October 24, 2020

The Face of the Gracious God

UPDATE: My essay “Our Problem With Grace” deals with some of the issues critical commenters are raising. I recall that Lloyd-Jones said that you can generally be sure that you’ve preached the Gospel when you’re accused of going too far in the direction of grace.

And just a few weeks ago, it was The Gospel and Legalism.

As always, dedicated to Fr. Robert Capon, a light for me upon the gracious face of God.

Religion #1:

God is mean, angry and easily provoked. From day 1, we’ve all been a disappointment, and God is–justly–planning to punish us forever. At the last minute, thanks to Jesus stepping in to calm him down, he decides to be gracious.

But don’t do anything to mess that up. Peace is fragile around here.

Religion #2

God is gracious, loving, kind, generous and open-hearted. He rejoices in us as his creations, and is grieved that our sins have made us his enemies and caused so much brokenness and pain. In Jesus, he shows us what kind of God he is and restores the joy that should belong to the children of such a Father. True to his promises, he will bless all people in Jesus, and restore the world by his resurrection victory.

You can’t do anything to mess this up. God’s got his heart set on a universe wide celebration.

The New Testament puts it this way:

5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. … 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

The Gospel is the good news of a gracious God. It tells us again the story of the God who loves us, the God we have grieved and abandoned and the God who has taken our judgment and suffered it himself.

We have far too many people selling religion #1. Like the Pharisees, they are the authorized representatives of the grumpy, ticked off, hacked off, very, very angry God who MIGHT….maybe, MIGHT let you off the hook….MAYBE…..IF–and it’s a very big IF–you manage to believe enough, obey enough, get the theology questions right enough, find your way to the right church, follow the right script and get the details right, down to the last “amen.”

We have too many people who have heard that there is good news about God, and then discovered that the good news was covered in 25 pages of fine print explaining why God is actually quite miserable and its your fault. If you fulfill the conditions of the contract–See “Faith is obedience, perfect surrender and a good witness,” pages 203-298–then you have a reasonable hope of avoiding God’s end-of-the-word temper tantrum.

We have far too few Christians who are overwhelmed at the news that God has fired the bookkeepers, sent home the bean counters, dismissed the religion cops and bought party hats for the grumpy old people. The big announcement is this: In Jesus, we discover that God is just sloppy with his amazing grace and completely beyond common sense when it comes to his love. Just to enhance his reputation as the God who know how to throw a party, he’s inviting all of us back home, no tickets necessary, no dress code, for a party that will last, literally, forever. With open bar, and all on him. (Oh calm down Baptists. You can go to another room.)

In the story of the man who gave cash to his servants and said, “Invest it,” the loser had this speech to justify his failure to risk a cent: “I know what you’re like. You’re a power-hungry bully with no respect for people. You’re mean and I wasn’t going to have you blaming me that you lost a dollar. Here’s your cash.”

This wasn’t the right answer. The master had been generous. Gracious. But this fellow–trained in all the right seminaries and thoroughly read up in all the right books–blew it.

In the story of the prodigal son, neither son really knows what a soft-hearted, gracious, forgiving man they have for a dad. The younger boy treats dad like he’s already dead and doesn’t matter while he’s alive. The older son has dad signed on to a system where he logs in the required amount of being a good son and he gets a pay off.

Delightful kids. I wonder where Jesus came up with those characters? Hmmm?

Then the younger son tries his version of “get a deal with dad.” Thankfully, the Father decides to ignore the religion of these two boneheads, and throws the Gospel party, courtesy of the calf that made up the meal.

The Father will have his party. Even for the undeserving kid who doesn’t quite get it. Even for the Pharisee-wannabe who is horrified that dad’s not cooperating with the system.

God will be gracious. God will be good. God will be overflowing in love. God will be good to the world. God will bless the nations. God will put his lamb and his Spirit and his loving face at the center of a universe made over in the image of the greatest wedding bash/banquet you could ever imagine.

God will not be pointing at you and saying, “He wins!” or “They were right! Sorry!” Start dealing with the shock now folks. It’s not going to happen.

