“Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world.” – Francis Schaeffer
There was this one Sunday school teacher I had when I was a kid…Let’s call him Bob. Anyway, this guy (Bob) worked at a fundamental Baptist radio station, read the Bible on the daily, brainwashed (ahem, I mean “taught”) his children with law-abiding doctrine, and was heavily involved in the moral judgment within the church. He was a peach.
One Sunday, I’ll never forget him going on a rant in my Sunday school, condemning things he didn’t like in the church. He felt a certain way, so he made a law that matched his feelings. No Scripture needed to back him up. He was certain! The Lord must have given him this new law to pass down to a young generation of vulnerable kids.
I remember many of my favorite Sunday school teachers and youth group leaders with a spark of joy. In all honesty, those were some of the best adults I ever knew as a kid. This guy? The only memory I have of him is of an angry, mean, and boringly religious man. There was no grace, no freedom, only the desire to be right. He made a new law (probably more than we can count), expecting others to follow without question.
The Jesus we find in the Scriptures is very, very different. In Matthew, we find the heart of Christ in a vivid light:
“On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” – Matthew 9:12-13
He wasn’t about calling the self-righteous. Jesus came to give mercy and grace to a broken world, not to burden us with new laws that we could never carry. Legalism isn’t Jesus. It never was Jesus. Jesus came to fulfill the Levitical law on our behalf because we couldn’t fulfill it on our own. To add new laws to the ones we couldn’t even keep has to make God laugh hysterically (and to wonder how stupid we really are).
OK, now that I got that out of the way, let me share the other side of the equation. 21st Century Christianity has become very, very focused on grace, mercy, God’s favor, blessings, and social justice that we’ve forgotten a key part to the whole Jesus-dying-for-us thing:
We’re desperately sin-sick human beings in need of saving.
Mention grace, social justice, and mercy on Twitter and I get a billion retweets. Those are my favorite tweets to tweet, if I’m being 100% honest. Yet, if I talk about our need for grace (because, umm…we’re sinful), I need to shut it. How dare I not say the cliche of “I believe all humans are good at heart”! It may be a load of crap, but how dare me not say it anyway!
Let’s examine what the Scriptures have to say on this issue, as well:
“As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.’” – Romans 3:10-12
Christianity without grace & mercy is not Christianity. Christianity without a sober admission of our depravity isn’t Christianity, either.
Without the grace of Jesus given to us on the cross, we would never be forgiven of our depravity. Yet, without depravity, Jesus died for nothing…He was an idiot to die for creatures who were “good at heart”. We didn’t need saving if that was the case! No. He died to bring new life to a humanity that was dead in its own filth.
Maybe you know all of this and you’re wishing you could have the past few minutes back in your life. Sorry ‘bout that. Or, maybe you’re reading this and you’re realizing that you’re emphasizing one aspect of Christianity without acknowledging the other…That is something we’re all guilty of at times in our spiritual journey.
Wherever you might be, I pray that we seek what is true, what is just, what is focused on mercy, and what is eternal.