The following is adapted from Steve’s classic book on grace, When Being Good Isn’t Good Enough.
We believe that there really is a God who created the whole world for His purposes and that those purposes are being worked out in history. We believe this God is holy and righteous and rather frightening. While He is a Father, He is also a very dangerous Father. (If I had made up a religion I would have created a God who was a little more, well, fatherly. I would have dreamed up a father like the one in the popular television series of the 1960s, “Father Knows Best,” sort of like the father image about which Freud spoke.)
We believe that this God called a particular people, the Jews, who were wandering Bedouins in the desert, and told them that He would be their God and they would be His people. The Jews were not educated, sophisticated, or great among the peoples of the earth. (If I had had anything to do with it, I would have picked the Egyptians or the Babylonians.)
We believe that this same God who called this group of Bedouins from the desert brought forth a Messiah from that people. We believe the Messiah was born in Bethlehem of Judea and that His legal father was a carpenter and his mother was a nobody. (If I had written the script, I would have picked a royal family in Europe.)
It is enough that we believe that the Messiah came from such a strange place and from such an obscure people, but there is more. We believe that this Messiah was the incarnation of God—that God Himself entered time and space as a Jew in Bethlehem, a small out-of-the-way town nobody ever heard of. We believe God, as the Messiah, walked our dirty roads and died as a common criminal. (If I had been creating the story, I would have had the Messiah born in one of the world’s great cosmopolitan cities. I would have picked a heritage considerably less pedestrian. If I were dreaming up a world religion I would have stopped there. But God didn’t stop there.)
We believe that after the Messiah died, a dead man got up and walked. And to compound the embarrassment, we believe He ascended to heaven and sat at the right hand of God the Father. (I would have picked something else with which to impress the world, something a little more believable.)
And then, to make matters worse, we believe that this little Jewish rabbi has become the measurement by which the world will be judged—that His horrible death is directly related to the forgiveness, meaning, and eternal life of His people. We believe that He died for us, and that someday He is going to return to clean up the mess. If you believe all that, you’ll believe anything!
Yet that is exactly what we believe. The very fact that we do believe it suggests that either we are crazy or it is true. That is not to suggest that the Christian faith is irrational. On the contrary, any informed Christian who has ever argued the Christian faith with a pagan, knows how silly and irrational unbelief is. It does mean, however, that the facts upon which our faith is built are so big and so unexpected that nobody would ever dream them up, and no one in his or her right mind would try to build a philosophy on something that unbelievable.
You see, the Christian faith is radical. If it were our idea, nobody would have believed it. But it isn’t our idea. It’s God’s idea. Why? Because God is radical. It should be no surprise, then, that what is clearly taught in Scripture is radical.
Free in Christ
What is the radical idea? The radical idea is this: If you are a Christian, you are free. No, I don’t mean you are free with a number of ifs, ands, and buts.
I mean you are really free. No disclaimer. No addendum. No qualifying points. You are free.
I didn’t say it. Jesus did: “‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. . . . Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed’” (John 8:31-32, 36). Freedom is a gift from the Son of God. If He says I’m free, that ought to settle it for me. And He does say it. So I dare anyone to say otherwise.
What does it mean to be free in Christ? It means we are free from the rules we thought bound us to God. It means we are free from the manipulation other Christians use to make us like them—free from having to fit into the world’s mold, free to be different.
We are free from the slavery of religion and from the fear of rejection, alienation, and guilt. We are free from the fear of death. We are free from masks, free from the sham and pretense; free to doubt, free to risk, free to question. It means we are free to live every moment. But most of all, we are free to follow Christ, not because we have to but because we want to.
I know what you’re thinking. I shouldn’t have said all that. To be perfectly honest, I agree. I just read the list over and thought, I think I’ll tone that down a bit. Maybe it’s somewhat radical. Perhaps I ought to bring it on a little more slowly or say it differently. But, you see, I have this philosophy that comes from Ecclesiastes 9:10: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”
That means if you’re going to follow Christ, don’t pussyfoot around. Follow Him all the way. If you are going to be in trouble, really get into trouble. If you’re going to steal, don’t steal just a little bit. Go rob a bank. If you are going to play poker, don’t bet pennies. If you’re going to make a fool of yourself, don’t hedge. Look like a real idiot or don’t say anything! If you’ve decided to tell the truth, tell it all and then get out of the way.
When I say you are free, every “But, Steve you don’t mean” is exactly what I do mean.
I must say it again: If you belong to Christ, you are really free. You are free, and I say it without disclaimers, without addendums, without qualifiers. Let me say it again: You are free! You are free! You are really free!!
There. I’ve said it again and I’m glad.
Adapted from Steve’s classic book on grace, When Being Good Isn’t Good Enough.