Monday, October 7, 2013

The Gospel Is Not for Good Christian Girls

God Loves You Because He Does

Rachel Byrd Brownlee

It is for the younger and older prodigals
           who’ve come to their senses
    again, and again, and again, and again.
                                     Brennan Manning

One of the tensions in the Reformed world today is between those who so emphasize grace as to seem sometimes almost to encourage disobedience, “to continue in sin that grace may abound”, and those who so emphasize obedience as to seem sometimes to deny that acceptance with God is by grace alone. If the “grace boys” so emphasize grace as to appear to deny that saving faith is never alone, the “obedience boys” so emphasize works that flow from faith as to appear deny that justification is by faith alone.

For my part, while I cannot endorse without qualification the views of such as Tullian Tchividijian or Steve Brown, I have found myself tugged more toward a stronger emphasis on grace. I think a performance oriented Christianity is as much a danger as to us as is licentious Christianity, that nominian-Christianity is a much a problem as antinomian-Christianity.

Those who emphasize obedience as the result of regenerating grace and works as the fruit of faith can come to terms very well with past sin, with pre-conversion sin, however heinous, because is it covered by the blood and righteousness of Christ. But they have trouble dealing with present sin in believers, because of their conviction that the grace that saves and the faith that justifies transform the life in radical, substantial, and observable ways.

But what of the Christian (and some may not be willing to grant the title) who experiences struggle, sin, and defeat? Whose sins as a Christian are not the little and ordinary ones but big and remarkable ones? Who need a shower not once in awhile but several times a day?  And who, as much as they know how dirty they are and how good a shower will feel, are yet like the little boy who runs and hides when he is told to take his shower? The Christians who say, “I know I should be good and holy and obedient, but I know I am not”?

Rachel and Family
I came across something this morning that I think speaks to believers such as I. It was posted on Facebook yesterday by Rachel Byrd Brownlee of Louisville, MS. When I first knew Rachel she was a very little girl, one of what would be six children of Roland and DeeDee Byrd. I was her pastor from 1984 till 1988. When I next knew Rachel she was the wife of John Brownlee and a mother herself (now of four children). She and John have started a couple of businesses, and, as she wrote this, she was training for their next venture, a Little Caesar’s franchise they will operate in Louisville.

I have never known Rachel to be anything other than sweet and good, whether as a child or an adult. But I am going to take her at her word for this reason: I need the message she writes from the vantage of a sinner, of a person who understands what Brennan Manning said: “God loves you unconditionally, as you are, not as you should be, because nobody is as he should be.”

What follows is published with Rachel's permission. (I hope her husband and her Mama and Daddy and all them are proud as they should be!)
So, today marks four full weeks of my being away from my husband, my kiddos, my family, my friends, my church, and my little Louisville community. Even though the people I've met up here in Michigan at Little Caesar's training have been truly fabulous, it's hard to describe the loneliness I feel being separated from my loved ones in my dear Mississippi 
Since I'm feeling kind of small and heartsick, will you bare with me as I post some thoughts?
 Today is Sunday, my most favorite day because I get to go to church where I sit and, among other things, listen to some preacher (an ordinary man) tell me God loves me. This news is not easy for me to take.
 First of all, you don't know me like God does. I'm not a sweetheart or a "good person." I'm a mess. I'm bitter and angry. I'm self righteous and rude. I'm self centered and confused. And this is the highly abbreviated list--there's a limit to what even I will say on Facebook, thank goodness.
And I don't know about you, but I like to earn things. Money, respect, friendship, love. But with God everything I have and everything I am comes up short, way short. He sees me as I really am, and it's not pretty.
 So here I am holding nothing good, being nothing good. Why does God love me? Because, as much as I like to make everything be about me, this isn't. It's about Him. It's about what all the best stories are about, Prince Charming. He sees me here, pitiful and in need and He comes to my rescue. He scoops me up and He says, "I know. I know you can't make it. I know your energy is gone and your goodness is nonexistent. I have you. I will do it all for you. I will be everything you can't be."
And He's so beautiful. He's absolutely radiant in His holiness and purity. He didn't come for me because I'm a good girl and I earned it. He came because I'm broken and I know it, and he wanted to love me and give me hope for every day for ever. I don't know why He loves me. And I spend most of every day running away from Him. But I know, deep in my dirty little heart, that His love is true love, inescapable. And on Sundays, my favorite day, I can't run. I just have to sit there and hear it: "He loves you. Why? Because He does." 
If you ever feel the need to have someone love you the way He loves me, then in the words of a hymnwriter, "all the fitness He requireth is to feel your need of Him." 
And if you are angry at the church for being full of hypocrites, I understand. That is why we are there--because we need Him most of all.
Thank you Rachel for ministering to your old pastor.

This book is by the one who thought he'd
be farther along by now, but he’s not.
  It is by the inmate who promised the parole
board he’d be good, but he wasn’t.
 It is by the dim-eyed who showed the path
to others but kept losing his way…
Brennnan Manning


Lee said...

John Owen, writing about the Christian's communion with his Father always being communion in love anticipates objections: "But you will say, 'This comes nigh to that blasphemy, that God loves his people in their sinning as well as in their strictest obedience; and if so, who will care to serve him, more, or to walk with him unto well-pleasing?"

Owen answers both objections:" What then? loves he his people in their sinning?" Yes; his people, -not their sinning"

"But will this not encourage to sin?"

Again Owen give the gospel answer "He never tasted of the love of God that can seriously make this objection".

John Owen, On Communion With God, Works, Vol 2. pp30-31.

Curt Day said...

I see the conflict between a mixture of faith and work on one hand and a consumer friendly gospel where choosing to believe is like clicking an afterlife insurance policy in order to put it in one's online cart on the other. For the latter, potential believers are told to believe in Jesus for selfish reasons only, so that one has their ticket to heaven. While the former is preaching without the full gospel or the gospel only, the latter is preaching the Gospel without repentance.

The correction to both is rather nuanced in order to address the faults on both sides and this correction needs to be preached widely.