By John Halford
You’d think that the transition from a legalistic religion to an understanding of the gospel of grace would make life easier. It does in some ways. But it is also an "E ticket ride."
E ticket ride? Today when you go to Disneyland, you pay a onetime entry fee, giving you unlimited access to everything. But before 1981, you needed individual tickets for each ride. They ranged from "A" tickets for the less spectacular rides, through B, C, and D for the more exciting ones. But the best attractions, like the Matterhorn Bobsleds, needed an E ticket.
E ticket rides were more expensive and the lines were longer, but they were worth it. You’d be strapped into your seat and warned "Keep your arms and legs inside the bobsled at all times" and "Don’t get out until it stops." Then with a lurch you’d be off.
First was a long slow haul up an incline, and a brief moment to admire the view and catch a glimpse of less adventurous friends far below. Then you hurtled down towards what looked like a sheer drop. At the last second you were yanked at right angles to face another abyss and an even more impossible-looking hairpin bend.
"No way," you’d think. "We’re going to come off." But as the bobsled careened around the track you realized that the ride only looked impossible. If you stayed with it you’d be okay.
In some ways a journey from legalism to grace is like that. You see, a legalistic approach to your relationship with God is "safe," like an A ticket ride. The pace is slow and the rules seem clear-cut. Don’t eat "unclean" food, don’t watch TV or fix the car on the Sabbath, pray and study an hour a day, and you might have at least the illusion of progress. With legalism, you can at least feel as though you know where you stand.
Oh, you won’t be perfect. But like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable (Luke 18:11-13), who boasted "I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get," you can say "God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector."
"But," Jesus explained, "the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’" He was on an E ticket ride. Once you begin to really understand the depths of God’s mercy and grace, you want to please him. And the more you know him, the more fully aware you become of your own sinfulness. So, naturally, you want to make amends — to do something to make up for your sins — and legalism tells you that you can do that. But the Bible tells you something entirely different.
"Should I bring an armload of offerings topped off with yearling calves?
Would God be impressed with thousands of rams, with buckets and barrels of olive oil? Would he be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child, my precious baby, to cancel my sin?" (Micah 6:6-7, Message Bible).
No. That is not the answer.
"He’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love" (v. 8).
Is that it? Yes. When we believe God loves us, we are free to love others. In other words, just hang on tight to life’s bobsled, trusting in God’s love and mercy. There is nothing you can do, or need to do, to get back into God’s favor.
There are times on the journey when that is hard to believe. Moments when, looking at what the track looks like ahead, you think "There’s no way…" But there always is. Jesus didn’t promise an A, B, C or even D ticket ride. To trust in God’s grace needs an all or nothing E ticket. But you can take rest in Jesus’ promise to be with you, both on the long uphill climbs and the lurching, heart-stopping, nail-biting descents.
"I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand"(John 10:28-29).
Just stay in the bobsled, and don’t get out until it stops.