Your ticket to this event will most certainly NOT have a denominational name on it. Nor will your seat at the table be determined by your church or your theological team. The grace and goodness of God is going to erase all the lines, boxes, definitions, fences, dictionaries, sermons, announcements and pronouncements ever made. Your Biblical interpretations won’t amount to a hill of beans. God himself, and his good grace, will be the star of the show.

I don’t care how many times you tell us what God has to do, God is going to exactly what he wants to make Jesus the center of history. And all signals in the advance copies of the programs are that there is going to be one shock and surprise after another.

You may even have to sit by a Lutheran. I know….but what are you going to do about it?

What’s that you’re saying? Your dad was a Christian and he was mean and angry? So God is too, because he’s “our Father?”

No.

What’s that? Your preacher says that God is about to drop things on your car and punish you with his wrath when you make bad choices because we all have to live in the constant fear of the Lord? So God has to be like that, because your preacher is waving a Bible around when he says that?

No.

What’s that? A Christian at your small group says that God punishes us for everything we do wrong, and that God will discipline us with pain and suffering until we start living righteous lives that show we’re serious about Jesus. And God must be that way, because your friend has been a Christian a lot longer than you?

No.

It’s a sad fact that what God has revealed about himself in Jesus doesn’t exactly have a huge audience. But say that God is angry, mean and about to show us just how much with a few displays of wrath and suffering? You’ll fill a stadium.

You see, the grace of God just doesn’t fit in our box. How can God really–I mean c’mon!–how can God be gracious to (fill in the blank with Hollywood celebrities, famous politicians, loudmouth pundits, your jerky boss, that teacher who failed you unfairly, your ex-whatever, people with guns and bombs, and so on)?

God’s gracious face makes our religion fall apart. It takes away all our soapboxes. It shuts our mouths, because none of us deserve it and all of us can have it. God’s love and grace are so far beyond our ideas of what they ought to be that none of our ideas about God can survive the good news that comes in Jesus. Jesus is a salvation, grace, goodness, God revolution.

Titus 2 puts it so well: “11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people…” That’s what has appeared in Jesus. He did not come to condemn, but to save. In him, there is no condemnation. In Jesus, the Father shows his gracious face to all of us, for everything.

In Mark 3: 1-6, Jesus is in church and the religious leaders want to bust him for healing on the Sabbath. They had decided that God was the kind of mean and trivial dictator that cared more about the order of service than a human being’s suffering. So Jesus heals this man, but Mark describes something utterly unique and stunning: “5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.”

The image of Jesus healing in righteous anger at the religious bean counters–who were about to start the process of killing him–is for one simple reason: They sat in synagogue representing God as more interested in a stupid rule than in proclaiming and enjoying his gracious face of compassion for a hurting person.

So Jesus heals that man, put he’s pretty ticked off. If he was the God these guys believed in, he’d have turned them all into Alpacas. Which would have been pretty cool….but you get the point.

Let’s stop it. Let’s stop hiding the face of a gracious God. Let’s show it, sing it, worship in its light, live as if we know that gracious, glorious God as the one the Bible proclaims and who comes to us in Jesus.

Let’s enjoy the face of a gracious God. Now and forever.

Comments

  1. karen,

    I don’t believe I was harsh at all.

    Christina could easily say that some could take what I’ve written and turn it into what she describes. She purposely doesn’t do that.

    I understand that some commenters will want to comment in terms of their own journey. But I would appreciate not being tossed in with the worst examples from other’s experiences.

    Just a couple of sentences can make a big difference in what a comment is saying.

    peace

    ms

  2. Imonk, I think Christina does misrepresent your actual beliefs, but she also voices my fears about preaching grace so strongly. Don’t get me wrong: when I preach I emphasise grace to a huge degree, but sometimes even I think I go too far!

    A friend became a Christian a few years ago after a number of us told him the gospel. He now lives among party-hard non-Christians without any other Christians nearby. I’m afraid that the gospel I told him was too grace-oriented and that he won’t stand against temptation because of that! And yet for all those fears, I just know that I can’t turn around and now weigh him down with warnings of damnation because that would negate the very gospel I believe in. What to do?

