Get Out of Jail Free?
After reading from Genesis this morning (remember our reading plan), I was skimming through Google News and somehow stumbled across an article entitled “Has Christianity Become a Get Out of Jail Free Card?” by Dr. Boyce Watkins, a professor at Syracuse University. Dr. Watkins is one of millions who are “spiritual” people seeking both God and personal spiritual enlightenment but who have issues with modern organized Christianity. I’m not going to address the whole of Watkins’ article, but I thought the point raised by the title of the article is worth exploring. He writes--
When someone asked me how I feel about Christianity, I said, “I respect it. My father is a Baptist minister. When I do go to church, I choose a Christian church. But one concern I’ve always had is that Christianity has become a ‘get out of jail free’ card for those who are choosing to live an unethical existence. It doesn’t appear (to me) to be a true, untainted quest for spiritual clarity, but instead appears to be a club that you join if you want to get into heaven.”
I knew a man who was a thief, a liar, an adulterer and even a child molester (in an R. Kelly sort of way. Kelly is another man who went straight to the church for forgiveness, and has many fans in the black church). He did things to others that no decent man would ever do. Yet, he loved to thump bibles against my head to remind me that he’s going to heaven and I’m not. Why? Because of the “Get out of jail free card” he received when Jesus died for his sins. Whenever he did something wrong, all he had to do was pray for forgiveness and all sins would be washed away. And since all sin is apparently equal in the eyes of God (his pastor told him so), his actions were no worse than my own.
The emphasis in much of modern Christianity is on “getting saved” and eventually “going to heaven.” And there is an undertone among many that getting saved means “once-saved-always-saved.” Even many who don’t formally drink the Calvinist Kool-Aid seem to come around to an approximation of that viewpoint through the same back door in that Watkins describes above.
Sin is sin in the eyes of God, none of us are perfect, but those who accept Jesus are forgiven. That’s OK as far as it goes, but the leap that many make (like the man in Watkins' example) is to assume that it therefore doesn't really matter that much how we live. My sin is forgiven. God wants me to be happy. God forgives the sins I commit when I ask Him. And so God will take me to heaven when life is over. So I can then pretty live like I want to live and go to heaven as well. So Christianity become a “Get Out of Jail Free Card.”
Paul actually anticipates this modern misconception… and seeks to quash it. He understood that his gospel of grace would be twisted by some. He brings up that possible misunderstanding in two different passages and then both denies the allegation and challenges the alligator (so to speak)—
“But,” someone might still argue, “how can God condemn me as a sinner if my dishonesty highlights his truthfulness and brings him more glory?” And some people even slander us by claiming that we say, “The more we sin, the better it is!” Those who say such things deserve to be condemned. (Romans 3:7-8, NLT)
Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? (Romans 6:1-2)
The point of the gospel is NOT that our sin doesn't matter so much. The point of the gospel is that our sin matters so much that it took Jesus’ death on the cross to bring us back to God. And once we are brought back to God, then we must try our best to rise above sinfulness. God was against sin so much that His response was the cross; we must be against sin so much that our response is to live a crucified life. Sin was so horrible that it cost Jesus everything; accepting the cross as God’s remedy for sin must cost us everything as well.
Get out of jail free? If we truly look to the cross, then the last think we will think about salvation is that it was free. And if we can only see the price that God paid for us, then we will live lives so indebted to Him and overshadowed by the cross that they will be transformed and changed.
My old self has been crucified with Christ.It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NLT)