A conversation with J. Kevin Butcher, author of Free: Rescued from Shame-Based Religion, Released into the Life-Giving Love of Jesus
Q: You discuss the “just do it” model of Christian living—describe how this approach impacts our faith:
We intuitively know that no matter how hard we keep trying, we can’t consistently obey the God we believe in. So, focusing on a list of Christian rules and actions is incredibly discouraging and eventually damages our souls. In my experience, we end up responding one of three ways:
- We lie and pretend that everything is fine in our Christian life.
- We hide to cover our sin and shame.
- Or, we burn out and walk away from faith.
We aren’t created to respond to rules. We’re created to respond to love and to live in an intimate love relationship with God! Jesus models this love relationship and offers His love freely to us. In my own personal journey of faith, it took me to the brink of suicide to learn that the “just do it” model of Christian living was killing me, and I needed to surrender myself to the love of God in Christ.
Q: How do you approach discipling a new believer, so they understand God’s love and learn how to walk with God?
By focusing on God’s love, I try to help them understand that the spiritual disciplines are invitations to intimacy with God, not rules to follow. Bible reading and prayer, for example, are invitations to be with the God who loves me. If a new believer can embrace from the very start that the Christian walk is about living in love with Jesus, they will begin to understand that obedience flows from that love!
When discipline becomes a have-to, love dies—this is true in all relationships. If I have to spend time with my wife, that isn’t building our love relationship. In the same way, feeling like I have to spend time with Jesus doesn’t compel me toward a growing love relationship.
Also, Jesus’ love means that He desires for us to be whole. I address the issues of shame and brokenness with people. What wounds does this person carry? The redemption and wholeness that God offers each of us doesn’t call us to work hard to fix our wounds ourselves, but instead to open ourselves to the healing love of God in Jesus Christ, to penetrate our broken places.
Q: What about difficult parts of our faith journey, when it feels like God is silent or distant, not our loving companion?
I experience these times when God feels silent or distant, even after years of turning my heart toward His love. Sometimes I don’t feel His nearness or hear His voice clearly. These are the moments where I ask the Father for courage to “walk by faith, not by sight.” I continue to seek His face, to keep turning toward the One my soul longs for, my One Great Love.
We also must have the community of faith surrounding us. There’s a chapter in Free on “Healing Love in Jesus’ Community” that helps us understand we cannot abide in Jesus’ love if we walk alone:
“We’ve got to let go of our ‘Sunday is enough’ mentality. In the ancient world, the church not only gathered formally once a week but informally every day (Acts 2:46). These brothers and sisters of Jesus were true family, interdependent, connected by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). We can’t expect ancient-church healing if we stay locked in to twenty-first century ‘see you next week,’ shallow church protocol.”