I got into a great religious discussion the other day over coffee. I was hanging out with a very intellectually honest agnostic. At one point he even said, “I think Jesus really existed. He was probably just a brilliant con man.” I laughed because I had to respect the intellectual honesty of the guy. That’s one of the only three choices we have when thinking about Jesus.
But it was clear in our conversation that he didn’t quite get what Jesus was all about. Recently, in my own Bible readings, I’ve realized I actually miss this too much of the time. Reading the letters from Paul and the account of the Gospels, I realized I constantly get things wrong about what Jesus was all about.
This is the thing I constantly miss:
Jesus didn’t teach us how to live a good life.
The only times Jesus talked about righteousness and living holy was when he took it to an even greater extreme. You think you can keep God’s law? Wrong. It’s even stricter than you thought. (Matthew 5:22 is the perfect example of this.)
Even Paul…when he’s writing in his letters about the importance of living sinless… is showing how impossible it is to do. If we try to live sinless on our own, we actually reject what Christ did. Romans 11:22 blew me away this morning: “Notice how God is both kind and severe. He is severe toward those who disobeyed, but kind to you if you continue to trust in his kindness. But if you stop trusting, you also will be cut off.”
If you stop trusting in the kindness of God to give you life when you deserve death, you actually reject what Jesus did for you. And what Jesus did: He set you free from the need to meet an impossible standard.
We inherit Jesus’ good life.
Jesus set us free from the bondage of performance. He set us free from shame – even when we royally screwed up 1 minute ago.
To be honest, I’m still wrapping my head around this concept. It feels impossible to me. But it’s what I keep coming back to each time I read the Scripture.
Maybe that’s what they mean by “amazing grace”. It’s only truly amazing if there’s absolutely nothing we could do to earn it.
If Jesus was a con man, he was the kindest con man in the history of the world. Because he set me free from the shame religion has put on me. He made living a good life a gesture of love, not somehow a way to earn acceptance.