It’s not every day that I get “three free sins” in the mail, but today I did.
Unfortunately, I used them up even before I got the envelope opened.
I’m talking about Bible teacher, author and Christian radio personality Steve Brown’s new book, “Three Free Sins,” subtitled, “God’s Not Mad at You.”
The title comes from Steve’s former call-in radio program where he gave callers three free sins — six if they called on a cell phone.
Some people laughed, some asked for more, but many got angry. They’d spit and sputter and tell him he wasn’t a Christian. One lady said, “That’s blasphemous and you’re hurting the cause of Christ!”
The show’s producer had to calm her down, saying, “Lady, chill out. Steve can’t give you free sins. It’s a joke.”
But it gets people’s attention, and for those who don’t throw rocks or rotten tomatoes it gives Steve a chance to share the gospel, the good news that, because Jesus came, those who put their trust in him are counted as perfect in God’s sight — and God’s not angry at them any more.
(Disclaimer: Steve Brown is my friend. He’s my teacher, mentor, cheerleader and the one I call my “uncle-dad.” So, anything I write about him is biased.)
I don’t remember when and where we met, but it was long after his once-brown hair turned white and most of it had fallen out. He’s quite bald.
In his new book he tells about doing the “bald guy’s comb over” years ago. He describes how he tried to hide his baldness by lowering the part in his hair and growing one side of his hair longer so he could arrange the strands over the top of his head.
That takes a lot of commitment and work to maintain, and guys who do that pray continually that the wind won’t blow.
One day an atheist friend called Steve out. “How can you be a preacher who is into honesty and stuff like that and be that dishonest with your hair? Frankly, it’s not only dishonest, it looks silly,” he said. “Don’t you know that everybody knows it and that they laugh behind your back?”
That night Steve went home and cut his hair and felt an incredible freedom. He didn’t have to pretend any more.
“Free at last! Thank God Almighty! Free at last,” he writes.
That’s been Steve’s core message for years — that those the Son of God has set free are free indeed. That’s what his “three free sins” give away is all about.
One of the things Steve has taught me, which he writes in his new book, is this: Your disobedience, your failure, your rebellion, your struggle to be better — in short, your sin — is the greatest gift God has given you if you know it.
Not only that, but your obedience, your faithfulness, your success and your getting better is the most dangerous place you can be when you know it.
Listen to me carefully: Steve is not saying that sinning is good and being good is bad, although he’s often accused of that. He’s saying that the best place to be is knowing that you are far worse than you ever thought you could be and that there’s no other and no better place to run than to Jesus, and that his love and no-strings-attached acceptance of sinners (his grace) is infinitely bigger than anything you could ever hope for or imagine.
The flip side is focusing on your obedience and purity and striving to get better.
Steve says the reason Christians are so bad is that we’re trying so hard to be good.
Lots of Christians try hard. They study the principles, make checklists, do more, pray harder. The problem is their focus is on themselves and their progress, what they’re doing or not doing, and not on what Jesus has already done.
What has he done? He has taken away the penalty of sin — past, present and future. He has cleaned the slate, but has not left it empty. He has also given his followers a slate full of righteousness, a perfect record that cannot be erased.
The irony is, if we know that we have not just “three free sins,” but unlimited sins because they’ve all been covered, that’s what motivates us to follow Christ and eventually become more like him. It’s a byproduct of a love relationship, not something we reach by trying.
Steve says once you know you don’t have to do anything for Jesus, that’s when you actually start wanting to do everything for him.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at email@example.com.