The book, How to be a Christian without being Religious, had me at “Hello.” Some of the biggest rascals I’ve dealt with have been rather churchy. Their external, outside-in approach to personal growth placed false hope in osmosis. Hanging out at Google’s home office won’t make you a creative genius. If you have been going through the motions at church expecting it to gentle your condition, then consider: Rules without relationship will make you religious or rebellious. Let’s look at the options.
Are you “religious?”
It’s rarely a compliment to call someone religious. That’s how most people describe moralism. Moralists pull the levers of do’s and don’ts to avoid any painful confrontation with themselves. Moralism is a system of self-righteousness. Moralism gives up on getting better and settles for looking better than—better than you, the neighbor, or the in-laws. Moralists buy into the illusion that good behavior will put God in their debt. God becomes a means to and end, a cog in the wheel of self-centeredness.
Are you a rebel?
Rebels can be more fun but have a lot in common with the religious. Rather than following an external code book, rebels just follow their heart. Unmoored, unaccountable, they justify most decisions by playing the “authenticity” card. Many pop culture leaders are rather doctrinaire about being true to self, even if it costs your marriage, children, or other commitments. In our age of expressive individualism, rebels are heroes even when their behavior is destructive.
What is the alternative?
If we’re honest, we can see a little of the religious and rebel in ourselves. Human nature wanders from God one of these two directions. The Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn had a stripped down view of human nature during his time in the Gulag. He saw the best and worst that people can become in the darkest of times. Instead of becoming bitter, he benefitted from this window into the soul of humanity. His most famous statement upon his release is this: “The dividing line between good and evil runs through every human heart.” But grace can get into that crack and start something new.
What’s so Amazing about grace?
Marilyn Robinson’s book Jack sketches a man whose exterior looks like most people’s interior. He just doesn’t try to keep up appearances. Like many people, he gives up on any hope of real transformation and settles for the hippocratic oath, do no harm.
But the unsparing love of one woman helps him tap into a completely mysterious resource called grace. The word “grace” means unmerited favor. Seeing him as a soul, unworthy but not worthless, plants a seed of hope. He gains the ability to look at the brutal facts about his past with unwavering faith about a possible future. That’s a good summary of the Bible. It’s not rule book about earning favor with God but a story book about God giving favor away for free.
Despite the promise of grace, sometimes we prefer to manage anger with God quietly on our own. Book of Psalms has many examples of the gracious alternative—permission to name that thing. It’s a severe mercy to discover one’s desire to run universe. In so doing, many people have come to terms with an important fact: there is a God and it is not you.
Grace invites us to relate to God himself and not just our version of Him. Grace enables a new operating system for rebels and religious alike. A new generosity of our own. So where are you with all this? Rules, rebellion, or relationship?