Life would be so much richer if we jettisoned "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" theology, preached John Lynch during Thursday night's worship service at the Midwinter Pastors Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church.
"We created Santa Claus because we couldn't handle God," said Lynch. "The truth is we can't handle Santa Claus. We made him all jolly, chubby and sassy, but the truth is the guy's a controlling legalist with almost unlimited power."
Although we claim to be saved and sustained by grace, we so often live according to the "you better" and "you better not" phrases because - "I'm telling you why" - we think performance is how to please God. If we work at not sinning and perform good deeds, we will become better Christians.
Lynch is the pastor of Open Door Fellowship in Phoenix, Arizona, and co-author of the book TrueFaced.
All Christians, he said, have the choice to labor in the "room of good intentions" or dwell in the "room of grace." The room of good intentions has "sincerity, perseverance, courage, diligence, full-hearted fervency, sold-out determination, and the pursuit of excellence," Lynch said. But all the people are wearing masks, which hide behind the words "I'm fine" and cynicism.
The person living with good intentions also falls into a desperate trap to where "it feels like I'm making every effort to please a God who never seems pleased enough," Lynch said. The person continues to try, confessing and working not to do the sin again, but not knowing a trainload of the same sin is on its way, Lynch said.
More good behavior and less bad behavior equals "godly man," he said. The problem with such theology is, "It disregards the righteousness that God already has placed in us."
Laboring in the room of good intentions, however, gives a false impression. "Yes, we mature in godliness," Lynch said. "But if we disregard righteousness - already ours from trust - we're set up to live in hiddenness." The result will be failed performance that leads to loss of hope and continued immaturity.
Dwelling requires humility in which we recognize we always will be imperfect and trust in God's gift of righteousness, which already has been bestowed. "Do you hear that?" he exclaimed. "We're clothed in righteousness!" Living with this humility, Christians grow into who they have been made by God's work.
God has embarked on the "New Testament Gamble." It is the gamble in which God wonders what would happen if his people knew that he doesn't hold sins against people, not requiring works to be done well, for people to always be faithful, that they will never be loved more than God already has loved them – and he has loved them with all his heart. "What if I told them that I kind of liked Eric Clapton, too?"
Lynch said that not everyone who enters the room of grace stays. "For not only must you believe you're accepted, you must learn to accept the yokels already here, who enter each week. They're goofy, odd, flawed, failed and inappropriate."
Ultimately, he said, the goal is not only our healing, but to live out what God has placed each of us to do.
By John Lynch