I love how God brings people into our lives just when we need them. When Nate and I first began serving our church, I was looking for encouragement from other church leaders’ wives and discovered Christine Hoover’s blog, Grace Covers Me. At the time, as a church planter’s wife, she was writing for church planters’ and church leaders’ wives and I found so much encouragement there. She still shares from her heart on that blog, and lately God has given her a new writing focus. She writes about her journey from legalism (trying to be good all the time – what she calls “the goodness gospel”) to walking by faith and the grace of God.
Her book From Good to Grace released this week (read my review here), and today she’s sharing here on God’s Word in Everyday Life about how her understanding of grace has impacted her Bible study and her search for God in his word. I’m so excited to share this time with her!
Can you tell us briefly what your Bible study time was like before you really started understanding the “goodness gospel”?
Before I understood God’s grace toward me, my Bible study times were inconsistent and duty-driven. When the voices of guilt inside my head grew loud enough, I’d muffle them by making time to read my Bible. It was obligatory and done to make myself feel better, not to meet with God.
What changed in that one-on-one time as you began to see grace in a new light?
Everything changed when I began to receive God’s grace toward me. Because I learned that God is for me and not against me, I experienced a greater desire to read my Bible. However, I had been so legalistic in my approach to the Christian life that I didn’t quite know how to gel grace with spiritual disciplines. I didn’t want to swing to the complete opposite side of legalism.
A verse helpful to me in those first colt-like steps toward a grace-filled understanding was Psalm 27:8: “You have said, ‘Seek My face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’” Throughout my day, I noticed a Spirit-driven nudge (gentle and loving, never guilt-laden), that seemed to say, “Now would be a good time for you to come meet with Me.” Psalm 27:8 told me that God will lead, but it’s my job to respond in obedience. The Lord began to invite me to meet with Him through these nudges, and in time a consistent rhythm developed, as well as an eager desire.
You write in your book that spiritual disciplines, such as Bible study, are “intended as ways to ask for and receive help from the Holy Spirit.” Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve been learning as you’ve grown in this process?
I mentioned that I didn’t know quite how to think about spiritual disciplines for several years after God revealed His grace to me. At some point along the way, I realized that spiritual disciplines act like doors. I practice them, not because they are what makes me pleasing to the Lord or because it is an obligation, but because they are a means of making myself available to God in order that He can speak to me and work in my life. I open my Bible and study it each day as I would open a door and invite someone in. It gives God leadership in my life, because I am submitting myself to His Word, which is living and active and will cut to my heart.
You also write in your book that you searched the Bible not just for knowledge, but for God himself. What did that search look like? How did you find God? What were you doing differently as you read the Bible than you were before?
I used to read the Bible looking for what to do and what not to do, which only fed my legalism. I missed that the Bible is a window into the character of God, and that the entire book speaks of His care and nurture of His children.
A few years ago, a dear friend of mine basically walked away from her husband and her faith and it really shook me. I didn’t know how to love her in a way that called her lovingly to repentance, so I started studying how God loves us that way. I read many books of the Bible with just one question: “How does this book show God’s love?” I learned that God’s love is multi-faceted, and that He loves me in such a way that I can trust Him with my whole life. I can trust His heart toward me, even in painful situations. That kind of perspective definitely changes how you read Scripture because, if God’s love toward me underlies everything I read, than the motivation for obeying Him is to love Him in return, not to earn His love or to do something out of obligation.
Have you learned to recognize signs as you read God’s word that you are slipping back into the “goodness gospel”?
I’ve learned to recognize thoughts that correlate with the goodness gospel: “I’m not good enough” or “I should be like so-and-so” or “God is disappointed with me and will withhold good things from me”. Anything that is all-encompassing and general condemnation is based on the goodness gospel and is not from the Lord, because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1). God doesn’t treat us the way we treat ourselves. Will He convict us of sin? Yes, but it’s a specific conviction and followed by forgiveness and the hope of His help in changing.
When I’m thinking these thoughts, I often go to God’s Word, especially Romans and Galatians, because they set me straight and remind me that Jesus’ grace covers my salvation but also my sanctification. He has won for me past, present, and future grace. That’s why it’s called amazing.
Christine’s book From Good to Grace is available now. Only $11 over at Amazon.com. Go check it out!