Emily T. Wierenga has written a trending piece that many Christians will relate to: growing up in a home and church in which being a Christian meant a lot of rules, and struggling with the consequences of always trying to perfectly follow the rules handed down to her.
In her piece titled, To the Evangelical Church: From a Recovering Progressive, she writes, “All I could find were a bunch of hard-fast rules, leotards and sitting up straight and don’t stare, don’t interrupt, don’t talk with your mouth full, don’t swear, don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t have sex before marriage, don’t let anyone know that you might have doubts about anything. Because saved people don’t sin. But where are the ‘do’s’? Where are the YES’s? Where are the hurrahs and the hosannahs, where is the wine of Canaan? Where are the resurrected?”
Can you relate? Has much of your faith life been about keeping rules, saying no to things, trying to make up for sin and cover up guilt and shame? This is often a natural path Christians can go down when they don’t understand the freedom that Christ’s atoning death brings. It can lead us to try to make up for our sins and try to earn favor with God, which the Bible says we just can’t do.
But, there’s another danger than Christians can fall into, and that’s thinking that we don’t have to strive for goodness, we just have to “love Jesus.” This can be equally crippling to our faith.
This pendulum swing eventually happened to Wierenga. After growing up evangelical, she gravitated to a more progressive faith. “I didn’t have to be good. I didn’t have to be nice. I just had to love Jesus. And for a while, this emergent, progressive, neo-Christian theology sustained a relationship with Jesus, with no strings attached.”
Eventually, though, Wierenga realized this too was a broken path, one that left her feeling like God owed her something. Now her theology is a little clearer:
“It's not bad to have rules. In fact, it's good, and sin is something we battle from day one, and we need saving from it. We need to overcome it and live in the fullness of the resurrection. We need sanctification, justification, and one day—glorification.
But before all of that, we need grace. Grace is not the end but the beginning. From day one, it's about a loving God pursuing us, and the theology follows. Because once you realize how much your Father loves you, all you want is for him to teach you how to live.
We don't learn how to live in order to feel the love of God. We feel the love of God and then desire to know how to live.”
How can we safeguard from these extremes of legalism and liberalism in our faith? It starts by understanding the full story of God’s salvation and His plan of restoration for the world. Christine Hoover writes about just this in her post Life after Salvation: Why the Second Half of the Story Matters. She notes, “The second half of the story is that God has known all along that we’d fail Him, and that we’d continue to fail Him after His sacrifice for us. It’s not that our sin doesn’t grieve Him, it’s just that He made a way to deal with it on our behalf, precisely so we could get on with the business of enjoying Him and He us…It’s important to note that the first half of the story is largely about us and our sin, while the second half is about God and His actions on our behalf. Our thoughts and our focus, then, are a good litmus test to what part of the story we’re living in.”
Where do you see yourself in this? Are you more prone to legalism or do you sometimes need reminding that God’s grace doesn’t give us liberty to sit in our sin? What has your church experience been like? Talk with us in the comments section!