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Preaching Grace Rather Than To-Do Lists

When we share five ways to be a better parent, what are we communicating about the gospel?

A second danger in being the congregational parent is that the relationships between us and our congregants can become transactional. Instead of loving them because it’s our calling and our job, we unintentionally communicate to them that we will love them more if they do what we are asking them to do: “I am doing all of these things for you as your pastor, therefore you should do these things for me.” “If you do the things I am asking of you, I will like you more than I like the people who don’t do what I ask.” “If you want to get me to like you, here are the ways.” Then it affects how they see each other: “The preacher likes me because I [recycle, tithe, volunteer] more than you.”

If this goes on too long, the transactional relationship does not stay pastor-people. People translate it to God-people. They come to believe that their relationship with God is also one of give and take. “If I do what God asks, God will do what I ask.” “If I am obedient, God will love me more.” “If I live a good life, God will protect me from hardship.” “I know how to earn my way into God’s affection.” “I’m on God’s good side.”

Remember the Gospel?

The gospel, thanks be to God, is not about a transactional relationship. The gospel tells of a God who so loves us that he sent his only Son to save us. This is important: we do nothing; God does everything. “While we were still sinners,” Paul writes in Romans 5:8, “Christ died for us.”

When we preach as if we could work to make God like us more, we are selling out the gospel. As best-selling Christian author Philip Yancey puts it, “We need to let it soak in that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more . . . and nothing we can do to make God love us less.” God loves us. It is nutty, crazy, go-to-the-ends-of-the-earth-for-you love. And that’s exactly what God did. God in Christ died for us, rose for us, and wants nothing more than to be with us forever. All of the things we have done and will do wrong, all of our sins, our shortcomings, our additions and our depravity itself are done away with in the cross of Christ:

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!

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