This is the choice each of us faces every day. Perhaps you think it’s a mad choice – like choosing between your heart and your lungs – but it’s not. It is the choice between life and death, between sacrifice and mercy, between the manmade religion of good intentions and the divine realm of God’s grace.
If you think of life primarily in terms of “pleasing God,” then you may have bought into a carnal Christianity that promotes mask-wearing and sin-management. Chances are you’ll be a miserable phony incapable of truly loving and being loved. And you may need to read The Cure, by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol and Bill Thrall.
The Cure is a brilliant little book. It’s the story of man who must choose between the Room of Good Intentions and the Room of Grace. These two rooms represent two ways of living – living from a desire to please God versus living by faith in God’s love and grace.
After a false start the man in the story makes the right choice but soon finds grace too much to bear. He returns to the wrong room. Yup, he decides he would rather be with the phonies that with the Real People in the Church of Grace.
This, for me, is what makes The Cure an intriguing and insightful read. Why would he do that?! Why would anyone walk away from grace?
Why do some reject grace?
Many of us within the grace community think that if people just saw the undiluted goodness of God – if they just heard the true gospel – they would all come flooding out of dead religion. And many do. But some don’t stay. They leave the open fields of grace and return to the hamster-wheel of huffing, puffing piety. Think of the Galatians. They heard the gospel from none other than the apostle of grace himself, yet were seduced into carnal religion.
Why does this happen? It can happen because of the false stories we tell ourselves. As Lynch et al. explain:
The stories we tell ourselves can run deep. It’s one thing to have a profound experience, and it’s quite another to kill a lie that’s served you a long time. Especially a lie you’ve used to cope. Until you see God right you’ll keep going back (to the Room of Good Intentions)… There are two gods: the one we see through our shame, and the One who actually is. (p.42)
Shame is a killer. It can really mess up your understanding of grace. If your shame causes you to hide in the bushes when grace comes calling, you may miss it. Tragically, if you are more conscious of your badness than God’s goodness you won’t receive the grace he offers you. This is a strength of The Cure. It reveals how sin and shame interact to keep us in the dark. In contrast to the sin-managing gimmicks offered by flesh-powered religion, this book exposes some of the distortions we have about God that hinder us from receiving grace.
Lest you get the wrong idea, this book is not about changing who I was into who I should be. You were changed once and for all when you were made new, when you were born again. This book is about maturing into who I already am. It’s about growing into your Christ-given identity and working out the salvation that is already within you.
Okay, so how do we do that?
According to the authors of The Cure, it begins by recognizing who we are in Christ – we are saints, righteous and forgiven. But that’s just the start. To grow we need to look for opportunities to receive and give the Father’s love.
The knowledge we are loved will never peel away our masks or heal our wounds. “Knowing about love” and “experiencing love” are not the same (p. 90). It’s one thing to read 1 Corinthians 13; it’s another to live it and enjoy it and share it with others.
This is why we need the church. It is only in real relationships with real people that we have the opportunity to live real lives – the kinds of lives Christ came to give us:
God wants us to live authentically – fragile believers, learning to trust him and each other in relationships intent on love. He wants us out of hiding, acknowledging each other without performance or quotas. He wants us to experience his power healing us as he releases us into a life worth living. This is the Church. This is the Church in the Room of grace! (p.89)
As Ralph Harris writes about in his book God’s Astounding Opinion of You, there is a nobility to the authentic Christian life that makes the pursuit of lesser worldly pleasures trivial in comparison. We were born for this. We were born to receive and share our Father’s divine love. Our needs aren’t weaknesses; they’re opportunities to receive the love of God.
The nobility of real life
Looking back on my own four decades as a Christian, I can say that the periods where I have grown the fastest have been those where I found myself among a small circle of trusted friends whose love for me gave me the confidence to step out from behind the masks I wore. They didn’t try to change me but as a result of the grace I received from them, I changed. I began to enjoy the freedom that had been mine from the moment I said Yes to Jesus.
Together, my friends and I ran hard after the life that is only found in Christ and looked for creative ways to express that life to others. Dare I say, we began to live out our destiny, and it was exhilarating. It still is.
If this sort of life sounds good to you and you want to know how to get a handle on it, then I recommend The Cure along with Ralph’s book. They are both excellent. Two other good books which also come to mind are The Birthright and So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore? In fairness, none of these books will change the world. But they all have the potential to change the church. And this is what a loveless and shame-ridden world desperately needs to see – a changed church.
The world doesn’t need a church characterized by judgment and hatred. What creation longs for is a revelation of the mature, full-grown sons of God. What the world needs to see is the light of the gospel shining through a church of authentic saints – people like you and me who are walking in radical love and fulfilling their God-given destiny. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine a future where a sick and dying world receives the love and healing of Jesus through the church – where the church is so effective at revealing the gospel of God’s grace that entire nations are saved in a day? (Why not?) I’m not exactly sure what that might look like but I know it is the immediate future I long for.
And that’s why The Cure is such an important book. It’ll change you… and then you’ll change the world.