When Jesus is Trapped in the Church's ATM

When you complete an ATM transaction, you expect cold hard cash to come spitting out of the slot. Not a handwritten note that reads, “Please help. I’m stuck in here, and I don’t have my phone. Please call my boss."

But that’s exactly what happened to several customers a couple of weeks ago in Corpus Christi, TX. Several laughed it off as a prank and went on their merry way.

Finally, one Good Samaritan flagged down a patrol car. The cop could hear a muffled cry coming from inside. And, sure enough, after the officer kicked the door in, there he was: the poor, shame-faced repairman who’d managed to get himself locked inside hours before.

Corpus Christi Officer Richard Olden, shaking his head, told CNN, “You'll never see this again in your life that somebody is stuck in the ATM machine.”

Obviously, Officer Olden needs to visit more churches. Because there’s a whole passel of them out there whose Jesus has been stuck in an ATM for years.

Transactionalism

The most popular kind of Jesus you’ll hear tales of in churches is the ATM variety. I say “tales of” because you never really meet the Guy. There’s no face-to-face time with him. He’s squatting inside this huge, complex machine built by the theological engineers of the church, passing out good stuff to good folks.

All you have to do is complete the transaction. Because this Jesus, he’s a transactional Lord.

This particular church economy works like this: you need forgiveness for all the bad stuff you’ve done, right? You want a new shot at life? You’d like some religion? Very well. If you follow the right steps and push the right buttons, all that could be yours.

  • Adhere to the Seven Steps of Conversion and the ATM Jesus will give you the cold hard cash of forgiveness.
  • Decide you sincerely want God to reign supreme in your life, make him your personal Lord and Savior, and the ATM Jesus will smooth things over between you and his Father.
  • Confess your sins, submit to baptism, sign the dotted line of church membership, and the ATM Jesus will issue you a free ticket to heaven.

The transactional details vary, but the mechanics remain the same: you do this then Jesus will do that. Before you get anything, you have to give something. God is waiting on you to make the first move. Once you do, you’re in. Until then, you’re out.

The “Already Did It” Jesus

And then there’s the other Jesus—the real one, the biblical one, the Jesus who’s wielded a sledgehammer and beaten all those diabolical ATMs into scrap metal.

He’s anything but a transactional Lord. He doesn’t operate according to the mechanics of the world—or many churches. He’s the “already did it” Jesus. The Savior who’s not only made the first move, but all the other moves as well. All for you.

John the Baptist didn’t introduce him by saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the church.” Or, “Who takes away the sins of those who believe.” Or, “Who takes away the sins of those holy enough to use his ATM.”

He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Past, present, and future. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19). “While we were still helpless….godless…sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:6-8). The game’s over. The debt is paid. Every man, woman, and child is justified, made right with God, their slates wiped clean by the hand pierced with nails.

We are not potentially right with God, not potentially in his good graces. We simply are. It’s a wrap. Christ has done everything for everyone. No strings attached. No fine print. A one-way love.

Now, of course, folks can be mule-headed and refuse to believe this good news. They can scoff about “no free lunches” as they walk away. They can sit in the middle of this desert world, neck deep in the cool waters of an oasis, and grouch about the lack of water, but that’s their fault. They can stand there, in the bright sunshine of God’s grace in Christ, with their eyes shut tight, saying they can’t see, but that’s their choice.

Unbelievers cannot un-justify or un-reconcile themselves; they can't undo the work of Christ for them. All they can do is deny reality. They'll go to hell, sadly, as those who were forgiven, but who stubbornly and defiantly refused to believe something so good could be true.

Faith is this: trust that we’re in the divine oasis, the sun of grace is shining, Jesus has already done it all. Faith doesn’t usher in our justification or bring about our reconciliation with God. It simply receives it as a done deal--signed, sealed, and dropped on our doorstep.

The real Jesus isn’t trapped inside a church’s ATM. He’s smack dab in front of you, grinning from ear to ear, laughing and loving you with a crazy grace that already filled your bank account with millions. Not because you were smarter or better than other people, or chose the right pathway, but because you happen to be everything that matters to him. So he willingly went into Mary’s womb, went onto that Roman cross, and marched out of that dead tomb, to make this gift a reality—not a potential reality, but a completed reality—for you and every other sinner on this planet.

@@Jesus is not a transactional Lord who's waiting for you to give in order to get.@@ He is pure gift. He is the willing giver. And you are the beloved receiver of the outlandish grace of the God who never asked you to contribute one thing to the arrangement.

That, and that alone, is the Gospel.

My new book, Night Driving: Notes from a Prodigal Soul, will be available October, 2017. You can read more about it here and pre-order your copy at Amazon. Thank you!