“How many times do I have to raise my hand before I’m sure I’m a Christian?” So many alter calls, so many times told that maybe something happened that week to disrupt grace or hope or salvation. At conventions, camps, and revival services, there was an equal number of edicts about impending hell or being left behind so, “you better make sure you are sure!!” After all, you are a wretch in need of saving.
Fear depends on brokenness
Fear is a powerful motivator… for a short time. It can spark an immediate reaction, it can challenge, and it can move people into compliance. So it is understandable that it would be the language of dynamic speakers and passionate evangelists. But it is ultimately anchored to a misconception about the nature of grace and salvation because fear relies on the idea of humanity’s intrinsic brokenness.
At its most basic, fear says our brokenness has us already on fire on our way to hell and that grace is like water dousing the flames. Of course, as soon as we return to real life we are faced with “trials and temptations” and are quickly burning up again and so the cycle goes until either we give up or find a pattern of life that is deemed holy enough to not seem worthy of hell.
But, if you read last week’s blog or listened to the episode, you’ve already heard that our sin and our need for Jesus is not a matter of brokenness but of distance. Our proximity to the God whose image we bear and our distance from who He designed and called us to be (Genesis 1:28 & 2:15).
And so fear has little place in the very real invitation to close the distance. This theme in the biblical story, as seen neatly in Hebrews chapter 10, is simply to “draw near.” It is an invitation to close the proximity gap. An invitation to come into a relationship or strengthen it or to simply enjoy the security of long commitment and shared experience.
Invitations like these leave little room for fear. Think of it as the difference between a beautifully printed formal invitation sent by mail on heavy card stock and a text about a fat-cleanse boot camp at your gym. Unless you are someone who dislikes all large gatherings, the first brings excitement and planning and joy. The second brings trepidation, resignation (if you really do need to lose some weight), and then either apathy or active attempts to get out of going.
The invitation assumes a measure of value and care for the recipient. You are getting a beautiful invitation to draw near because you are valued and loved. The other one is a condemnation of your current status possibly wrapped in care for your long-term well-being but the message is still that you are unacceptable as you are. The invitation says you are already acceptable even if you still have work to do to be party-ready.
Purpose with difficulty
The shift in perspective may seem small and, if you aren’t a party person, then the example may feel a bit trite (it is a simplification for sure!) However, the point is that God created mankind and blessed them to have a good purpose on the earth. Does that seem like brokenness? Without a doubt, the fall recounted just a chapter later leads to deep imperfection – kicked out of the garden, instead of a thriving orchard – a rough grain field, difficulty with childbearing – but at the core what picture does the fall paint? Consider the very first outcome; God searching for Adam and Eve in the garden. After an exchange, they are sent out of the garden – out of God’s direct presence. A change in distance, not value.
The outcome for them was increased difficulty but it was not lost purpose. They were blessed to rule and to tend the garden and to generate a large family (“fill the earth” ) and they still did those things outside of the garden. Their purpose and worth and their status as images of God did not cease to be – as brokenness implies. However, through their rebellion, they created distance from God. And distance from the One whose image we bear means that we function far outside of the ideal He created. We are often terrible at being human – at ruling and subduing and flourishing, to use the language from Genesis. And so what is needed is not a ready fix for a horribly broken creation but a restoration of the relationship for which we originated.
You are not broken but you may be distant. The invitation is for you to close the distance, something you could not do on your own – to labor the earlier example, you don’t get into the party without an RSVP. But, have no fear, the invitation is open to you as you are right now.