    After a bit of thought and prayer, I reminded him that commiting yourself to Jesus is like changing your support from one football team to another – you change your colours, your chant, and all other evidences that set you apart as a supporter of a particular team. As a Christian, you live your life in such a way that befits a “Jesus-supporter” (of course with many imperfections).

    This is quite difficult for a recovering legalist like me. Any thoughts? Or is that something you have covered too many times before?

  3. Sherman the Tank says

    God is gracious because God enjoys being gracious. Jesus certainly didn’t need to trick God into taking pity on us “worms.”

    (Sorry if this is a triple post. Having trouble with coComment.)

  4. I think the fear of preaching grace too strongly is reasonable. Hence, Romans 6!

    It’s an appropriate topic here, though every post can’t address everything, and that’s why I link other posts that may address other issues.

    But Christina’s misrepresentation of “Religion #2” is not the way we’re going to have that discussion.

    We can all raise questions as we would in any reasonable conversation.

    peace

    ms

  5. Thank you iMonk. Wonderful post, and much needed.

    The Scripture says God is love. (I John 4:8). I’m well aware of God’s capacity for wrath, but nowhere is that given as his identity. That’s a significant difference.

    There has been at least one comment on the fear of God’s wrath being the motivation for not sinning. That has never worked very well in my experience, at least not in the long run. A love for God in response to his radical and enduring grace, however, seems to put a lot of bad behavior in check, and it has a way of transforming folks so that the change in us becomes permanent. Sometimes that’s a journey, and a hard one, but it’s powerful stuff. We could all use more of that.

    I was raised as an MK in a fairly legalistic environment. Went to seminary. The whole bit. But more and more I’m convinced the theological squabble, denominations and Really Important Issues of the moment just aren’t getting us anywhere. Yancey really was right. No one really becomes a Jesus follower because they lost the argument. People are loved into the kingdom. Go grace!

  6. Early Missouri Synod Lutheran theologian Dr. C.F.W. Walther has a chapter in his classic work The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel called “The Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is preached to those in terror of sin or Gospel to those secure in sin.” Maybe this is a good balance between the two polls.

  7. Richard Hershberger says

    Clavem Abyssi makes a good point with “…a lot of us grew up in Religion #2, a bland, featureless universalism at its worst, and we yearn for a red-blooded religion where Heaven and Hell, good and evil, holiness and sin actually mean something.”

    I grew up a Lutheran preacher’s kid. My reaction Michael’s post is not that we don’t hear this enough. I have heard essentially this sermon all my life. That isn’t a criticism: it is a good sermon and I am happy to hear it again. I have also heard my share of bad sermons. The typical bad sermon, coming from the ELCA side of American Lutheranism, is the bland featurelessness (if not actual universalism) Claven Abyssi describes: a sermon that can be summarized as “Isn’t it nice.” I would rather hear a sermon I disagree with than a sermon which is twenty minutes of my life gone without a trace. This sort of religion won’t traumatize anyone, but neither will it give them a reason not to sleep in late on Sunday morning.

    But it doesn’t have to be that way. Grace can be preached meaningfully and movingly. Michael showed us this.

    As for the dangers of preaching too much grace, I am unpersuaded of the moral benefits of holding a gun to someone’s head to make him do the right thing. The gun to the head will impess itself more than any righteous acts resulting from it. The problem is that we too often ask the wrong question. We ask “What must I do to be saved?” Asked and answered. There is nothing we can do, but it’s been taken care of for us. The better question is “Now what?” How should we respond to God’s grace? We have a choice. We can go the cheap grace route, or we can try our best to walk the path of righteousness. But it is a real choice. There is no gun to the head.

  8. The interesting thing about Romans 11:22 is that “to those who fell, severity” is not – in this context – a condemnation of sin-loving hedonists. Instead, the context refers to those who really WANT to be righteous – but by works, instead of by faith:

    “Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, “behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
    Romans 9:31-33

    Yes, Jesus referred to Hell often: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”
    Matthew 23:15

  9. First time commenter …

    What if our motivation to change our lives was not fear for Gods anger or wrath, fear to disappoint him, fear of the law or anything like that?

