This is an excerpt from Christine Hoover’s new book, From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel (Baker, 2015). Used by permission of the publisher.
I lived according to the goodness gospel for far too long. But God pursued me. He used multiple people to reveal my goodness addiction and to show me both his true nature and the truth of what he had done for me at the cross. He used my husband most of all.
About a year into our marriage, Kyle and I got into a life-changing fight. I snapped at him about something trivial, and instead of snapping back, he just calmly left the room. As soon as he left, I felt ashamed. Why had I gotten so angry about something of such small consequence? Why would I choose to hurt my husband like that? With my tail between my legs, I went to him.
“I’m sorry,” I said, pleading with my eyes for him to release me of what I’d done.
“I forgive you,” he said, and he meant it. He actually smiled as he said it.
That’s it? I thought. No penance required, no pouting, no silent treatment, no dumping on of shame, nothing? It’s just forgiven that easily?
My eyes must have revealed my uncertainty because he reached out for my hand and pulled me to his lap. Then he wrapped his arms around me, looked me in the eyes, and reiterated, “I forgive you. I love you, Christine.”
As we embraced, the Lord whispered to my heart, the heart deaf to true forgiveness and grace. I don’t keep a record of wrongs or hold your sin over your head. When you confess something to me, I forgive you. I delight in you.
God, through the book of Galatians, had begun showing me how little I truly understood of the gospel. Instead of the true gospel, I was living by what Paul called the “perverted” gospel, one of works and dead religion. My heart and mind were starting to wake up to the truth because my husband had become a pastor, and our new ministry life was shining a bright light on my self-sufficiency and attempts at self-justification. I could not meet ministry’s demands—and I certainly could not love—according to bootstrap religion.
The beacon of light, simultaneously convicting and life-giving, was Galatians 5:4: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law.” That is exactly how I felt—like an outsider standing apart from Christ, nose plastered to the glass, trying desperately to earn my belonging. At the same time, I rejected any of Christ’s advances toward me out of shame over my failures and out of my stubborn self-determination.
This passage described how I’d felt most of my Christian life: entangled, weighed down under a heavy yoke, in bondage, in debt, and, most of all, as if I were estranged from Christ. It also showed me why I felt that way: my obsession with goodness had nullified Christ’s work in my life. Because I hadn’t gone his way, I was on my own.
But he eventually got to me. He showed me that I sat in a jail cell with an open door but kept putting the chains back on myself instead of running free. He walked alongside me as I discovered the futility of trying to be good by myself, and he offered to rescue me, showing me what measure of grace he had already given me at the cross and at the moment I believed. But his way, as he revealed to me in Galatians, was nothing like my way. I could go my way and be forever frustrated at my never-ending debt, or I could accept his way of grace and faith and Spirit.
In time I realized that he loved me, not because of what I did but because of what he did through Christ on the cross. I finally ran wildly to his grace-filled arms, done with my chains. What had always felt like duty and obligation now felt like crazy freedom.