Getting Right With God


The pastor at the church I've been attending delivered a short sermon Sunday about two contrasting views of how one "gets right with God". One view is rules-based; it proposes that one must do certain things in order to achieve Divine grace, thus making grace conditional. The other view is that God's love is unconditional. It was clear which of those two views she aligned herself with, although she didn't exactly hammer home the point. She mostly left it up to us to think about the differences between those two concepts.

Here's a true story. I grew up in a church that served communion each Sunday, and it was apparently open for any believer, even children who had not undergone a believer's baptism, to participate in. Our family didn't go to church every single Sunday, and somehow I got it in my mind that I was jeopardizing my salvation by missing out on communion during the Sundays that we missed. So at every once in a while as a child--I am not sure how old I was when I started this, maybe six or seven or so--I decided that I needed to make up for all those lost communions. Often when we had grape juice in the refrigerator, I would drink several glasses of it with bread, hoping that by doing so I would sufficiently catching up.

Somehow, I had come to imagine that salvation was dependent on some kind of communion ledger that God kept the books on in heaven, and that by missing some of them my account was unfortunately in the red.

Here's another true story. I had a bike accident when I was seven years old. I was accompanying my father, who was taking an evening walk; I had been pedaling alongside him, and at one point he took a shortcut through a neighbor's yard. Small town homeowners don't take kindly to bicyclists riding on their manicured lawns, so I took a longer route that looped around on a side road. I pedaled as fast as I could so I could catch up with my father. As I rode, I saw an oncoming car, so I decided to slow down; on the old fashioned Sting Ray I was riding, braking meant pushing the pedals backwards. The momentum of my fast pedaling was so strong, however, that it resisted my effort at pedaling backwards, and the momentum actually pushed me forward off the seat; my crotch landed onto the bar below. This was obviously painful, and this in turn resulted in my losing control of the handlebars. They swung to the left, and I swerved right in the path of the car. As I saw the car coming, I prayed to God to save my life. I don't think God anything to do with my survival, but in any case the driver screeched on his brakes, stopped just before hitting me, and I fell to the pavement, breaking my right wrist. My father, who heard the screech, ran from the neighbor's yard--later he said that he ran so fast that he probably broke a world speed record.

I was understandably freaked out. As I, my father, the driver, and his passenger walked from the scene of the accident to my house, I told the others that my arm hurt, and I thought it might be broken. "No, it's just sprained," the driver told me. He was trying to be reassuring, but I just wanted to be told the truth.

I remember sitting in the waiting room at the hospital--either before the X-rays or before having the cast the put on, I'm not sure which--and still shaken up by all that had happened. I had just come out of an experience where, for the first time in my short life, I thought I was going to die. I started crying and told my mother that I was afraid that I would go to hell. My mother told me with utmost confidence that of course I wasn't going to go to hell. I didn't know how she was supposed to know this. I knew she trying to reassure me, but as in the case of the broken arm, I just wanted to be told the truth.

Thus I recall two incidents from my childhood that show how I had managed to internalize a rules-based conception of Divine grace. Where had I gotten such ideas from? I was brought up in what was essentially a rules-based religion that said that God's love was conditional--one must believe in Jesus as one's savior, for example, and if one didn't follow certain rules like that, one was condemned to eternal damnation. Even if I got the details wrong about such things as the role of communion in salvation, the general principle of a rules-based concept of grace was clearly instilled within me.

How wrong it is, I now believe, to instill into children notions like these.


CT said...

I think its strange that Christians dont question the idea that 'salvation' (whatever that may mean) is dependant on your belief on one particular subject. You dont have to DO anything. You only have to beleive in one concept and in a particular way.

And that is - Jesus of Nazareth is the 'Son of God' and died a sacrificial death to pay the price for your sins. And therefore you are now OK in God's eyes and can go to heaven.

I suppose its direct from John 3:16 - 'whosoever believes in Him....'. The golden formula to detect who is saved and who isnt.