    What if our motivation to change our lives is … desire?

    That seems to me to be what Paul is writing in Romans 6.
    The freedom in grace is absolute. So why should we change our lives? Well, because we are now made alive with Christ. Sin leads to death, the life in the kingdom leads to life. And the abundant life Christ offers to us is the best thing we could ever desire.
    As Paul says in Efesians: ‘You were darkness. Now you are light. Walk as children of the light’.
    The life we led before doesn’t fit with the new creation we are. It’s destructive.
    The new life of the spirit is what befits our new reality. Life in the kingdom is good!

    A good book on this is the book by Jerram Barrs and Ranald Macauley ‘Being human’

    The problem I think is that we have closed of our hearts for desire, thinking only of obligation. It’s our default mode as fallen human beings. We think in terms of control to change behaviour.
    But our behaviour changes as much or more by desire than by control. Control can only go so far. Desire can set us on fire and drive us to glory.
    If we truly saw the goodness of the kingdom of God and the life that is available in that, we would clamour to get in.
    Lewis was right when he said God judges our desires not to strong but to weak …

    And how will we come to desire this new life? By the absolute love and grace of God.
    We love God because he first loved us.

    Johan

  10. I don’t believe ther can ever be too much grace — only too little understanding. I will never tire of preaching the absolute grace of God through the cross of Christ, but I will also preach that we must become people who are willing to come to God on the basis of nothing but grace .. “nothing in my hands I bring”

    We do not have to make ourselves good enough in any way, shape or form — we can’t!! but we do have to be willing to receive — and some people find that unmanageable. The cross IS the skandalon — we are called to worship God, not just in His power and might, but as the one who gave up His power and His reputation and even His dignity — for us. And there is nothing in all creation that can ever separate us from that love .. and that applies to anyone who is willing to come.

  11. leaps for the bandwagon… made it!
    Excellent – thanks!!

  12. This is a complete misrepresentation and perversion of what I wrote…Item after item in this comment misrepresents my post and declares that I’ve said thing I’ve never said.

    You are right, I shouldn’t have generalized what you believed in that way. It would have been more correct to say that’s what I heard, both growing up and when I read your post. I grew up Catholic, which, by all generalizations, should not have been teaching anything like what I perceived your religion #2 to be, yet it’s what I came away with. I’ve now read enough of your other material to know you don’t sanction what I described.

    The Devil loves to drive us apart further by generalizations, I should have known better than to fall into the trap, but as you said, let my emotions get in the way. I’m sorry. In doing so I weakened the whole comment which was meant to be a post about my personal experience with messages weak on sin’s effects in our lives.

    Christina could easily say that some could take what I’ve written and turn it into what she describes. She purposely doesn’t do that.

    I didn’t purposely do that, I just was one of the some…I’m sorry I didn’t read your post in light of your other works.

    Your post will stand, but I won’t post any others in this discussion.

    This is a personal apology to you, feel free to remove it.

  13. I think the reason why we don’t see Old Testament divine “wrath” being poured out on mankind these days is because of how the Life and Teachings of Jesus has changed our focus:

    As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

    “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” John 9:1-3

  14. Memphis Aggie says

    “You can’t do anything to mess this up.” and “he will bless all people in Jesus” I believe all of religion number 2 except these bits which are fantasy as false as the prosperity Gospel. Take the cherry picked and white washed quote from Titus 2 chapter you choose. That chapter is loaded with exhortations to works and self control and avoiding sin. Why bother if you’re bullet proof? If you turn from away God through sin you no longer remain in the vine. Why does Jesus make such a point about remaining in Him if you can’t mess up? Why the talk of goats and sheep if everyone’s a sheep that can’t mess up? Sure we are all offered undeserved unearned grace but if we sin we effectively leave the party tent. The temptations to sin are real for everybody and this bullet proof notion is dangerous because it may lead to laxity in the face of temptation. We may dearly wish that Hell is empty, but that concept is in direct contradiction to the discourse on the narrow gate.

