The deep needs that drew me to a local Southern California church twenty-some years ago were the very things that made it so challenging to walk into that building. I didn’t understand the depth of God’s grace and that I was in fact much closer to Him than I realized. My perception was skewed by outward signs of religion. Sitting in the back, I surveyed all the people filling the rows before me. They appeared so … respectable and polished, like people who never lost their temper, uttered curse words, had marital problems, or struggled with financial debt.
I felt certain they came from Brady Bunch type backgrounds. A world I didn’t understand and assumed I’d long since been excluded from. Jesus spent decades, quite literally, decades, shattering those false perceptions that kept me bound in shame by countering my hierarchal view of sin. I came to realize, we’re all equal in our need for Christ and our complete unworthiness of His grace. Some of us are just more aware of that need. Man-made rituals can deceive us into seeing ourselves—our efforts and outward displays of holiness—as our saviors.
Human pride is perhaps the greatest challenge to authentic faith, and therefore, to true and lasting freedom. To grab hold of the life Christ offers, we first must realize how truly dead we are apart from Him.
This was the message a man named John the Baptist proclaimed some 2,000 years ago. In everything he said and did, he made it clear, everyone—Jews and Gentiles, priests and prostitutes—needed redemption. His very appearance and lifestyle stood in stark contrast to the work’s-based religion the Pharisees had been proclaiming. They flaunted their “holy” status by dressing in luxuriant robes with “extra long tassels” (Matthew 28:5). Whereas “John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist” (Mark 1:6). His appearance would’ve immediately reminded his Jewish audience of the prophet Elijah, who dressed similarly, and the prophet’s frequent call to repentance.
John invited everyone, the “sinner” and religious elite alike to be baptized. This wasn’t a new sacrament. In fact, the Jewish people had long practiced this ancient rite, but usually when converting Gentiles into Jews. In calling the Jews to baptism as well John was in essence stating that they were as far from God and in need of repentance as their pagan neighbors, a truth many found preposterous. Therefore, convinced of their self-made righteousness, numerous Pharisees and teachers of the “law” remained enslaved to sin.
It’s easy to fall into that Pharasaical mindset, to become so convinced of our goodness, we forget our need for God. I’m so very thankful I’m no longer that shame-filled woman who walked into that Southern California church so long ago, but I hope I never forget the life God plucked her out of. I hope I never forget how desperately I need Jesus.
Where are you on the religious-acts versus grace spectrum? Are you overly consumed with guilt and shame, and therefore need to lift your gaze to grace? Or have decades of outward religious behavior begun to blind you of your ongoing need for Christ?
If you struggle to accept God’s grace, I encourage you to listen to Faith Over Fear, Episode 15: The Courage to Rest in Grace When you Mess Up.
I also invite you to join me and my team for the Wholly Loved mother-daughter conference to learn how to love one another with grace while anchored securely in grace. Find out more HERE.
For those following our chronological Bible reading plan: