It’s impossible to rest securely as a Christian if God retracts His blessing and grace like an earned benefit. Does He motivate people in the same way one might motivate a donkey pulling a wagon—with an occasional carrot? Read on to find out how you are part of God’s scandalous parade of those who enjoy unreasonable and outrageous grace.
One of the most hurtful deceptions plaguing us is, “The Pogo Stick Jesus Syndrome.”
Are you familiar with the recreational toy? As a boy I’d set my feet on the pedals and grab hold of the handle bars, thinking that maybe I could even spring over my dad’s car if only I could get enough bounce on my pogo. I had a lot of fun, except when I got a little sideways and ended up in the thick (and painful) hedge along our driveway.
“Ralph, why is your shirt torn?” my mother asked. “Ah, my pogo threw me in the hedge,” I answered. With a nod of her wise head, my mother concluded, “Maybe you should take it easy on that thing.” That was good advice.
In the years since, I have often found that many people think they have a sort of pogo stick relationship with God. Make the right move, do the right thing, and God is in their life along with all of His benefits. Do the wrong thing—pop out a swear word, raise your voice in anger, give in to lust or greed or envy—and He’s out. Pogo stick Jesus. However, you could get Him to pogo back in response to a proper sin confession or a heartfelt re-commitment, and, tah-dah! God and favor restored all over again. He had pogoed back.
Although many failed to get the hang of the pogo stick Jesus game and gave up on Christianity (or what they thought was Christianity), some people learned to live a sin-focused life of confession. I’m not kidding. In essence their behavior and their ability to regulate it determined God’s level of comfort and happiness with them—and His presence and blessing. If either went missing, one had only to figure out what offense had sent Him pogoing away. This terrible pogo stick theology made them responsible for God (they had to be entirely vigilant upon themselves) and accountable to themselves. “Did I blow it and lose His blessing? Has God left me? How have I upset my very sensitive God and frustrated His plan for my life?”
I don’t mean to imply that pogo stick Christians are foolish or stupid—they’re not. I do want to save them from a deception which denies the grandeur of the gospel and the greatness of the new covenant, and which robs them of relaxing with Jesus and resting in Him. There is no rest for anyone trying to bring to pass or to accomplish what God already has. Right?
To be clear, sin is no longer the defining aspect of our relationship with God—Christ is! Grace is! God did away with sin, yours and mine, by the sacrifice of His son. We have been brought into union with Him and nothing, NOTHING can separate us from Him ever again. He has already given us every good gift and perfect fullness in Christ. What’s left out of every and fullness? I can’t think of anything. God has made His home in you and in me, and He will never, NEVER withdraw Himself or forsake us. He has made us righteous royalty in His family—No kidding!—and even if our radiant robes should drag in the mud of this world, like the father of the prodigal, He will never lawyer-up and prosecute us for waywardness or distant country visitations.
Has it occurred to you that the prodigal’s father never even asked a question of his returning pig crap encrusted son? Not one! There was no interrogation. Nothing had changed about his father and what he knew to be true of his son. He had the truth in his mind all the time. The only thing different was that the son was home where dad could again lavish himself upon him.
While the son might have believed the lie that his terrible behavior and return home would change the way his father treated him, would throw the farm into shocked chaos and force his father to make a harsh and disciplined example of him (early pogo stick theology), his dad was unaffected—except for the party! In my view, the only protestor in the family of such unparalleled largesse was the elder brother religionist. “He can have his hollow party. I’m going to earn mine.”
The lie of religion (which is what that is) suggests that while God has already given us everything in Christ, we might have lost a little of the all we never earned—here’s how to get it back. Slaves are made in the here’s how. So evil and destructive is this suggestion that the apostle Paul made a wish for those who spread the lie (Galatians 5:12).
The lie says, “Well, yes, grace is great, but it doesn’t come with an unlimited warranty. Here’s what you’ve got to do to keep up your end of the deal.” Do you recognize it? In two words, that’s pig crap.
Our Father tore up the records and every regulation! No debt remains. We cannot pay Him back, neither does He want it. That would be insulting to Him and the staggering display of His love and grace, which He still likes displaying. It’s His thing! Have you noticed? It’s the new covenant. (And our Father asks no questions.) At the risk of adding to the story, the prodigal’s father threw a parade in front of the neighbors as if to say, “He’s MY son! He is for me, and I’ll give him all that I want no matter how scandalous it seems to you!”
“He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-15, italics mine.)
That’s the parade!
Essentially, the good news is this: He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification (Romans 4:25). If you believe that by bringing your sins before God you’ll get Him to pay great attention to them, think again, pogo stick breath. He already did. And He’s pretty satisfied and happy with what He has done about sin. If you believe that behaving perfectly will earn favor with God that would otherwise be threatened, think again. You’ve got Jesus on a pogo stick.
He’s not there. He’s settled and happily at home in a perfect and extravagant environment. He’s at home in you.