    [Mod edit]

  15. I do think there ought to be no limit to preaching on the sheer gratuity and superabundance of God’s grace. It’s too tempting for preachers to try to make God seem stingy and tight-fisted, a used car salesman of grace, in order to drum up some wretched urgency for whatever petty project they’re hatching. I think there ought to be neon lights, bells and whistles over the confessional, and every time someone receives absolution the lights and bells ought to go off, as if they won the jackpot at a casino, to signify the Pacific Ocean of grace that has just been dumped on their head. My old pastor said that he wanted to hand out giant loaves of bread and goblets of Bordeaux for Communion one week. Maybe baptize with a fire hose or something, too. When it comes down to it, the road might be narrow and hard to find, but when you’re on it, salvation is pretty easy, the yoke is sweet and light.

    Still, I have to take issue with the line “You can’t mess this up”. Sin does mess it up. The servant who was forgiven a massive debt and then demanded his friend fork over the pocket change owed to him didn’t keep the grace he received from the master. I guess this one comes down to doctrinal differences which cannot be resolved in the comment section of a blog.

    Anyways, great post. Thanks!

  16. Couple of questions in my warped mind:

    With the talk of “bland universalism” being as “false as the prosperity Gospel”, what is it about universalist theology that is so offensive?

    Also, with the squaring off of “you can’t mess this up” versus “sin does mess it up”, I have to ask that if sin indeed can mess it up, what then did Jesus actually do on the cross?

  17. “Awhile ago it’s all about the cross and how Christ is not simply who we want him to be and that we must carry own own in imitation of him and now you’ve re-cast him as Mr. Rogers or Barney.”

    Jesus IS Barney. And Mr. Rogers, and Santa Claus. They don’t have the Trinity in your church?

    …….

  18. Memphis Aggie says

    Justin,

    I’m not offended I just find the concept that grace requires zero from you and me as silly and contra the plain meaning of the Gospels. God forgave certainly and the cross redeems certainly but we are obligated to remain in Him and carry our own cross. Why is that so complicated? The Bible says so flat out. I thought you believed in the primacy of the written word. Our part is small and insufficient but our part (cooperating with grace) is not zero and unnecessary.

    In any case, this is a doctrinal difference between the faiths that won’t be solved here but to me it sounds like Baha’i not Christianity.

  19. Memphis Aggie says

    How about this for simple. When Christ says “follow me” you can’t just sit there. Are you seriously arguing that staying in the boat is the same as following him? Or perhaps you are arguing that you can follow him for a little while and that’s good enough forever. I’d agree, only on the condition that following Him was the very last thing you ever did in this life (St. Dismas).

  20. Yeah, the idea that “Grace requires” some percentage more than zero needs to be heard. Can we get some percentages out here? The last Baptist I heard take this on said 90-10. Sounds great to me.

    Lutheran justification or Catholic justification. Take your pick, readers. And be sure and ask which side is the angriest right now, and why.

    Meanwhile, what religion allows atheists, Muslims and non-Christians in the Kingdom of God? And says so right there in their stated beliefs?

    And I’m a contradiction Aggie?

    You were inside the ball park till you decided to make me the problem rather than acknowledge the many sides of the Biblical method.

    BTW all of you who believe that sin is going to mess up the Father’s ultimate party should [MOD edited: consider whether Christianity is a religion with too much grace to keep people in line.]

  21. Memphis Aggie says

    I apologize to anyone who took offense. If I find a view point inexplicable or contradictory I’ll try my best to de-personalize the language or I’ll just avoid commenting at all (or I’ll get banned).

    Please answer a question: can a saved person loose their salvation by sinning? If not, then I don’t get how you came to that belief.

  22. Can a saved person- evangelical jargon there- lose his/her salvation by sinning?

    Evangelicals are divided on that one. A lot of variables are on the table, most importantly “What do you mean by salvation?”

    Can Christ’s work in the life of a believer be defeated as long as that person belongs to Christ? No. Hindered? Yes. Ultimately defeated? No. And I don’t even believe in purgatory.

    Can God’s ultimate plan to save the universe and a multitude too great to number be defeated by sin? No. It cannot.

