From Chapter 14, Understanding Internal Conflict:
If we try to live up to who we are in Christ by our own power, we become worse off emotionally than the person who still lives in the flesh. We have raised the bar, but without any power to reach it. Studies have shown that the least happy people in our culture are conservative, evangelical Christians, because they hold to a high standard to which they believe God has called them, but they are stuck without the power to reach that standard.
If the flesh cannot talk us out of God’s perspective, then the flesh will try whatever it can to keep us from God’s power. Galatians 5:22-23a says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Not the fruit of the law. Not the fruit of self-effort. Not the fruit of trying harder. Not the fruit of discipline. These are the fruit of the Spirit—the things that only the Spirit can produce in us.
The internal conflict is real; it’s crazy to deny it, and useless to try to resolve it by human effort. God’s perspective says, “Here’s where you are, and there’s where you’re going. Don’t fret about the gap; just check back occasionally to see how far you’ve gone.” Again, the gap is why we need grace.
While we’re waiting for the release date, I thought I’d share another little freebie, my introduction to the book. Enjoy!
Chapter 0: The Beginning
In the summer of 1991, Ken Blue delivered a series of twelve sermons on Galatians that is the essence of this book. My wife and I had recently started attending Ken’s church, having just moved to San Diego from Orange County that March. Our move was well-timed; Ken’s teaching on grace was exactly what we needed to hear.
I had been raised Lutheran and was well-versed in grace; however, in my twenties I began to encounter Christians who had been raised to see Christianity in terms of do’s and don’ts and who insisted there were things I had to do in order to become a “better” Christian. I saw the agony that people went through trying to follow rules, and the feelings of guilt they suffered because they were never quite good enough. Some tired of the agony and simply gave up.
A few years after my wife and I moved to Southern California, we were exposed to several Bible teachers who had some good things to say but whose teaching on holiness and works as a requirement for God’s blessings contradicted my understanding of grace. This constant tension between grace and legalism bothered me, and I decided it was time to study the issue until I finally understood it. It was at this point that we first heard Ken Blue speak.
Ken’s no-nonsense teaching of Paul’s no-nonsense letter to the Galatians clarified the issues of the Law and the Gospel for me like nothing else had. Over the years I listened to the series several times, discovering that I never tired of hearing Paul’s radical Good News preached.
I still love to hear the real Gospel preached. I believe that we need to hear and be reminded of the Good News. We are being bombarded from all sides with bad news. At the office we hear that we must “do more and try harder.” The people on TV and radio tell us that we’re not happy enough or sexy enough without whatever it is they are selling. Nowhere else do we hear that we are completely accepted and valued regardless of our performance. The Gospel is more than just “how to get saved,” preparing us for life after death. It really is the good news for our lives before death. This Good News—the truth—will indeed set us free, here and now.
Very early on I began to conceive of Ken’s sermon series as a book, initially as a mildly edited version of the sermons, and began to work off transcriptions of the sermon tapes. However, I kept thinking of things that I’d like to say, and finally I decided to write a completely new book around the sermon material, adding my own thoughts and ideas along the way. The result could perhaps be thought of as “Variations on a theme by Ken Blue.” Thankfully, Ken’s response to an early draft of the book was, “It is better than the original.”
Collaborative works, as this became, can sometimes be rather clumsy trying to balance the thoughts of two authors. As I have followed the general outline of Ken’s Freedom in Christ sermon series, I elected to write consistently in Ken’s voice (aside from this prologue and a short epilogue). I have, therefore, used “I” rather than the shifting to the occasional “we,” taking the risk of sometimes putting words in Ken’s mouth. I have, however, attempted to identify who is speaking where it seemed necessary to do so.
While Ken and I come from different backgrounds and will disagree on various points of theology, we agree on the centrality of the Gospel to the whole of the Christian life and we are both passionate about this message. It causes me pain—and admittedly a fair amount of anger—to see people buried under religious burdens that they were never meant to carry. Some of the perpetrators of legalism are simply ignorant and possibly suffering under religious burdens themselves. Others are not so innocent, using religion as a means to control others. I have sympathy for the former, but not for the latter. Those who know me well can tell you that I have no tolerance whatsoever for legalism; whatever the motivation, the consequences are the same: abused, confused and damaged people, and a loss of the Gospel.
While this book contains a bit of theology, The Gospel Uncensored is primarily the retelling of stories. The main story is of a missionary writing to a young church that had been led astray and needed to better understand the Gospel. Within that story there are other stories: We read about a leader who failed but was set back on course, about the giving of laws to a very rebellious people, and about a promise God made to a man and his children. As we look at these stories, we discover that they are also stories about us, because things haven’t changed that much—at any point we can find ourselves in stories just like these. Paul’s words, we discover, are as pertinent today as they were in the first century.
It is my sincere hope that this book will bring freedom and peace to those who have struggled with legalism, that faith will be restored where it has been lost and new faith found where none existed.
Above all, be free. For it is truly for freedom that Christ has set us free.
Copyright © 2010 Alden Swan, All rights reserved worldwide.
