The Internet Monk describes pretty well the prevailing concern of legalistic pastors over the dangers of ‘cheap grace’ (here, here and here). Betty G. once said to me, “If there weren’t the possibility of losing out on the inheritance, what would be the motivation for sanctification?” This was a rhetorical question – the obvious answer was supposed to be, “You’re right. Christians need rules and threats hanging over their heads, or they’ll just live careless worldly lives and they won’t ‘strive to enter in’.”
I John 3 describes an entirely different motivation.
What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it–we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are…And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him–and in seeing him, become like him. All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own. —The Message
Christians grow in godliness because they want to be like Jesus. A little guy growing up in a good home naturally wants to be like his dad. Dad is his hero, he craves Dad’s approval, he wants to show off his accomplishments for Dad. That’s the amazing bond of family.
But harsh treatment can erode family bonds, in the natural family and in the family of God. I just finished reading The Man Who Listens to Horses, about Marty Roberts’ innovative way of ‘breaking’ horses by respectful communication rather than harsh domination. Marty’s father was also a horse trainer, who used the old methods of ropes and whips….and used them on his son as well. There was never a father-son bond. Marty did not grow up wanting to be like his father. He forged a different path and there was always tension between them.
Significantly, both George and Betty Geftakys seem to have grown up unbonded to their fathers. Apparently they never experienced that childhood adoration and closeness. It makes perfect sense, then, that Betty wouldn’t know any other motivation than fear of consequences. G & B perpetrated strict legalism, harsh treatment and threats of eternal loss as motivators to godliness.
The result may have been better performance, but many of us came away feeling estranged from God. The images of G & B have been stamped all over Him, because it was all said and done in His name. If a true picture of God can be recaptured, He wins our hearts back again. The more we remember and appreciate the love and attention God lavishes on us–the sacrifice Jesus made to bring us into oneness with himself, His present intercession for us, His constant presence with us–the closer grows our bond with Him, and the desire to please Him and become like Him starts growing again. It just does, completely apart from external rules and threats!