I grew up in an Independent Baptist Church. My mom was the pastor’s secretary, and I spent many summers going to work with her, playing in my pastor’s house, hanging out with his granddaughter who was close to my age, and babysitting the younger grandchildren. For a time, I cleaned house for my pastor’s wife (she always paid well 😊). And as a twenty-something, I transitioned into working for a short time as one of the church secretaries.
When I look back, I remember what we would call “legalism” today. Girls had to wear dresses. Boys’ hair couldn’t touch their ears. There was a lot of emphasis on outward appearance. Movies were frowned upon. Dancing was taboo. And I heard lots of messages on back-masking and music (that devilish rock beat).
I say all that not to disrespect what I was taught because it made me who I am. I love lists I can check off, and acts of service are my love language. If I know there is something I can do to please God, then I will do it. And let’s be honest, there was value in teaching a generation to look and act godly, even if the message seemed to get lost in the rules. Mankind, left to himself, is depraved. A little taste of the world, a little rebellion, often leads to going down the road completely. Maybe that’s fear talking, but I understood it as protective love, and those boundaries gave me security. They also gave me a standard of living to strive for; I wanted to be different than the world.
I learned the rules growing up, but I also learned grace. The grace we talked about was Amazing Grace because man will not come to God unless God’s Spirit convicts and draws and regenerates. It was grace enough for the vilest sinner. No one was beyond redemption. And if a person ever met that grace, there would be significant transformation. This was no intellectual assent to the facts of the Bible. I witnessed true Spirit-filled transformation and repentance.
We sang hymns, and I still love them. I miss them. Many of these old songs contain deep theological and doctrinal truths, and those truths went deep into my heart and shaped my view of God, of grace, of salvation, and of eternity.
Take, for example, a hymn I sang almost every Sunday of my life until I left home: Just As I Am.
Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
Just as I am, and waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot;
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt;
Fightings within, and fears without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; sight, riches, healing of the mind;
Yes, all I need, in Thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
Just as I am, Thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
Just as I am, Thy love unknown has broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
Grace says come when we don’t have anything to say in our defense.
Grace says come when our souls are blotted with the darkness of sin.
Grace says come when we’re filled with conflict and doubt.
Grace says come when we have nothing to offer God physically.
Grace says come when we need to be pardoned and cleansed.
Grace says come when the love of God breaks down every barrier we might put up.
I’m so thankful for grace.
Maybe you’re like me and grew up where you heard a lot of rules, and instead of those rules creating a desire in you to experience the grace of God, they pushed you away from the truth. Maybe you don’t see a need for church, and it’s all kind of old-fashioned and hokey to you. And maybe you decided that Christianity doesn’t have anything to do with rules or outward appearance, and you live with the philosophy that grace frees you to look and act and sound like the world.
Each one of those ideas is wrong. The Bible does set an impossibly high standard for believers – we are to become like Christ, we are to be holy, we are to be set apart, we are to be peculiar in the world’s eyes. But that doesn’t happen because we follow the rules. It happens because of grace, as God transforms our mind and heart. Amazing Grace that invites me to come Just As I Am.