I promised you a small excerpt from the book, and here it is. This is from the middle of Chapter 2, so it’s not complete, but it gives you a taste of the book. This section, I believe, will also be appearing on the publisher’s site when the book is available.
Live Free—or Die
The Gospel is all or nothing—you either trust God to love you because of Jesus’ performance and put absolutely no confidence in your own works, or you are dead; the Gospel is null and void for you. But, if you’re struggling, if you’re sinning, but you are still depending on God, then you are on the right (the narrow) road.
This is how it works: You know that you are a wretched sinner and you know that you have fallen short. You say, “God, help me. If you don’t correct me, I’m always going to be this way, but I am depending on you.” That is the way you stay connected to the vine (John 15:5). But when you turn from Him, and say “Okay, God, thanks for forgiving me; now I think I can really do this,” you have just turned away from God, and rejected the Gospel. You’ve cut yourself off from the vine.
Since most of us are more acquainted with electricity than with vines, let me update the analogy: What happens when you take an appliance plug out of a socket? The current breaks. Life stops. The appliance has been cut off from the source. This is what adding anything to Jesus does to you. You can’t “plug in” to more than one socket—if you want to plug into good works as your source of life, you have to unplug from Jesus. Take a look at any electrical appliance, and you will notice that it is designed for only one specific kind of outlet. If it is not plugged in, it’s not going to function. If you could manage to plug it in to anything else it will either fail to work or do something a bit more spectacular—perhaps giving you the shock of your life! We are all designed the same way; we either plug into Jesus, or we’re dead, one way or another.
What I and many others have experienced is this: Once we were plugged in to Jesus; we were infatuated with Him. All we could think about was Jesus and what He had done for us, and the Holy Spirit’s life and power were flooding in to us. Then, somebody tells us, “Okay, now to be a good Christian, you’ve got to stop sinning, read your Bible daily, and so on.” So, wanting to be a great Christian, we begin to work hard to stop sinning and read our Bibles and do whatever else—and life stops happening. To make matters even worse, we start to think “Oh, this is just the way it’s supposed to be.”
What is insidious about this is that we actually begin to think that if we work harder at these things, we’ll regain life. But in reality, working harder only brings death; when you work harder, you unplug from Jesus. Life is given to you. It’s free. Turn back to the Gospel—plug yourself back into Jesus by simply believing that you don’t have to add anything to what he’s already done for you—and life (and good works) will start flowing into you once again.
A Different Gospel
Paul’s assessment of the situation with the Galatians was that they had lost the Gospel—a very serious pronouncement. They weren’t just “fuzzy” on a few points that had to be cleared up—no, they had turned to a different gospel, a gospel that has nothing to do with the Gospel. When Paul talks about a “different” gospel he uses the Greek word heteros, which means “different” in the same way we would say that apples are different from rocks. There should be no confusion here—there is something edible and life-giving on one hand and something entirely different and dead on the other. Paul tells the Galatians that they have chosen a different gospel—which does not have any power to save or bring life.
Paul is not talking “different” in the sense that you have a Dodge instead of a Chevy; they are both cars, and will both get you to your destination. What Paul is talking about is something that is in a different category completely, like the difference between a Dodge and a coffin. The coffin won’t get you anywhere, except dead in the ground. Adding anything to Jesus—to the Gospel of grace—is not actually adding; it is subtracting. It destroys the effect of Jesus in your life altogether. Paul says, and I’ll state this over and over again: Life in Christ is Jesus plus nothing.
To say “Jesus plus anything”—even to say Jesus plus something good—is to pervert and counteract the Gospel. To say that to be saved you need Jesus plus cod liver oil or something equally as revolting is just stupid; people will resist that, and hopefully find it suspicious. However, to tell people that they must pray, must read the Bible, or must overcome some particular sin (all good things in themselves) to be a “real” Christian is insidious; it confuses the natural work of the Spirit with human effort. It is pulling a spiritual sleight-of-hand, where the real Gospel disappears and a false one put in its place—and no one notices. In this way, the legalism that exists in many churches today is even worse than the example in Galatians.
Let’s look again at verses six and seven:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all.
Not only did the Galatians desert Jesus—they didn’t just mess up some teachings, they deserted Jesus himself—but they didn’t wait around. This was not a long-term cooling-off process, but it seems that they couldn’t wait to trade the Good News in for some religious methodology. There are various psychological, emotional, and spiritual reasons explaining why people are so quick to turn away from the truth, and we’ll look at this in the next couple of chapters. However, having an explanation doesn’t give the Galatians or anyone else an excuse. They had been given the clear Gospel, as have we.
For some of you, this Good News is going to come across as really bad news; like the Pharisees, you are pretty thrilled with being able to keep the rules better than the rest, and you have already been decorating your wing of the Heavenly Mansion and building display shelves for your crowns. If you want to hang on to this fantasy that you can somehow work yourself into Heaven, then there’s not much anyone can do but pray for you.
However, you might be realizing that you have just wasted a good portion of your life on some religious pseudo-gospel that has not gotten you anywhere. Your Christian life may have started out well, but you’ve unplugged from the true Gospel that could bring you life.