I was at a friend’s house last night and just snapping wood and tossing it into the fire and when I snapped one piece another chunk flew off and hit me in the left eye. I’m opening my eyes from time to time to make sure I didn’t misspell any crucial words, but this is mostly eyes closed ’cause it hurts less. So forgive any typos and misspellings. On to the content…
I was listening to the radio the other day… I guess it was yesterday… and I heard a pastor say that all our good works can’t get us to heaven, we have to pray and accept Jesus into our hearts. This is true. But see, where I come from, I had managed to make praying the sinner’s prayer a work that I could do to be saved. Something I could do to gain favor with God. I would pray it hard, pray it sincerely, and make sure I used all the right words. And this went on for YEARS! Finally one day I decided to call it quis on sinners prayers and just trust that God would tdo it. That wasn’t when my crazy relationship with this Awesome God began, but it was part.
See, at first all I’d heard was, if you pray this prayer, you’ll become a Christian. And I prayed it and I trusted God to do the saving. Or at least that the prayer was good enough. Then along came more people who said if yo didn’t pray it sincerely or if you didn’t pray it meaning it, you weren’t saved. And so this thing that was meant to be a cry out for God for help became just another good work. So then I was at a place where I could pile up all my good works and add to them this sinner’s prayer and hope that all that together (or just the prayer alone) would be enough for God to save me. Sorry if I’m rambling, but I’m trying to get the point across: that was, for me, a form of religion, where if I prayed right God would love me and save me.
And that was totally arrogance on my part but I had no idea.
I didn’t know it then, but I kinda felt like Penny in this scene from the movie “The Rescuers.” It’s a Disney animated film… check out the parallels:
MEDUSA: “Penny, do you know what would make Aunty Medusa very happy?
PENNY: Yes! You want me to find that diamond.
MEDUSA: “Yes, yes!
PENNY: But I tried hard as I could!
MEDUSA: (peeling off a fake eyelash) Yes, of course, you have, but we must TRY harder, mustn’t we?
PENNY: Then can I go back to the orphanage, so I ca get ‘dopted?”
MEDUSA: What makes you think ANYONE would want a homely child like you?
Now, in a lot of those churches like I used to go to, the parable of the pearl of great price that Jesus tells somewhere (I don’t have a way to look it up without leaving my eyes open for an extended period of time, so forgive me…) that parable was always picturing Jesus as the pearl of great price, and us as the merchant searching for fine pearls; or us as the man who finds a treasure in a field, and Jesus as the treasure… or thee kingdom as the treasure… but Jesus said the kingdom WAS like a treasure – or like a merchant seeking fine pearls. And in revelation, the church is referred to as a kingdom of priests. One time in YAs, my friend Scotty leaned over to me. He’d been meditating on this passage, and he said, “I think the treasure’s US!” That Jesus is the merchant seeking fine pearls, and that we’re of great value to Him. In Exodus, I believe it is, we are referred to as Gods treasure. And yes, God DID sell everything that He had – Jesus – His most prized and valued – for US!
But instead, I was taught that Jesus is that valuable, that pearl of great price, and we MUST sell all that we have to get Him. That we must do something to get to God. That’s what’s taught in most churches – or at least quite a few – that we must DO something – in many cases, pray a sinner’s prayer – to get to God. Many people protest that it can’t be that easy.
I protest that it’s not even that hard.
Paul stresses over and over again that it’s “not by works of righteousness that we have done,” but by “hearing the word with faith.” Again, no reference. Eye excuse.
And why faith? Because the gospel seems, quite frankly, too good to be true. Especially when you think about how wicked you'[ve been, or when I think of how wicked I’ve been. That God would send a Savior – and not just a Savior, His only Son – to die and take the punishment, bear the blame, the wrath, the shame…. that I deserve… it does seem entirely too good to believe. That’s faith? Will I say another sinner’s prayer, or will I trust that God heard each one I’ve asked, saying “be merciful to me, a sinner!”.
Back to the script. “I tried hard as I could.” I prayed as hard as I could. I meant each prayer with everything I had. I was SO sincere, but I prayed again, just to make SURE I was sincere. I was the victim of many well-meaning pastors and teachers who told me to “go read the Bible,” or “spend more time in prayer.” When I discovered grace, it transformed me. When I learned of God’s great love for me, it changed everything. No sinner’s prayer could ever do that. The prayer is just a response in faith. A response OF faith. That, though this message does seem too good to be true, it IS true – and God, if you’re real and can hear me, and this grace stuff is for real…. can You save even me?
And He says yes.
“But we must try harder, mustn’t we?” Even after I believed this grace stuff, I met people who told me I must try harder, believe harder, surrender more stuff to God. That I must do, do, do, do, do, do, do more and more things for God (why? would He be unhappy or displeased with me?). I heard Mark Driscoll say once that all religious people say is do, do, do, but Jesus said IT IS DONE!!! Who dares believe, in the words of Robert Capon, that “God saves us single-handed.” ?
Now this one here’s the clicker: “Then can you please take me back to the orph’nage, so I can get ‘dopted?” Penny wants to be adopted. She wants a mom and dad.
Medusa responds, “ADOPted? What makes you think ANyone… would want a homely little girl like you?” Penny walks off in tears.
But see, that’s what a lot of well-meaning religious people say: You’re a wretch, you’re a sinner, you’re wicked… God doesn’t WANT to adopt you, but perhaps, if you make Him feel badly enough for you, He will. Perhaps if you say that you’re a wretch enough times, maybe, (and I do say maybe), He will have compassion on you and save you.
In the words of that great theologian Willy Wonka, “WRONG, SIR! WRONG!!!”
Ephesians 1 makes it abundantly clear that God decided IN ADVANCE to adopt us into His family – that this happened long before the foundation, or founding, or creation of the world. That we are CHOSEN. That not only WOULD God want to adopt us, He DOES want to. And for those of us with the nerve to believe this heretical-sounding gospel truth, HE HAS ALREADY!!!
And like our story, Penny’s story ends with her in the arms of her adoptive father, with the TV announcer saying that Penny has finally been adopted. And Penny concludes, “It’s just like Rufus said! Faith makes things turn out right!”
Well spoken, Penny.