Grace Is Something So Incredibly Radical

I’ve been reading Tullian Tchividjian’s excellent book One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World the last week or so, and it is truly excellent. He discusses the need for a greater understanding for grace in a world that lives by and believes in what he calls “performancism,” being judged and evaluated based solely on your performance.

The Bible doesn’t purport that, he argues several times. He gives one example that I thought was especially powerful (p. 64):

…take an example from the Bible, that of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Once the woman’s accusers left, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (v. 11). Does this final imperative disqualify the words of mercy? No! Otherwise Jesus would have instead said, “If you go and sin no more, then neither will I condemn you.” But Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more. The command is not a condition. “Neither do I condemn you” is categorical and unconditional; it comes with no strings attached. “Neither do I condemn you” creates an unconditional context within which “go and sin no more” is not an if. The only if the Gospel knows is this: “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

For me, it was a new way to look at that story that shows Jesus’ unconditional love and His gracious giving of second chances. But it hit on a very important truth to remember about the grace and love of God.

God does not primarily view our works as our defining characteristic. He views our hearts and our position with Him as most important. See it in the structure of what Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery in John 8 – “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” The first thing He tells her is that she is not condemned. This is true for all of us who are believers: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). So we believers can rest in the fact that we are forgiven and loved and headed for eternity with God and Jesus no matter how much we screw up on earth.

But there is also then a following instruction: to sin no more. While it is an instruction we cannot completely fulfill because all men and women sin, it is not the primary way that Jesus relates to us. He relates to us based on the position of our hearts. Are our hearts submitted to following Christ? While wicked in and of themselves, the hearts of those who are believers are being renewed and remade by the Holy Spirit. It is the renewing of those hearts that allows us to pursue holiness and killing sin.

I’m reading through 1 Kings right now and saw a really cool theme throughout Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8. The guy was super wise. He’s praying a prayer of dedication of the temple he helped build for God and includes this passage (v. 46-50):

If they sin against you – for there is no one who does not sin – and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, yet it they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, “We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,” if they repent with all their mind and with all their heart…then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you…

Solomon, the wisest guy on earth ever, had the right attitude. God desired repentant hearts more than repentant behavior. Repentant hearts lead to repentant behavior.

And when our hearts are truly repentant, and we recognize our sinfulness, and we come to God asking for mercy, He will surely give it to us. That’s why grace is something so incredibly radical. The world doesn’t look primarily at our motives, it looks at our actions. God works the completely opposite way.

Let’s Be Careful with Our Message of Hate

Hate the sin, love the sinner. It’s an evangelical cliche as old as “grace through faith.”

Fun fact: that cliche is not in the Bible. The concepts are there and are true, but there’s no one verse we get that exact phrasing from. Apparently the phrasing was originated by Augustine and then modified a bit by Gandhi.

Whenever the sin of the day – currently homosexuality or choosing to have an abortion – comes up, we know we’ve got to show the love of Jesus, but we qualify, “You’ve got to hate the sin, love the sinner.” And it’s true. We can’t sit idly by while our sin tries to drag us away from God, but we can’t forget that God loves us and cares for us.

Wait, what? Don’t know if you saw what I did there, but I just turned that cliche on its head.

We love to spread the cliche, we love to make it a catchphrase because it removes the burden from us. It takes away our responsibility to really challenge ourselves to love others.

Two quick questions on this phrase:

1. Do we really hate our own sin, or do we spend more time hating others’ sins?

When we see the world express their love for sin, their love for doing things their own way, we come at the world with the cliche: hate that sin, love those sinners. It gets to be so much sometimes that we forget that we sin too.

A believer who has a healthy view of their own sinfulness will realize that they are just as worthy of that cliche as anyone else. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8,10).

There can be a tendency in all of us to look over our own sin and instead worry about the sins of others. It’s good to be concerned about the sins we see in others. If a brother or sister in Christ comes to us with a sin they want prayer or counsel for, we should jump at the opportunity to bear their burden, because in doing so we will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

But if we get too concerned about the sin of others and overlook our own, we just might miss out on the fact that we sin too, and are in desperate need of the reminder that we should hate our sin so much that we should fight it with every bone in our body, seeking the Holy Spirit for help all along the way.

