2012-02-19 - Law vs Grace
For while the Law was given through Moses, grace (unearned, undeserved favor and spiritual blessing) and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:17
Even when we were dead (slain) by [our own] shortcomings and trespasses, He made us alive together in fellowship and in union with Christ; [He gave us the very life of Christ Himself, the same new life with which He quickened Him, for] it is by grace (His favor and mercy which you did not deserve) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ's salvation). Ephesians 2:5
One of the things I've really struggled with at times is the concept of God's grace versus law. I spent some time at a Bible College and came face to face with this issue there. I truly wanted to be holy and live the way God wanted me to, but it seemed impossible to be "good enough." There were a lot of rules about what we were and were not supposed to do. I was trying to abide by God's rules, plus the one's they asked us to keep, and it was just getting to be too much.
I felt as though I was constantly failing in one area or another. I was eating, sleeping, and getting graded on God - but my personal relationship with Him was suffering. This topic was addressed in chapel services sometimes. We were told that if we found that we were having a hard time, we could talk with the leaders there, and they would "help" us. I was afraid being that honest might lead to some sort of "punishment" or negative consequence.
We were admonished to pray if we were struggling, and I did plenty of that. It was my constant prayer that God would show me what He wanted from me, separate from what anyone else said holiness was, and that He would enable me to be real as a person and as a Christian. I wanted an authentic spirituality that would allow me to be myself and that was not based on shame and judgment. I wanted more of God's mercy, and the hope and joy that were supposed to be part of that relationship.
I felt stifled - and as though I were drowning in Christian jargon and churchy stuff, and it all felt very hollow. I began to feel very cynical and hopeless about spiritual things. I knew that this was not something the school was trying to do to anyone, that the way I felt would never be their intention. In many ways, the Bible College I went to was far less legalistic than a lot of Bible college environments. I knew, and I knew that. I think it just wasn't a good fit for me, in that way, at that time.
After I graduated, I stopped going to church, and no longer listened to Christian music or read Christian books, including the Bible. I rarely prayed. My belief in God and in the basics of the Christian faith hadn't changed. I simply had no interest in organized religion or daily spiritual practices. I felt spiritually burned out, cynical, and bitter.
About a year after I'd begun graduate school, A Christian friend forwarded me a devotional he received every day via e-mail. After several days of hesitation, I signed up for it, too. I began reading this devotional on a daily basis. It only took a minute or so, and I often found the Bible passages or anecdotes interesting, helpful, or encouraging. I discovered that I could receive daily Bible readings via email the same way. These were available in a contemporary translation, and the fact that they simply "showed up" in my in box made the effort on my part minimal. My prayer life slowly became stronger, too. I didn't use lists or journals or block off a specific time each day to pray. I simply talked to God when I felt a need or wish to do so. I also began to pray when I went for walks, as being outdoors has always made me feel close to God.
I'd found a roommate who was also a Christian. She started attending a small church a few blocks away from where we lived. I often felt guilty for not going with her, but still wasn't sure I was ready to step back into an overtly religious environment, even for one hour a week. I dragged my feet for awhile, but eventually decided to go. It was a positive experience, and I felt more comfortable than I thought I would.
I can attend church now and feel spiritually nourished by the hymns, readings, sermons, and fellowship. I'll probably always struggle with anything that seems too "religious" and may avoid certain environments and people for that reason. I think I will continue to experience cynicism in regards to anything that comes across to me as "Christian cliché." It feels good to be reading the Bible and praying again, though. I am enjoying a close relationship with God again, too. I am different in many ways because of my Bible College experience, but different can be good. On my FaceBook page, I have my religion listed as "grace-based Christian" and that description suits me.
All scriptures, in this devotional, from The Amplified Bible