    People who are concerned about losing their salvation need to hear more Gospel and more grace.

  23. iMonk:
    Namely, it is because salvation is purely gratuitous that one cannot say that a certain individual is not saved simply because they did do or did not do a certain thing. If God wishes to save someone for absolutely no reason at all, he is free to do so, although you can be sure that it is the blood of our Saviour that accomplishes this.

    It seems assurance and eternal security are the main issues being discussed here, although it has yet to be explicitly mentioned. I don’t want to touch it from a Catholic/Protestant perspective but I can understand why you’d be fed up with evangelicals who believe in assurance in theory but refuse to act like it’s true, preach it or let others do so without complaining and fussing.

  24. “BTW all of you who believe that sin is going to mess up the Father’s ultimate party should change religions. There are some openings in Islam.”

    IM, this is an insulting statement. If you can’t show the civility you demand of your contributors, then that is disquieting. I don’t mind your prejudices showing sometimes (I’m sure mine do too) – but bullying and petty tyranny are really unattractive.

  25. Memphis Aggie says

    “Can Christ’s work in the life of a believer be defeated as long as that person belongs to Christ? No.”

    I agree with this. What I don’t get is how a phrase like “as long as that person belongs to Christ” is a any different from saying yes you can loose salvation. How does one cease to belong to Christ if not by rejecting Him via sin? I do not mean that sin is more powerful than grace (that’s heresy) but rather that we are given the power of choice and that choices are made throughout life. God does not force us into the tent and we can leave at any time (although that’d be a disaster, it is allowed). Maybe you would say that loss of belief was like leaving the tent? Faith and doubt are interwoven and everybody’s faith gets tested. Some may not pass every test and go out. Maybe they come back later, maybe not.

    For the record I don’t worry about loss of salvation because mortal sin must be consciously chosen. I worry about venial sin that does not incur the loss of salvation, but distances one from God. Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom that matures into love. That’s in my Bible – but it may be apocrypha.

  26. Aggie:

    Every sin at its core is a dethroning of God and a breaking of the first commandment.

    Again, I’m left asking for math. How many and how much will cost me my salvation?

    Donna G:

    I’ll edit the comment.

    thanks

    ms

  27. This has been the most bizarre and discouraging conversation on the subject of grace I’ve ever had. Were it not for a hope in near universalism, an utter confidence that God’s grace will overwhelm my sorry excuse for faith and an ongoing belief that Jesus will win over every enemy, I couldn’t take a step in this Christian life.

    If I’m overly optimistic, overly hopeful and overly impressed….sorry. If I need more wrath and fear to keep me in line, I’m out of luck. If I need a system where I cooperate with God, then I’m out of any reason to be a Christian.

    It’s all of nothing. Grace or condemnation. Jesus does it all or I’m sunk.

    If your version of Christianity is a cooperative venture between grace and works, then you are a better Christian than me. Frankly, you’re a better Christian than I even want to be. I can’t imagine what there is in this Christianity business beyond the complete mediation of Jesus.

    Really an odd discussion. I may close it for its own good.

    ms

  28. I am very late to this post. So, I will just say, “Done good iMonk!”

  29. It’s all of nothing. Grace or condemnation. Jesus does it all or I’m sunk.

    Not that I’m all that good of company, but I’m with you.

  30. You may have closed this thread, and this may be an annoying question, but I am really really really curious about the idea of near universalism. Can you help me with this? (Or just refer me to a link or something, and I’ll research it on my own)

  31. The logic of the Gospel is universalistic in scope and invitation. The teaching of scripture is that all will not be saved, but all could be. My hope is that almost everyone will be saved. A lot more than Christians pray for or dream of.

    That’s it. Jesus saves the world…except for those that simply refuse.

  32. Salvation and death is now, is it not …?:

    But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in THE DAY that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. Gen. 3:4

    The punishment for sin is death — right when you sin, not at the end. The earlier discussions about religious depression seemed to be related to people getting stuck in thinking they couldn’t be forgiven — there was some requirement they couldn’t quite meet, some formula they failed to quite get right.

