I am increasingly concerned that there are two groups of Christians*. The first is a group that is adamant about a literal interpretation of the Bible. They are everything associated with right wing Christianity. Literal, militant, aggressive etc. The Bible says what it says and everyone (regardless of their beliefs) must abide by these rules because it is right and it is God’s will. I don’t mean that these people are mean spirited or intentionally rude (not most of them anyway). I mean that this it their strong belief and their perception of what is truth and what is right for the greater good.
The second group seem to be liberal Christians who believe that God is all loving and all gracious and no matter what you do, God loves you and we’ll all be fine in the end. I don’t mean that they intentionally ignore the Bible’s teachings or that they seek to water down the gospel (once again, in general), but they do. Everything is permissible, because God loves you anyway and you’ll be forgiven. Any way you choose to live is ok (even if it’s not the best way), we’re not going to judge you or call you out. You try, but it doesn’t matter all that much, as long as you love God and believe in him you’ll be fine.
Now I’m not suggesting that everyone is that intentional in their beliefs or their justifications. Sadly I think most people don’t think that deeply. That’s not a criticism, just a reality. Life is full of distractions, some subtle, some not so much. But it does seem to me that most people fall in one camp or the other (whether they think about this so implicitly or not).
I know there are people in the middle (and I PRAY that I am one of them), but I think we’re in the minority. I am completely convinced that God’s truth lies within the middle of this. God will not take us all to be with him forever. I believe that God does not force himself on those that do not choose him. But I honestly believe that God is much more loving and forgiving than the militant right may say.
God DIED for us! This in itself tells us that God loves us sooooooooo much! He loves us so much he was willing to be tortured and die for us! It seems inconsistent with his character for him to send us to hell because we accidentally got it wrong. If we, with great intention, get it wrong whilst trying to live for him, I really think he won’t send us from him. He wants to save us, he will forgive us. Yes, God is just. He cannot abide sin because he is perfect. That is why Jesus stands in our place. But God IS love. His justice is tempered with mercy, compassion, and above all, love. He goes out of his way to care for us, to guide us, to teach us, to save us. He wants us to be with him forever. I truly believe that God will not send people from him who want to be in relationship with him (not people who just want to end up in a nice place). The Bible says that some people will only scrape into heaven. I’m not really sure what this means, but I think it’s part of this whole thing about God taking us on board, even when we get it wrong.
Now this doesn’t mean we can do whatever we like and everyone is going to spend forever with God. This is no license to do as we please because God will forgive us anyway. The Bible is very clear on this. Grace is not permission to do what we like because we’re forgiven. We are to choose God’s way and act on that. God measures our heart. We are to live as close to his way as we can, not to get away with as much as we can.
God was harshest on those who professed to love him but were not internally changed. Jesus was hyper critical of those who said they believed, but weren’t transformed. God measures the heart. And this also goes the other way. The entire book of James tells us that faith without works is dead. We don’t get to say we believe if our lives say otherwise. Or if our hearts say otherwise.
The people Jesus condemns are the religious leaders who take advantage of their position and don’t use that position in the service of God and others. He is critical of those who have hearts of stone. He doesn’t go around yelling at people who don’t sign up for Christianity, he doesn’t make everyone live by his rules, he invites people into this wonderful life that he wants for all of us. He loves those around him, even before they choose to follow him. It is this love that draws people to him, and transforms their lives. The behavioural change flows from a heart change. Let’s learn from the master.
*Clearly this is a generalisation.