“Good News For All The People”—Daily Reflections for Advent 2016
THE THIRTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT, December 9th
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
I once fell prey to “bait and switch”. You know the game. It’s where a merchant advertises a product at a lower price to get you in the door. But once you’re in the door you discover that the product is no longer available, or it’s not as good as advertised. Having taken the bait, merchants then try to pressure you to switch to a higher-priced product.
I also encountered bait and switch of another sort when I was a young Christian. It was a spiritual bait and switch. Churches advertised grace and the good news of God’s unconditional love and acceptance. They got me in the door singing “Just As I Am”. I took the bait. That’s when they pressured me into legalism, into thinking I had to keep the rules, to fit into their mold.
Looking back I am amazed how subtly, how beguilingly the good news is reduced to rules and formula. Many Christians do get it, they do understand that God’s grace is for unbelievers, but once we buy into grace they want to switch us to law. “You can’t make it too easy”, they say. “There’s no free lunch.” “You want God’s love, you earn it.” It’s as if we need God’s grace to get us started, and then we’re on probation for the rest of our lives. The late Brennan Manning wrote about our need to settle into God’s grace and unconditional love:
We have twisted the gospel of grace into religious bondage and distorted the image of God into an eternal, small-minded bookkeeper… Love is stifled, freedom shackled, and self-rightousness fastened. The institutional church has become a wounder of the healers rather than the healer of the wounded. Put bluntly, the American church today accepts grace in theory but denies it in practice… Too many Christians are living in the house of fear and not the house of love. (Ragamuffin Gospel)
The apostle Paul was shocked at how quickly Christians in Galatia fell prey to the bait and switch of legalistic teachers:
Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God (Galatians 3:2-3, The Message).
We begin the Christian journey by faith, by believing the good news that in Christ God has reconciled us to Him, not counting our sins against us. Having accepted our acceptance we go on to spiritual maturity by continual reliance on God’s good news. We will never outgrow God’s good news of great joy for all the people. The good news isn’t just for beginners!
In today’s Scripture the apostle Paul reminds Roman Christians of the basics: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” For God to say there is no condemnation, is not to say there are no failures, no sin, no falling short. But there is no condemnation! Others might condemn us, and we might even condemn ourselves, but not God. God did not send His Son to take away sin, to then condemn us for our sin.
Garrison Keillor of “Prairie Home Companion” jokes that guilt is a good thing for Presbyterians, because without guilt they would never get anyone to serve on a committee. Whether Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic, non-denominational, or whatever – guilt is often a default for getting people to toe the line. But not for God! There is no bait and switch with Him!
- Have you ever seen a spiritual “bait and switch”? If so, explain.
- Why do you think that churches sometimes resort to guilt in trying to motivate people?