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Paul is one of my favorite, favorite blogs to read when I want to be challenged to think about the word or spirituality in a new way. We disagree on enough small things that he makes me think and wrestle more than I like to do with most bloggers, but we agree on enough that sometimes his words on grace, faith, growth, theology catch in my throat and send a resounding YES through my soul. (He wrote two posts for me, so double dose, folks. Another tomorrow!)
Pharisees grumble: why do you eat with sinners?
He tells them a story about a lost coin and the joy one has when they find it. He then goes on to tell similar stories about a lost lamb and a lost son.
We love to jump from the coin to the lamb and the son, but Jesus says something very interesting between those sections. He reminds the Pharisees of a central truth to the heart of God:
“there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine persons who need no repentance.” (lk15.7)
Did you catch that? He doesn’t say: “there’s more joy over one sinner who repents over ninety-nine that do not repent.” He focuses not on our action, but on our need.
It seems there is more joy in the heart of God over his creation needing forgiveness than if it had never needed forgiveness at all. God takes joy in forgiving and being gracious, but this implies there needs to be sin to graciously forgive.
Perhaps our sin can be good news to God.
But if you’re anything like me, perhaps you have subtly viewed grace as this thing you have to coax out of God; it’s something, yes, he gives, but he does it reluctantly and only out of obligation to the promises he’s already made. As I’ve written before, perhaps you feel like God abstractly “loves” you enough to give grace, but doesn’t particularly “like” you enough to enjoy doing it.
But that’s not the God of our Bible.
Ours is a God who, even before anything was made, was singing the song of the Gospel, declaring and decreeing “before the ages, for our glory” (1cor2.7) the story of our sin and his forgiveness. Ours is a God who has been worshipped from eternity past as “savior” and “redeemer”. This is his nature, and he could not fully express his saving nature, nor could he be worshipped for it, if there were nothing to save and redeem.
Our sin invites God to be God.
We see this in Jesus as well. He lived among those who were not being faithful in any way towards him–people who would turn their backs on him in his greatest need–and yet he related to them in absolute, unconditional grace. Hours before they would flee during his arrest, he is breaking bread with them, feeding his Presence to them, singing songs, and praying with them. All while he knew what was to come.
He loved and accepted them, no matter their “faithfulness” to him. He did not respond in the way we so often do. There was no “well, remember, guys: obedience is still important” or “well, technically you can do what you want and you’re still accepted by me, but you just won’t want to sin” or “well, we don’t want people to abuse this grace.” No, in fact, with his actions, Christ was screaming at those around him:
“Abuse this grace! Use it to do your worse! Beat it! Flog it! Kill it! Crucify it! It is still yours.”
No conditions. No limits. No waiting around for us to get our act together. No scare-tactics. No fear that we might (god forbid!) actually sin. Just a quiet and humble acceptance that we will abuse this grace, we will take it too far, and we will not take it far enough; but all along it is no less fully ours.
Why, in the face of this scandalous grace, do we all (myself included) have this knee-jerk reaction to add a bunch of disclaimers to it? Why are we scared of sin–either that we might do it, or someone else might do it–in light of this extreme grace?
I think it’s because, at our core, one of our greatest rebellions is that we don’t want to feel like we need grace.
We would rather err on the side of not taking grace far enough rather than than take it too far. But Jesus’ harshest words were reserved not for those who erred on the side of sinning too much, but for those that, in a way, did not sin enough: these “white-washed tombs” that had fooled themselves into thinking they were far better than they actually were.
I think we would all prefer to fool ourselves into thinking we are far better than we are. That doesn’t sting so much. And so we will freely define the limits God’s grace, because when we do that, we then have a law that we can wave in front of God’s face and say “now you must accept me”.
But this is not our story. Our weakness is our tale and it is in fact our glory because it is in that weakness that God’s power is made perfect. And so, out of love, he tells us to freely be weak, for we are His nonetheless, no matter how far down the road of sin’s allurements we travel.
An old pastor of mine once said: If it can’t be abused, it’s probably not grace.
If your view of God’s grace is something that cannot freely be taken too far and used as a justification to sin, then I fear you are preaching Law, and not the true Grace of our Lord.
So do you want to experience the grace of God? I can give no better advice than what Luther famously said: Sin boldly! But believe even more boldly in Christ, and rejoice.