Every diet needs balance to be healthy. And, while fine on occasion, all meals should not be served flamed-broiled. Neither should all messages on Grace be served with Hell Fire.
She sat across from me, her hair neatly tucked under her prayer veiling, black covering strings in place, and hand-made ‘cape’ dress perfectly fitted. A church leader’s wife.
We conversed about many things. Her role as a leader’s wife, and what is expected of her. Their adolescent children. How they view Jesus and grace. And then she took me off-guard….
“It’s almost as if we are uncomfortable with God’s grace,” she said. (That’s true, I thought to myself. And so are most conservative Christians.) “I wonder why that is?” she added, thoughtfully.
“I don’t know… Maybe we’re afraid we’ll lose control?” I suggested.
“Maybe…” she looked thoughtful, not satisfied.
We discussed it for a while, this thing about grace, and how desperately we need to hear it, and how hard it is to tell without serving it wrapped in the condemnation of hell fire, with no real answers.
This got me thinking a lot, lately, about why we feel we have to do that, serve the Good New of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, like that. As though His death and sacrifice are not convincing enough on their own, and a little fear of hell is necessary to get people saved.
Even writing this, I presume, somewhere, there will be those who gasp and wonder if I no longer believe in hell. If you must know, nothing has changed. I still believe there is a hell. But it is Jesus I worship, not my belief in any particular heaven or hell. Those are the mysteries of God that we are forbidden to fully understand. And there is a time and a place to tell of both, but not every time, and not every place.
Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all (mankind) unto Me.” He did say, “And don’t forget to tell them about hell. They’ll want to know about that place, because heaven with me is much more appealing.” He simply said that lifting Him up would draw all people to Him. Some will still reject Him, but He will invite and draw them. He doesn’t need the motivation of missing out on hell as a ‘bonus offer’. He is enough. More than enough.
And that is what I’ve been thinking, a lot. Whether the most revealing truth in all of this is that we don’t really have faith in Jesus as being enough, on His own–when He is lifted high and worshipped–to draw people to Himself. And if we have trained ourselves, or been trained, to serve grace, wrapped up in fear of hell, because we have not had a true revelation of Who Jesus really is, and exactly what He came to do. And, out of a lack of revelation, we don’t trust the Good News of Jesus to be enough.
In reading through the New Testament, I found Jesus spoke frequently enough of hell. But He seemed to reserve it for the religious–and leaders in particular–rather than for evangelism. And maybe we’ve had that part backwards….
And I wonder if the greater purpose of our knowledge of a place of everlasting torment ought not to propel us into telling the Good News, sharing the wonderful stories of Jesus, and lifting Him up, rather than using it to instil terror in people.
I understand that it isn’t possible to tell people what they are saved from, if we don’t first share that sin has consequence and brings separation from God. That sin cannot stand in God’s presence. And that is why Jesus died. But that’s a different thing than preaching for thirty minutes–out of a forty-five minute sermon on grace–about the horrors of hell. (Or going over time so it gets properly explained.)
The world is full of condemnation and shame. Hardly does it need that message more passionately reinforced and expounded on, than the truth of grace and Jesus having paid in full, for their sin. Or even expounded on every time we talk about grace.
Grace. A free gift that will wipe all that sin away with one simple act of repentance by faith. So simple. So profound. And therefore hard for the human mind to grasp…
I opened the email….
I have thought a long while about emailing you. It is fear, I suppose, that kept me from it.”
She went on to tell me her story, as most people whom I’ve never met do, when they email me ‘out of the blue’ like that. She lives in USA, and was raised in a conservative Christian family. Abused in early childhood, and sexually active with other girls since long before she understood the meaning of sex, she struggled all her life with sexual addictions. Now, an adult, trying to live our her life of faith in holiness, she battled these same struggles and addictions at every turn. Was there any hope for her? Or would I simply judge her, condemn her for her sins, and turn away? She said she would understand if I did. It was how she felt about herself. Like so many others she wrote, “I didn’t know who else to tell… I hope I can trust you with my story.”
I sat down to respond to her familiar message. If I had seen this message once, I had seen it countless times. And if I had believed in the healing of one, I would believe it for a thousand more.
“Dear Clara,” I wrote back. “Thank you for trusting me with your deepest pain, your story and your struggles. You need to know that you are not alone. There is hope. And I believe in your healing.”
I shared how I had worked with many women caught in pornography and addictions. Many with same-sex attractions or relationships. Many who had come hopeless, and found freedom through Jesus, even breaking free from same-sex desire, breaking sexual addictions and self-harm, and other struggles. I assured her that God’s grace was more than enough to cover her sins, to free her from the strangle-hold of addictions, and break the power of childhood trauma. Repentance for our sins brings freedom from its grip. Offering forgiveness to those who sinned against us brings freedom on another level.
That was pretty much my message. I offered no condemnation. No scolding. No reminder that she would be condemned if she did not repent of her current sins and addictions. Her email was filled with self-condemnation. There was no need for me to add to it.
Her response made me weep. “Dear Trudy, Thank you. I don’t know what else to say. Somehow I expected to be condemned. For the first time, in a long while, I feel a glimmer of hope that I can be free….”
That’s what grace does. It offers hope where there is hopelessness. Life where the spirit has died. And the promise of reconciliation with God, where sin once stood in between. All because of Jesus. And Jesus, alone.
© Trudy Metzger
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