very judgmental. We tend to find persons we disagree with and burn them at the stake. We may say we love them and hate their behaviors, but how can we say we love them if we never take the time to hear the sacred stories of their lives? It's easier to stand back and throw stones. Let us beware of acting like we see so clearly we have God all figured out. Let us beware of choosing portions of the Bible to worship. Jesus called it looking for a speck in someone else's eyes without seeing the logs in our own.
When I look at the ways many followers of Jesus in the U.S.A. today fight each other over different ways to interpret the Bible and different ways to view holiness, it breaks my heart.
All followers of Jesus feel the tension pulled muscles and aching hearts that occur when one part of the Body of Christ pushes and pulls against another part of the Body of Christ.
We get lost in endless debates called "Who is Right?" One group worships together. The other group worships together. Both sides lick their wounds.
When we get lost in debates, we end up trying to make ourselves "Just Right" and those who are not followers of Jesus shout, "Why believe in the God they're lips proclaim?" "If the God Christians believe in causes them to act like that, why would I ever believe in him?" "I'm better off by myself. I will define my own spirituality. I will do it my way."
While I understand the creative tension caused by disagreement, aren't there Christ-like ways we can practice holy conversation? Can we who say we follow Jesus believe Jesus is big enough to enlarge our hearts? Can we partake of holy communion together and sit down at round tables together? Can we silently pray together?
"Holy Spirit like a midwife intercede on our behalf with sighs too deep for words. Father God, embrace us in the arms of Good Shepherd Jesus. Help us learn how to agree on Jesus and agree to disagree on areas where we still see in a mirror dimly. Dear Triune God, help us be one with you and one with each other. Then our witness in the world will resemble Jesus more than it resembles us!
All parts of the Body of Christ are necessary! All parts are needed!
The apostle Paul wrote some inspiring words that speak to this:
"And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice-the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don't think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ's body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other."
(Romans 12:1-5, "New Living Translation of The Bible").