2. Do we really love the sinner? 

I think sometimes we can use “hate the sin, love the sinner” as an excuse to not care too much about the sinner we’re speaking of. As long as it’s not hate, we’re good, right? As long as there’s no vitriol, no nasty words, etc., we’re straight.

From Brennan Manning’s wonderful book Abba’s Child (which I’m currently reading through for the second time, HIGHLY recommend):

“The command of Jesus to love one another is never circumscribed by the nationality, status, ethnic background, sexual preference, or inherent lovableness of the ‘other.’ The other, the one who has a claim on my love, is anyone to whom I am able to respond, as the parable of the good Samaritan clearly illustrates…This insistence on the absolutely indiscriminate nature of compassion within the Kingdom is the dominant perspective of almost all of Jesus’ teaching.”*

Our love for others should not be affected AT ALL by whatever sin they might be engaged in or anything else. You don’t see Jesus withholding his love from the tax collector or the prostitute. We should love without restraint.

“But that doesn’t mean we should accept what they do!” you might exclaim. And you’re right. We shouldn’t love what they do. We should not accept their choices. Part of loving them means speaking truth into their life, even if it directly contradicts their lifestyle.

But ask yourself: do you truly love them the way Jesus does? Not just speaking truth into their life, but also being a friend and loving them in spite of their sin. That’s what Jesus did for us.

I know I struggle with that. I know that I don’t love everyone around me the way I ought. I know I need to grow in that. I confess that I tend towards apathy much more often than love. I don’t care about people the way I should, and I should be seeking God, begging the Holy Spirit to grow me in that area.

If you struggle as I do in these areas, I would encourage you to ask for forgiveness, something God freely offers those who trust in Him, and ask for the strength and grace to grow to be more like our Savior, who could have very easily looked at us and taken the attitude we take towards sinners in our day.

I’m so thankful He didn’t.

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* Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Navpress, 2002), 75.

 

Sometimes the Devil Sounds a Lot Like Jesus

“Sometimes the devil sounds a lot like Jesus, telling me I’m not enough. And I don’t believe it, no, no, but I can feel it. And I need you so, yes, I need you so.” – Ben Rector

A difficulty I face (among many, many things) is the devil. He’s perhaps the greatest difficulty. He is a tempter. He likes to tell lies to us, to tell us we’re not enough, to get us to doubt God’s love.

I am a chief victim of his lies. So often I doubt the truth of God’s love in my life because all I see is my sin, all I see is the condemnation I deserve.

I pray, for myself and for you who feels the same way, that we not see God this way.

Check out 1 Peter 5:8,

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

The command here is to be sober-minded. The Greek for sober-minded means “to be sober, to abstain from wine.” When someone is drunk or not in a sober state of mind, it’s likely that they don’t have their emotions in check, they’re not thinking straight. Peter challenges his audience (and God’s challenging us) to keep our emotions and our thoughts straight.

Why? Satan’s trying to devour us. Satan is trying to take us away from God, make us forget about all the grace and all the love that God offers us. Satan lies about God’s goodness (check out Genesis 3) and says the pleasures of the world are better.

When we sin, if we’re not focused on grace, we’re probably going to see the condemnation and the guilt that sin provides. Conviction of sin is good, it’s right, it’s biblical. But not seeing grace is missing the whole point of God’s love (I wrote about this recently).

I often implant my thoughts of myself on God’s lips, the devil’s guilt trip as my Father’s words. And what a sad state of affairs that is! I think God hates me, I think God can’t stand the sight of me, I think God has no business dealing with me. The feeling is horrible.

And what greater lie is there? Satan’s biggest goal is not to get people to follow him, it’s to get people to stop following God. I am fully confident of this. He pulls us away from truths in God’s Word, truths like these:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 8:1

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” – Psalm 86:15

When we are oblivious to or can’t find truth, we find lies because we need to cling to something. When it seems you can’t find anything to hold onto, cling to Christ! Cling to spiritual truths that promise God’s love and forgiveness for your sins if you come to him with a broken and contrite heart!

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” – Psalm 51:17

Let that grace spur you on to obedience.

I find the final verse to Shane & Shane’s “Embracing Accusation” quite appropriate here to close:

Oh the devil’s singing over me
An age old song
That I am cursed and gone astray
Singing the first verse so conveniently
He’s forgotten the refrain
Jesus saves!