You’ve heard of armchair theologians, now get ready for… sweatpants theologians.
Don’t bother trying to search for its meaning; it’s the term I just coined to describe an epidemic in Western Christian culture. It’s for people like me, who thrive off of putting on my fancy-pants, doing the dance from 9-5, then coming home and changing into something more comfortable, settling in to an evening of sweatpants and a smartphone aglow with Twitter, silently judging the corruption of the world and the selectively chosen group of people I follow.
After all, everyone else’s sin and “dirt” is so much more interesting than mine. And quite frankly, I’m not ready to deal with my own. My sweatpants theology is a lazy praxis of diagnosing the sinful nature of everyone else and prescribing unattainable remedies to make everyone else more like, well, me. I want the world to change, but I don’t want to do anything about it. I’m content to recline in my bed and wonder how everyone else can be so confused, so misled, so politically different than I am, and the thought crosses my mind that if everyone else were simply a little more like me, things would be closer to the way they should be.
If we’re honest, we can all admit that to a certain degree, we’re living at the expense of one another. My success hinges on someone else failing. And along the way, we’ve intuitively learned to root for the failure of another to a certain degree. We can’t all be the top of the class, so we root for others to get worse grades than us. We can’t all get the job, so we root for the other candidates to interview poorly, or at the very least, worse than us. We like to feed off of other peoples’ sins, because their failures seem to somehow mean that we are winning.
Yet, I know in my soul that casting judgment or getting caught sinning less often does not mean that I have won, because I feel the burden of my own secrets and sins growing heavier and heavier on my heart as I hide them away in these dark and dusty corners of my consciousness. I try to lift the burden by clenching my eyes tighter in prayer and asking for forgiveness more frequently, but it feels like this new life I’ve been given somehow isn’t taking root.
So, I keep trying to perform. I take on more business, and I buy more “stuff,” and I skew my social media posts to try to convince a jury I never asked for that I am fully satisfied in Christ, that I am always experiencing abundance in my walk with God, and that I never, ever doubt His plan or His goodness. I grow more and more afraid of the inevitable day that this will stop working for me.
The other day as I was driving home from work listening to music, a song came on that I hadn’t heard in a long time: Amazing Grace. Somehow, through my half-hearted listening and humming along, God met me. I had been wondering what I would say about sin and guilt since I was asked to write this post, and in that moment of hearing those old, old words ringing out through my little car, I felt Him say, “Tell them I love them. Tell them my amazing grace covers this.”
You see, the reason we are so fearful of our sin, the reason we are so hesitant to acknowledge it, is because we are so used to it. We’ve become so accustomed to living a life of sinful patterns that, even though we may pay lip service to wanting to be holy, the fear of letting go of our sinful nature is overwhelming. Because if we truly let it go—let go of the record of people who hurt us, let go of the secret sin that not even our closest friends know exists, let go of the sweatpants theology—we may find our hands to be completely empty. We don’t know how to live outside of these patterns. As a result, we have told ourselves time and again that we believe, but maybe we don’t believe enough; we’re saved, but maybe not saved enough. Sometimes our prayers sound like this, “Thank you, God, for your love, now please, forgive me, forgive me, forgive me!”
Yet, there is this eternal truth that exists, that speaks the last word over us as His children: that “it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…” (Eph. 2:8). This grace that comes to us is born of love. A love as strong as death and a passion as fierce as the grave (Song of Solomon 8:6), which we could never hope to replicate out of our own devices. That’s some good news, because it means we’re helpless to save ourselves. The pressure is off.
I teach high school catechism at the church I serve, and this month we’ll talk about the relationship between grace and our works. I suspect we’ll uncover a lot of hidden anxiety about what we think grace means and if it can really “stick,” or what God’s expectations of our duties are and how, most of the time, we feel that they are impossible, unattainable ideals. We’ll likely acknowledge a lot of characteristics of sweatpants theology: our laziness, the judgment we have for other peoples’ laziness, and our desperate need for grace.
And in our lack, we’ll hear Him say He loves us.
Yes, the power of sin in our lives is great: it is pervasive, it is damaging, it is deeply rooted. We are and will always need to be on the journey of repentance. Yet, the love and grace shown to us through Christ is greater: it is pervasive, it is healing, and it is deeply rooted. We won’t accept and believe that grace has taken root in our lives until we have learned the depth, sufficiency, and passion of His love. We can’t cure sin on our own—ours, or anyone else’s. What we’re asked to do is trust His love for us. We’re asked to consider that if we were the only sinner in the world, Christ still would have died to bring us to Him. We’re asked to consider that the same is true of the person on whom we inflict our sweatpants theology, too. Perhaps with that in mind, repentance will be born of love, of a desire to be closer to where and who He is, rather than out of a fear of having “missed it.”
The love and grace of Christ are the truest realities of our lives. May everything you do, say, and think today be guided by the concreteness of that truth.