One of the accusations thrown at Christians is that we are amongst the most judgemental people in the world. Interestingly enough that accusation comes equally from churched folks as it does from the none churched. Why do we have such a reputation? I don’t think that we aim to judge others – or ourselves, rather I believe that we simply don’t understand grace. For that matter I wonder if we actually believe in grace?
Before I get a few nasty notes let me say this first. I do believe that we need to make character and situational judgment calls. I’m not against judging in the right circumstances and appropriate ways. What I am talking about is ‘judgmentalism’. I believe that there is a huge difference and that I’m not simply splitting hairs. I wrote on this judging thing in another blog which you can check out by following this link: https://thesavagetheologian.com/2017/10/30/to-judge-or-not-to-judge-what-does-jesus-say/
It’s almost like we are embracing a cult of judgmentalism instead of embracing the gospel of grace. Some time ago a Christian friend came to me in distress. He’d had too much to drink while out with some friends. He’d known them for years and would regularly drink in moderation with them, but on this occasion, he’d lapsed in his self-control. As far as he was concerned, he’d just blown several years of witnessing to them.
We have a prayer ministry offered every Sunday at the end of the service, called the connection corner. We were thinking about how we could encourage more people to make use of it, when one lady said, “Well I’d never use it. I’d hate for other people to assume that I had a problem.” Seriously? Unfortunately, it was serious.
Both these incidents reveal an underlying malaise in many of our churches. I’m not sure we really believe in grace. We do, in the sense that we teach it and assent to it in our confessions. But perhaps we don’t, in the sense of really living it. The issue, I suspect, is something of a misstep in our formula of what it means to live for Christ. It’s like we think we’re Jesus’ PR agents. “If I look good, then Jesus looks good.”So, we hate the thought of not looking good. That’s what Christian failure looks like to the average person I think.
Here’s our problem though. If this mindset of being Jesus’ PR agent permeates a whole church family, our life together becomes a matter of performance. What results is a bunch of underperforming, over expecting Christians putting on their best Christian masks, taking deep breaths, and then heading out to church wondering how long they can keep this charade up. It becomes unbearably exhausting. I know – I’ve done this too many times in the past.
Listen, if Christian parents adopt this mindset, parenting becomes about trying to perform well in front of the kids, making sure they only see the highest standard of Christian behaviour from us. This may be a common way of thinking, but it’s disastrous. It leads to hypocrisy. The reality is, we’re not good, and we can only keep up the façade for a little while before the cracks begin to show.
We all know that our little mini-me’s see it right away anyways. They know what we’re really like and can immediately tell when we try to put a Christian sheen over it. And when we really make a mess of things, the last place we want go to is a church gathering. We’re supposed to look Christian there, so when we know we can’t remotely pretend things are together, it’s easier simply not to go. Best to keep the mess away from the other well put together folks – except that they’re not.
All this is a sign that while we may be professing grace, we’re not actually inhabiting a culture of grace. We’re not Jesus’s PR agents, and he is not our client. We are broken men and women, and he is our Saviour. It’s not the case that I need to look good so Jesus can look good; instead I need to be honest about my colossal spiritual need so he can look all-sufficient so that Jesus can look awesome.
The fact of the matter is that I don’t need to look good so Jesus can look good. In fact, the true reality that I need to wrap my head around is that I need to get really honest about my messiness of life and my colossal spiritual need in order that Jesus can look all-sufficient to everyone else around me.
Bottom line is that I don’t increase so he can increase; Instead I need to speak and live like John the Baptist who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” – John 3:30. Decreasing means being honest about my flaws, not embarrassed about them. But imagine the difference this would make to our witness. Rather than thinking I have to constantly be looking good and shiny, less sinful than every non-Christian I know, I am instead liberated to be myself, warts and all, so that I can show that my confidence is not in me.
So instead of my friend beating up on himself or for that matter me beating up on my friend who had too much to drink, he now has an amazing opportunity to be an authentic witness to Christ – not by pretending we Christians don’t have any sin, but by demonstrating what we dowith it.
If it’s about performance, then my friend really has blown it and will be too embarrassed to see his friends. But if it’s about repentance, and about forgiveness, then he gets to model that repentance and to show brokenness about sin and sheer relief in a Saviour. That’s the gospel after all.
Envision the difference this would make to our church life. Rather than having a stigma about being anything less than spiritually holy, we can come together as a group of people who are open and free about our colossal spiritual needs. The assumption stops being “We have to be good if we’re coming here,”and instead becomes “You have to be a real mess to show up here – thank goodness I’m not the only one.” Which do you think sounds more inviting? Which is going to foster deeper confession and public repentance?
Imagine a church community that repents often, forgives freely and extends grace continually as a matter of habitual living. Instead of feeling embarrassed about going forward to receive prayer, that would invite us to experience the joy and relief of knowing we’re all ultimately in the same boat. Grace, then, becomes not just a formal doctrine but a felt reality.
We should foster our discipleship machine’s in such a way that the DNA’s of our church gatherings become places where no one is too low, too far gone, too needy – too anything – to worry about not fitting in. Our testimony should not be “I was a mess, then Jesus showed up, and now I’ve got everything together,” but “I was a mess – and I still am – but I’m a mess who belongs to Jesus, a mess he is committed to sorting out. He came to me, has stuck with me, and continues to be my all in all.”
I resonate with John Newton who said, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world – but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”
So Christian friend, let’s give up this cult of judgmentalism and let us live out the gospel of grace. We’ll all be glad we did.