February 10, 2015

Do You Live By the Goodness Gospel?

The subtitle of my new book is "Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel", which has prompted people to ask, "Just what is the goodness gospel?" One friend called and said, "I read the first chapter wondering what the goodness gospel is and came away realizing that I live by it in ways I didn't even know."

The goodness gospel is the name I give to the slimy underlying belief we innately hold that if change is going to happen, it's up to us. I say it's innate because it's the way the world works: what you get is what you've earned, behavior must be modified, and lives must be pulled up by their boot-straps. Dependency and neediness are dirty words; self-sufficiency is celebrated.
The trouble comes when we attach these innate beliefs to our God, and that's just what I'm trying to get at with this book. We like to mix our self-effort with what Christ has done, and if we're not careful, it eventually becomes gospel. The goodness gospel. Preached from pulpits, counseled by friends, wrapped in words that appear wise. Where salvation is a begrudging gift from God and everything after--whatever spiritual growth, whatever spiritual fruit, whatever joy and love and forgiveness--comes from self-effort and as an attempt to prove His gift was justified. We're trying so desperately to be good for Him, or perhaps it's not for Him at all. It's for ourselves, to feel in control and assured. And it's for others, that we might be validated and approved.

The goodness gospel infests and we aren't even aware, but we feel it. We live with low-grade condemnation, shame, guilt, bitterness, and depression. We feel pain from the shackles of not being enough or doing enough. Every once in a while we wonder, "Didn't Jesus promise the abundant life? Didn't He say there would be joy and peace?" We feel as if something is not right, but we keep going through the motions because we're sure we're the only ones. But we need to listen to those feelings, because these are the bad fruits of the goodness gospel, and they're trying to tell us it is no gospel at all.

I know the goodness gospel, and I know how it plays out in the realities of life, because I was its greatest devotee for decades. I worshipped at the altar of goodness and it caused such dysfunction in my heart (oh the pride and the guilt), in my relationships (oh the judgement and the simultaneous fear of being found lacking), and, most of all, in my relationship with the Lord (oh the joyless, robotic duty). People spoke to me of the love of God, but I'd typically grow agitated and uncomfortable, unable to hear what I was certain was not true.

But God...

Aren't those the greatest words that could ever be? They certainly were for me. In the book, I share through stories and Scripture how God tenderly taught me the true gospel and how I stopped stiff-arming His love for me. I will be sharing some of those stories in the next few weeks during this season of the book's release. But for now, I want you to consider: do you live according to the goodness gospel?

If you're not sure, consider if you'd answer "yes" to the following questions:

Do you often feel separated from God and unable to get to Him?
Do you often find yourself thinking, I'm not a good enough Christian?
Do you often criticize yourself and others?
Do you often find yourself wanting to be known and recognized for your good works?
Do you often find yourself serving without any inner motivation to do so?
Do you often find yourself doing things to look good to other people?
Do you often feel guilty?
Do you often assume that other Christians condemn you?
Do you feel like you've never experienced a life of joy and freedom?
Are you quick to understand God's rules and judgment but slow to understand His love?
Do you struggle to forgive or to let go of bitterness or grudges?
Do you often question whether or not you have the Lord's approval?

The goodness gospel feels like bondage, doesn't it? Galatians 5:4 describes it as being estranged from Christ.

The good news (which is the definition of "gospel", by the way) is that trying to be good after salvation isn't the true gospel, and the enslaved life is not what our God offers. He offers grace and freedom. So let us, I say, move together from good to grace. 

If you are living according to the goodness gospel, I invite you to journey with me into the riches of God's grace through the pages of my new book, From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel. It's my prayer that God will release the captives from unnecessary prisons, just as He did for me. 

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing excerpts from the book, as well as details about a summer book club opportunity. I think this is a book best processed with others, so you may want to think about inviting your friends and neighbors to read along with you. 

Finally, if you resonated with the description of the goodness gospel and think others you know might benefit from this book, would you consider sharing about it on social media using the hashtag #fromgoodtograce? Feel free to tweet me (@christinehoover), tag me on Instagram (@christinehoover98), Pinterest (christinehoover) or use the hashtag on Facebook (#fromgoodtograce). Or just tell your BFF and your mama. Thank you!