Updated: Jul 13, 2020
This week I began to watch the documentary called “American Gospel: Christ Alone,” on Netflix (watch it here: https://www.netflix.com/title/81279408) It’s very interesting and provocative, definitely worth watching. The first 45 minutes or so are dedicated to answering the question What is the true gospel? The documentary seeks to Biblically define what the true gospel—the good news— of Christ is versus the moralistic, human-centric teaching many churches in America are feeding their people. The last half is a searing expose on the theology and effects of the prosperity gospel and faith movement on American culture, which I am not going to get into here in this blog. Let’s put that on the “tackle that one later” list.
So what then is the true gospel? The contributors to the documentary argue, and I agree with them, that it means that Jesus Christ has done what we ourselves cannot do: He has saved and redeemed us from the penalty of our sins through His precious sacrifice. The law was not, is not, and never will be enough to save us. No amount of moral teaching can change the human heart. We do not need more human-centered pep talks and motivational speakers to help us have a better life. And no amount of rules and laws and religious tricks can transform us at the deepest levels. What we need is Christ alone. The grace He offers through His very personal relating to us in every moment of our lives is the only thing we can truly hope in, both here and now in this life, and the one beyond this stretching into eternity.
As I was mulling and chewing on the excellent points of the documentary, one of my best friends was telling me how she decided to try out the grapefruit diet. Do you remember this one? Have you done it? It’s an extremely strict, low-calorie diet where every meal is very carefully prescribed. There’s very little personal choice involved. “Will I eat a grapefruit or an orange with my lunch today?” is about the extent of your freedom. She was telling me that as hard as it was to eat like this, it was also kind of nice to have everything so carefully prescribed. There was no thinking involved, no planning, just every bland meal spelled out for you for a month. “It’s really nice to do it this way!” she said. I saw her point and agreed that it has its merits, but, I pointed out, “What happens when you’re finished?”
“I don’t know, I guess I have to eat healthy.” Yep. Exactly. With freedom comes temptation, responsibility, and choice. And the “law” of the grapefruit diet does nothing to train you for real life. It has its benefits, to be sure, and the rapid weight loss can feel good. Obeying the law can feel good. It can get us what we want.
At least, it can for a little while.
But then…then…the inevitable comes. It’s day 32 and we wake up and have to decide what we will eat. Or there’s a wedding and we can’t pass up the cake. Or a friend orders us a cheeseburger and it would be rude to say no. Or a million other scenarios… Law will get us to a certain point in life, but then we will face the inevitable, unalterable truth. Which is: the law simply cannot change, transform, or save us in any real, viable, and lasting way. The law cannot choose the right path for us. The law can only point out the path, it cannot keep us on it. And when the desires of our heart are contrary to those rules, the very thing we thought would save us becomes our tripping point. Knowing what is right is not the same as doing what is right. We are going to need another solution altogether.
Enter onto the scene the radical antidote: grace. And let’s just say this at the outset—grace not as a concept or an abstract theological construction to be studied in your hermeneutical class on the epistle to the Galatians, but as provision from a very personal Savior. Grace is the very air we breathe when we are walking with Christ. It is the means and mode and method the Father has given His children to provide everything they need. We don’t worship grace; grace is given to worship Christ. Everything about grace lifts our eyes to Christ. Through grace, we find the ability to do what we were never able to do under the law. We obey from transformed desires and a transformed heart.
My pastor Tim Genin always said, “Grace is whatever you need from God at the moment you are in.” I heard that brilliant definition probably 25 years ago and have never forgotten. Maybe that’s one of the reasons it’s so hard for people to grasp grace: grace is constantly morphing into something new every moment. On one day, it’s the ability to say “no” to the brownie in front of you; on another day, grace says, “Eat that brownie and enjoy every single bite.” Can God be worshipped both in refusing a brownie at one point, and enjoying one at another? I believe the answer screaming from the New Testament is “yes!” It’s a paradox and a mystery, but it is true all the same.
So now back to the grapefruit diet. I’m not opposed to it. Like anything with lots of rules and stipulations and conditions, I can see that for many people, it’s a necessary place to start. Even God had to start this way when He gave Moses the law on Mt. Sinai. For some of us, we are so far out of bounds that we need all this law in certain areas of our life. But I see from the pages of scripture, and from the pages of my own life, that law will eventually have to be handed over to God as an offering, and I will have to take grace in return. I cannot survive on law, like a little child. I have to grow up into grace. Grace that will cause me to rely upon the person of Jesus Christ every moment, lean into Him for what I need, and in the end, push me to do the deep heart work required to be free of bondages and sinful patterns. Only through grace can I truly be free and truly please God!
Make no mistake: human freedom and choice is the most terrifying thing on the planet. Only grace can match its power. Only grace can subdue the insane sinful desires it has created. Only grace—from Christ, in Christ, through Christ. Christ IS the answer; grace is His delivery system of bringing that answer. Christ IS my strength; grace is the power from on high to deliver it at my moment of need. Christ IS my salvation: grace is the bridge I walk on to receive it.
As Paul said so succinctly and eloquently in his letter to his friends in Ephesus so many years ago: “By grace you have been saved, through faith; and this not of yourselves, it is a gift from God.” No one for millennia has improved upon or altered this beautiful, supernatural, and awesome truth. And no one ever will.
Let us humbly accept the gift, not once, but over and over and over again. Grace is always waiting in the nail-pierced hand of our Savior, ready to save and redeem and equip us every moment of every day. Let us leave law behind to grasp hold of grace!
 Ephesians 2:8