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Sniffing out the gospel that will wear you out

About fifteen years ago, while I was  in grad school, I "attended a church" just off campus.  Without fail, I left that building each Sunday with the same sensation:  spiritual heaviness.  The unspoken message being delivered was, "You're simply not measuring up to expectations."  Without fail, that same experience has repeated itself in nearly every "church" experience, conference, retreat, or organized gathering of Christians since then.

 At the time, I had no words to articulate what was going on, but I now have a well-developed internal filter -- a warning flag, a nose for sniffing out false substitutes.  (After a while, your heart says, "No more!  This can't be all there is.")  At the center of what I experienced each Sunday was the effect of the partial gospel.  Sometimes it isn't the Gospel at all; and in any case, it is a "gospel" that will wear you out. 

This false substitute goes by several monikers:  "the religious spirit," "religious legalism," "the gospel of religious duty and shame," or "living under Law."  Whatever its name, it is not what Jesus came to offer.  All you have to do is look at its fruit:  defeated Christians, fleeting personal transformation, frenzied activity substituting for apprenticeship at Jesus' side, and a meager affect upon the culture we hope to transform.

So how does one develop this early warning system, that ability to sniff out false substitutes?  Well, how does your heart react in those situations?  Do you experience:

  • Spiritual pressure to measure up to expectations.
  • Spiritual heaviness.
  • You suspect God, is in fact, not really pleased with you.
  • You're constantly being asked by leadeship to be more committed.
  • Every message is about getting you to do something, or to stop doing something.
  • The leadeship is more concerned with managing people's sin, than releasing a new life that is now within them.
  • No one ever talks about the heart, and when they do, it is with suspicion -- even in the case of the believer.

What have you experienced when you've encountered a substitute "gospel?"

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Reader Comments (2)


That's every place I've been. I know that heavy feeling. It's like you feel you have to "take your medicine" and then you go and wonder what you accomplished. There would be Sunday mornings that I would get up and cry because I just didn't want to go and then I came to the conclusion that my heart and spirit were telling me, "No more, this hurts too much!" So I don't go anymore.


March 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMeredith

Meredith, I love your "take your medicine" metaphor. I wonder if your tears and those of Jesus mixed.

March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJim Robbins

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