I just finished writing my third April blog for the Society for Christian Psychology website. Here it is:
In this blog I want to reflect on a chapter from Steve Brown’s recent book, Three Free Sins: God’s Not Mad At You (Howard Books, 2012). In this excellent book Brown effectively uses the phrase “Three Free Sins” as shock value to wake Christians up to the fact that we not only have three free sins, but unlimited “free sins” because of what Jesus has done on the cross for us. If you have doubts, I encourage you to give it a read for yourself. This is not cheap grace, but rather awe-inspiring grace that truly frees the soul.
Specifically for the purposes of this blog, I want to look at chapter six where he describes some of the implications of this radical grace.
1. If you have free sins, you don’t have to wear a mask anymore (p 102). Brown quotes Nate Larkin here who says, “A false self can never rest. It looks like a real person, but a persona is actually just a hologram, a projected image, and it requires constant energy to keep that image up. A persona is afraid to go to sleep, because to sleep is to die.”
This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Thomas Merton, “Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. This is the person that I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown to God is altogether too much privacy” (New Seeds of Contemplation).
In Luke 12:2 Jesus says, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known” (ESV). We stand naked and completely known before God; further, what is known (all our sin) has been taken care of, paid in full. What holds us back from being open and honest with God and others? Why do we still pretend? He is both the holiest and the safest place for us to bring all our darkness, pain, sin and shame.
It is exhausting to wear a mask all the time, to be constantly “on alert” for how others might or might not be perceiving me in affirming ways. The false self is based in fear and is an attempt to exert control over others and how they see and relate to us. The gospel frees us from all false selves.
2. If you have free sins, you don’t have to please anybody but Jesus (p 104). Sometimes we are so driven we need to ask - what are we trying to prove? who are we trying to please, to impress? Is our activity grounded in the soul rest of being loved or in the incessant need to make others love us? I have to say that most of the time I am striving to earn something that is already freely given in Christ.
3. If you have free sins, you are free from the need to be perfect (p 105; cf. Rom 8:1-2; Isa 1:18) Perfection is an illusion in this life. The only “perfection” we will experience in this world is alien perfection, God’s perfection. Now the wonderful irony is that the only perfection we can claim is the perfection of Jesus on our behalf (perfect death, perfect life). We don’t have to be perfect, because God already is - for us. The gospel means that God treats imperfect creatures as perfect in Christ.
4. If I have free sins, I recognize my value to the One who assigns value (p 106). God says we are beloved because we are in Christ. This frees us from all performance, good or bad. Our acceptance is entirely based on the person and work of Jesus. If we lived in the full light of this, we would be dangerous people indeed!
Brown summarizes all this in a way far better than I ever could: “If I have free sins, not only do I not have to wear a mask anymore, not have to please anybody but Jesus, and can quit trying to achieve an impossible state of perfection, but I can also begin to recognize my incredible value to the only One who has the right to assign value. With all the humility I can muster, I’m pretty incredible . . . and that makes me dangerous” (106).