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.