You may remember, but in 2013, a woman famously ruined Jesus. While she probably had good intentions, the 82-year-old Spanish pensioner named Cecilia Gimenez turned an oil fresco painted in the Misericordia Church in Borja, Spain, into an abomination described by the BBC as resembling a “crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey.” Her restoration of the 1910 depiction of Christ called Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) by Spanish artist Elias Garcia Martinez, made headlines all over the world. The Twitterverse exploded. Some of the most painfully funny comments included:
“It’s like The Scream mated with a spider monkey ”
“It looks like a Spanish abominable snowman…”
“It’s ewok Jesus!”
Decide for yourself….
Newsflash: She’s Not the Only One. We’re all guilty
At salvation, we are recreated with an astonishing degree of totality (2 Cor. 5:17-21). The Holy Spirit—ageless, lacking nothing, ever new—takes residence within. In the same instant, we’re handed a picture of Jesus through the teachings of men that is definitely not ever new, but faded and murky. We start to fill in the picture of the New Covenant with concepts from the Old, forgetting that “the old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (v. 18).
At a mitochondrial level, meaning too small and subtle for most to recognize, the stratagem of legalism invariably cloaks itself in robes of grace. Only in the most dogmatic, cruel Fundamentalist systems (think Westboro) would the enemy dare to directly claim the cross was somehow insufficient. Nosiree. Should a teaching circulate that great contrition, penance and moral performance on our part is required to stay in God’s good graces, the more seasoned Evangelical would readily and rightly say, “Hang on! That’s not grace!”
Oh, but it’s never so direct. Satan’s devices are for more refined. What the cosmic accuser is much more likely to do is whisper agreement in your ear, mixed with a teensy-weensie lie:
“Of course you can’t earn salvation. Pshaw! It’s a gift! Good for you, enjoy it. But, umm, ahem…here’s a friendly tip. Be careful how you enjoy it. Don’t go crazy. Don’t be dumb. Eternity is yours when you accept Jesus—fine, I’ll give you that one. The more important question to answer, Mr. Serious Disciple, is how will you keep it?”
Ahhh! Yes, of course, you respond to this inner voice. Thanks for the warning. I really do need to get serious about this. <<straining>> Consecrate! Consecrate! <<straining>>
And so, without even realizing that to which you said yes, and conversely, that which you inadvertently denied, each morning’s new mercy arrives in a fog of doubt, fear, and generalized condemnation. It’s all very subtle, mind you, but the fact is, spiritual confidence can never exist in tandem with a prohibitive conscience. When you feel convicted about a sin because of its possibility, rather than actuality, then you are under the sway of a prohibitive conscience. The mere threat of it has become an idol. Furthermore, such a state of mind tends to escalate. It refuses to stay static. Soon, your unwitting deal with the devil becomes a monster of bondage and law, throwing you into unwinnable cycles of self-effort. Spiritual OCD develops, compounded further by prominent teachers warning against over-reliance on God’s abounding, covenantal promise—i.e. grace. Yep, better be careful! If you aren’t, then you run the risk of “sloppy grace,” which could be loosely defined as taking advantage of God’s kindness and patience. The very thought gnaws at you, especially if you’re unlucky enough to be fighting a habitual sin, and worse if you’re losing that fight. Shame on you! God’s grace isn’t just a gift, it’s a treasure and a responsibility. Right? Right? And there you are, so casual, so flippant, so…guilty. Say hello to sleepless nights, knots in your stomach, exhaustion. At the end of the day, you lay awake again, wondering if you did enough to please God and make Him happy. Did you respect grace or take advantage of it?
Are You Tired Yet? Good!
Stop. Just stop. That was never how you fell into grace and it won’t be how you walk in it. Your vigilance did not bring salvation to your desperate, unsaved door. Love did.
“The life of grace is not an effort on our part to achieve a goal we set ourselves. It is a continually renewed attempt simply to believe that someone else has done all the achieving that is needed and to live in relationship with that person, whether we achieve or not. If that doesn’t seem like much to you, you’re right: it isn’t. And, as a matter of fact, the life of grace is even less than that. It’s not even our life at all, but the life of that Someone Else rising like a tide in the ruins of our death.” — R.F. Capon