Recently one of my all-time favorite books was made into a feature film. I first read the novel years ago and fell in love with the author’s wit, charming characters and cleverly woven storylines—hilarious at times, yet poignant and heartbreaking in places, too. It’s a treasure among fiction.
So when I heard the movie was coming out, I read the book again. That way, I figured, the details would be fresh in my mind and I could enjoy the film adaptation on a deeper level. And I fell in love with the novel all over again.
Which is why the movie broke my heart.
They messed with the story. The screenplay eliminated half the book, changed major points, and even altered the relationships between characters from amiable to angry. Gone was the humor, wit, and warmth of the novel, which was integral to my enjoyment. What’s left is something entirely different—still a decent film and well made, I’ll concede, but not if you’re expecting the real story. The original story.
This movie is not what the author intended.
And I got to thinking. We do this in real life, too.
Because there’s another story—one that I adore above all others, which I read again and again and I’m guessing so do you. It’s God’s story. The gospel.
We know how it goes.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Jesus lived the perfect life we cannot live and died the shameful death we deserve so that we can be reconciled to God and enter heaven’s gates. When we believe and follow Jesus, He takes our place—“the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Peter 3:18). Nobody could write a better story than that.
Yet sometimes we change the details. We grow accustomed to our Christian standards and forget how the story started when we were sinners in need of grace. So we remove the warmth and replace it with rules, judgment, rituals, and traditions. We lay more burdens on people—on ourselves—than God does, as if our performance, our accomplishments, our checklist of good deeds can earn God’s favor. We forget mercy and grace.
In other words, we mess with the story.
And that is not what the Author of Life intended.
“No one can ever be made right in God’s sight by doing what the law commands. For the more we know of God’s laws, the clearer it becomes that we aren’t obeying them; his laws serve only to make us see that we are sinners. But now God has shown us a different way to heaven—not by ‘being good enough’ and trying to keep his laws, but by a new way (though not new, really, for the Scriptures told about it long ago). Now God says he will accept and acquit us—declare us ‘not guilty’—if we trust Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, by coming to Christ, no matter who we are or what we have been like. Yes, all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious ideal; yet now God declares us ‘not guilty’ of offending him if we trust in Jesus Christ, who in his kindness freely takes away our sins.” (Romans 3:20–24, TLB)
One line from the movie, although it wasn’t in the book, was actually spot-on. The main character confronts a prudish old biddy for being nosy and critical of “unchristian” behavior. She grabs the woman’s Bible and cries: “Here is a book filled with love, and you overlook it for judgment and petty meanness!”
When we rewrite the gospel—promoting rules rather than love—it must break God’s heart, don’t you think? He knows how the story is supposed to go. He wrote it—for us. And yet so many people get it wrong.
God’s book—the real story—is filled with love. God is love (1 John 4:8). For the believer, obedience or good behavior is a response to God’s love, not a means of earning it.
Love always comes first.
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:10–11)
So what’s the best way to live out the real story? It’s simple, really. Read the book. Memorize it. Meet the real Jesus. Then we’ll be able to tell the difference between the gospel God wrote and the one we humans tend to reinvent. And we’ll be free to love people the way God loves us.
Artistic license is fine for movies, but not for the Christian life. When it comes to faith, one plot stands true—one plot alone.
And it’s the greatest love story ever told.
Becky Kopitzke is the author of “The SuperMom Myth: Conquering the Dirty Villains of Motherhood” (Shiloh Run Press) and “Generous Love: Discover the Joy of Living Generously”.Becky lives in lovely northeast Wisconsin with her husband and their two daughters, where her home office is overrun with bouncy balls and tween craft supplies. For weekly, keeping-it-real encouragement, visit Becky at beckykopitzke.com.