There is a new church plant in town, which is probably a good thing. They seem very hip, and very welcoming, and very well funded. Their cool and well-branded banner says “Come as you are.” Of course we have all heard that phrase before, and of course it set me to thinking.
The implicit threat in the phrase “come as you are” is that you must leave different than you are. Look at the genuine conference poster I placed as the featured image on this post! You must come and have such an experience in that one service that you will leave a changed person. If you leave unchanged, there was something the rest of us were getting that you missed, and you are spiritually numb or sub-par. All the cool kids are going to pretend that they left changed.
However, the gospel is offered to us as a free gift. Our change is not a condition. Ironically, our lack of change, our inability to bring any good thing to the table, our complete spiritual bankruptcy, is our death. When we receive the message of the free gift of grace, and leave unchanged, it is a frank declaration that we are only sinners — and no experience, no doctrine, no touch from God, can cleanse us. No bloodless crossless Christless idea can grant us entrance into rest from our constant fight for worthiness and significance. We come week after week after week, in fresh new living need of the bread and the wine of His love for us. Weekly we must remember and proclaim His death, because weekly we live out the truth that we are not really very transformed at all. We doubt anew because at a frightening and fundamental level, we are not transformed. We are the same. Our sin is remarkably persistent and resilient. We backslide so quickly and so easily. It does not honestly seem like we are empowered to do anything besides be wickedly selfish.
You say, “but no, we are new creatures in Christ! We have passed out of death into life! You are wrong!” Here is what I am saying: you cannot proclaim yourself a changed new creature from yourself. The change that has happened is from outside of yourself. You now have peace with God. The Holy Spirit can cohabit with you because your ongoing Romans 7 failing self, your self which delights daily that there is therefore now no condemnation in Christ, your self which needs new mercies every morning, has come to expect kindness from God despite your failures. That is the change. When you come to expect that the change is that you have suddenly come to have more moral fiber, more self-control, more love, and more integrity, you have now placed the burden for your significance back on yourself instead of on Christ and Him crucified. Your focus becomes how well you are behaving as if you have transformed, instead of being on the love which God has for you. And your transformation is not your salvation. Jesus is your salvation. To live is Christ and to die is gain. If you live in belief in the free gift, you cease from your transformative efforts, and ironically, this becomes the true transformation. This is dying with Christ and being raised with Him.
So, come as you are to Bread and Wine Fellowship. Leave as you are – because you have been eternally and completely loved beyond all measure by the God who is Real, no matter what. You have not simply been forgiven – you have been justified. In Christ, through His blood, your acceptance is just. You have been truly set free and justice must bow the knee. Because He is eternally committed to you, you are a new creature. Your trust has shifted from yourself to Christ. Cease from your works, your striving, your transformation. Lay it all down, and perhaps the change you long for may come to you. But if it delays, you are still secure, and God will still accomplish all that He desires with you. He remains your savior, and He will not pass that role along to anyone else — not even you. This is excellent news indeed!