I was refinishing an antique dresser from my childhood bedroom. Memories of my upbringing collided with wonder about what it means to abide in Christ. Tedious work was the perfect setting for meditating on a passage that I had rushed through a hundred times before.

As I sanded and scraped, every phrase ruminated in my mind. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

What did it mean that the one who abides will bear much fruit? Where were the added conditions? I was confident that I was fruitful in light of all my Christian activity: parenting, teaching Bible studies, counseling, and evangelizing addicts in the inner city. In my mind, productivity equaled godliness. But Jesus, in John 15, seemed to be saying something different.

I asked the Lord to show me what this passage means. The years that followed were a series of paradigm shifts that I could never have predicted. I began my search by opening the New Testament and writing down every command I could find. I wanted to know what was required of me to be a fruitful Christian. I wanted to do all I could to please the Lord. To my surprise, I discovered that most of the commands in the New Testament actually had to do with what I believed rather than my activities. Commands that could be construed as action such as: “be hospitable,” I noticed, were not accompanied by all the trappings of etiquette. I realized that we had added those kinds of regulations and called them “practical application.”

I realized that we had added those kinds of regulations and called them “practical application.”

Shortly after I finished my antique dresser, I shared what I had been learning from John 15 at a women’s event. The more I pressed in, the more I realized I had stumbled upon something huge. Women, in otherwise Biblically solid churches, were learning a form of godliness that had no power (2 Tim 3:5). Our helpful tips had become laws. We had put each other in bondage to man-made rules (Gal 3:1-5) and had fallen from grace (Gal 5:4).

As I spoke to my sisters in Christ that evening, I suggested that maybe we were “putting up easily enough with” a false gospel (2 Cor 11:4). I wondered aloud if we had become like Stepford wives: shallow and fake. I asked a few questions publicly that I had also been asking myself privately: What makes women godly? Is it keeping a clean house? Is it pleasing our husbands or each other? How good is good enough? How can we love one another if we’re competing with each other? How can we make ourselves acceptable?

The answer is: we don’t make ourselves acceptable to God. He made us acceptable by covering our sin with His own blood and imputing His righteousness to us by grace alone through faith (Rom 3:21-22).

The response that night was mostly positive. For many captives it was a milestone on the road to freedom from the hamster wheel of Christian performance. A dialogue opened that night that would last for many years—even to this very day.

However, alongside this army of freed, joyful captives, another camp was forming. It was populated by those who loved their cages. They loved their rules and their power. They loved having followers, and the respect it afforded them. They resented me and told me so privately. Publicly, however, they acted like we were kindred spirits. I lost many close friends along the way.

It has taken years to articulate these things in book form. Living and teaching and writing Grace Is Free has not been easy. Although this message of freedom and grace angers many people, it is worth it for those captives who have been freed by it—myself included.

 

Check out Marci Preheim's interview on Steve Brown, Etc!