Those who write columns are bound to get people who disagree with them — like “Ole Fred.”
Fred has written me a few times, most recently to take offense at a column about Christians who cuss and how I didn’t want to be one anymore. For the life of me I can’t figure out how he could find fault with that, but he did.
One thing he wrote in his e-mail caught my attention and I’ve thought -- and prayed -- about it all week, in case he’s right and I have this whole grace thing wrong.
Fred wrote, “Christianity is a very strict and demanding faith.”
He said Christians can’t use bad language, implying that it’s impossible. Obviously he’s never smacked his thumb with a hammer or been cut off in traffic. Even if the words don’t come out of your mouth, the sentiment is in your heart.
As for Christianity being strict and demanding, I asked God if that’s true. I believe he answered through a sermon, a song, several scripture passages and an e-mailed quote.
In the sermon, the preacher used the parable of the two men who went up to the temple to pray. The strict religious man “prayed to himself,” loudly extolling his virtues. The other man, a reviled tax collector, merely begged God, “Be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Jesus told this story to those who were “confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else” and said that only the second man went home right with God” (Luke 18:9-14).
“Sin is serious business and God demands holiness and righteousness,” the preacher said, “but you don’t get that on your own by working hard for it. You don’t get that by saying, ‘I’m a warrior for Christ.’ You get it by admitting you can’t do it and you need Jesus.”
The preacher was talking about Christians, not those outside the faith.
He said, “Too often religious Christians huddle together and build a wall and say nice things to each other and use religious words and praise the Lord and sing hymns and nobody ever gets over the wall.” If they do, it’s only to tell people how good they are, how hard they work for God.
“But you can’t maintain that,” the preacher said. “Those who know you will know you’re lying, and if they don’t know you, they’ll think Christianity is only for good people and, therefore, not for them.”
The apostle Paul, whom even Ole Fred can’t deny was a Christian, readily called himself the chief of sinners and constantly wrestled with wanting to do the right and holy thing but constantly came up short, needing mercy and grace. He knew and taught that Christians who try to be justified by their own efforts alienate themselves from Christ.
He wrote, “Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” (Galatians 3:5)
The only right answer is “because I believe the gospel.” Paul said clearly that it’s by grace that a person is made right with God, through faith and not by works, because that makes a person proud and boastful (Ephesians 2:8-9).
That’s the opposite of the words of the song “Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder” written by John (“Amazing Grace”) Newton, which says: “Let us wonder; grace and justice join and point to mercy’s store; when through grace in Christ our trust is, justice smiles and asks no more. He who washed us with his blood has secured our way to God.”
In contrast, the e-mail quote from gracedagain.com said: “Christians who are no longer sure that God loves and accepts them in Jesus, apart from their present spiritual achievements, are subconsciously radically insecure” and that their insecurity “shows itself in pride, a fierce defensive assertion of their own righteousness and a defensive criticism of others.”
Because of Jesus, we don’t have to be afraid of losing God’s approval. If Jesus says we’re in, we’re in. As a result, living a holy life as best we can becomes a joy, not a burden. It’s a narrow way, but not strict and demanding. Grace covers a multitude of sins; forgiveness flows freely.
As for me, I’d rather be one who writes columns about my shortcomings, crying out to God to be merciful to me, a sinner, because Jesus said that’s the way to be right with God.
Thanks Ole Fred for helping me to remember that anew.
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 e-mail at email@example.com.