This is a phrase I used a few days ago in my update on The Gathering's activities through 2011, and then initially described in simple terms in my first defining post. That first post identified with human expectations typically found in churches, which differ from the outline of Biblical morality and foundational beliefs which accompany the life of faith. Yet, I do believe that there are deeper issues of theology to be considered in the phrase "Jesus without strings."
In the tension of law and grace, or perhaps better described - in the void between law and lawlessness - there is a Jesus without strings.
Law is an outward force imposing not only definition, but impetus, persuasion, and even physical behavior modification techniques upon people. It is a subtle puppet master over us. The pull of a state law imposes fines, brings police action, and renders judgments when we transgress its defined lines of behavior. It is needed in a broken world, but as current events evidence, it is often oppressive. This is significantly different than grace.
Grace is an inward force. It is both an acceptance by God offered to us, and a power and understanding residing within us. Grace is not strings attached from the outside modifying behavior by threat of punishment, but a gentle action of volition. We connect to that which is good through love, and agreement with the activity of grace.
Grace is further empowering, because God is on the other side of the participatory equation. He gives power to accomplish the things we can not find the ability to complete on our own.
This agreement of love further cuts the strings of the law, because, as the apostle Paul describes it "against [love and the other fruit of the Spirit] there is no law." The love/grace combination stand as the void between law and disobedience or selfish rebellion.
Perhaps we have unfortunately positioned grace and law as opposites of one another in our theology. Whereas the opposite of law is probably unrestrained freedom or violent *anarchy. The love/grace combo stand in the space between law and its violation. Grace and law are in paralaxis to another. There is no place on the line accessing movement toward God where grace and law meet one another.
From an eschatological perspective: Jesus does not drag me toward salvation like a puppet being pulled toward a destination unwanted. I walk with Him in the direction of His deep desire. Grace is resistible (sorry Johnny C, I disagree with the L on your little flower). Paul speaks of this grace as having appeared to all men, and yet we do not all live in it. "For the grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men." (Titus 2:11)
The very resistible nature of grace shows how unrelated to law it is. It is not an opposite of law. It is something totally other. Like trying to compare apples and nuclear weapons there are only dissimilarities. There are no similarities. They are something completely different from one another. Grace is sustenance for the hungry soul. It is picked as well as provided. It grows without our understanding the mechanics of its development. Law on the other hand brings a scorched earth perspective to obedience - obey or suffer the consequences. It is complicated as it attempts to head off all the creative activities of sin and selfishness. It is unbending and threatening. It is necessarily held together by human activity as we regulate the actions of one another to keep it working.
The Kingdom of God is not a kingdom as we imagine this world's kingdoms to be. It is not driven by force. It does not drag its subjects kicking and screaming through its gates. Jesus does not work me like a marionette to bring me into His kingdom. He is indeed, "Jesus without strings."
Grace being so significantly different than law has radical implications on church life and Christian leadership. Those who are understand those implications will also understand how it relates to the phrase "messy church," and how that phrase is a positive one. But, that's a whole other set of posts. (insert a smirk and a wink)
* I have purposely phrased this as "violent anarchy," because I view grace as a type of anarchy. It is something which law has no connection or necessary interaction with.