    The real “formula” is to give up formulas. The only requirement is that you require none for yourself or for anyone else.

    I think that’s what faith is — and even that is a free gift. And for accepting this gift of faith, you get the grand prize of Eternal Life — right now — in exchange for the “death” that is the result of the requisite formula you got hoodwinked into relying on.

  33. Thank you for explaining that. That makes a lot of sense to me.

  34. I think you pretty much hit it on the head when you mentioned the story of Zacchaeus.

    It seems like a lot of doctrine that diminishes God’s grace comes from looking at things in the Epistles without paying atttention to the narratives. They are filled with gigantic loosers and when you read the Gospels you see Jesus forgiving people that are just trying to use Him for healing.

    It seems like it is often a question of order when we look at God’s commands for us who are in the New Covenant. The New Covenant promise is that God will forgive us and change us, but I think sometimes we are looking for more change or different change than is typical.

  35. I believe there’s a connection in these two experiences of St. Paul that is instructive:

    And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

    And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. Acts 9:4-5

    And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

    For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

    And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2Cor. 12:7-9

    Even Paul, with all he knew of the precepts of God in the light of the Revelation of the crucified Messiah had to just give up and trust in God’s Grace.

    Heard a quote the other day — can’t remember the reference, but it was in the vein of this thread:

    There are three things that are of no use on a sinking ship — a sail, a rudder and an unwillingness to die.

    In other words, let go and let God.

  36. I’m with you Michael, if I have to put any confidence (even .0001 percent) in my flesh to save myself then I’m hosed. Many people around here need a good dose of Relational Theology I think. Stop worrying about saving your own skin and enter into the relationship Christ has purchased for you (Jn 17:3).

    Oh, and here a snip from an old post of mine that I thought might be relevant:

    All to often in our world, we find that performance is a condition of our acceptance and worth as a person. We learn this in school, many learn this in our homes, our churches, and in our jobs. This is the way of the world, and we recast God in our image when we assume that God is the same way. I’m guilty of this more times than I’d like to admit. But in God we find someone who knows us at our worst, and loves us all the more. He doesn’t stand back and wait for us to fix ourselves, rather he offers to come into our brokenness and begin the healing process – if we ask. He is the one who is faithful to complete the work he begun. When we look for something we can do to get right with him, we get nowhere. But when we trust what he has done to make us right, that makes all the difference. I have found that the most profound changes in my heart come at my darkest hours; Those times when I finally give up on my abilities to accomplish anything through self-effort. “We worship in the Spirit, glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” (Phil 3:3) Father, may I learn from those and trust you at the first, rather than at last.

  37. Sherman the Tank says

    “Near universalism.” Love it!

  38. I have a question to the parents on the thread:

    Is there anything your child can do to to cause you to throw them away? To cause you to disown and refuse to acknowledge them as yours?

    To bring up a metaphor I used earlier: if your child disobeys you and insists on standing in front of the speeding freight train, do you let them die or do you do all in your power to get them out of harm’s way?

  39. God never stops loving us, but we can stop loving him, right? If not, is he forcing us to love him? If not, then why do some folks walk away from the faith for life? (And please don’t give me the Reformed answer that “they were never really Christians”…)

  40. I would rather burn in hell FOR ALL ETERNITY than follow your god for a nanosecond. Do I make myself clear?

  41. Those who did not pursue righteousness have attained a righteousness that is by faith; but those who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

    I want (and have) your God iMonk… I’d rather burn in hell for all eternity than follow Goliath’s (above poster) god.

  42. Goliath:

    I’m sure that can be arranged.

    ms

  43. Memphis Aggie says

    Still don’t get it. I believe he came for everyone and saves everyone and that he provides all that is necessary to be saved including faith and strength in any trial, as long as we ask for it. Nothing depends on our flesh or our ability or any thing of us. It does depend on only one thing that we must do: choose to be with him. Not because we have any power on our own but because we are not mindless robots automatically programmed toward Heaven but rather we are fully realized human beings who can choose (also a grace). This is necessary because the love a fixed unfailing machine is like listening to your own voice in tape recorder say “I love you”: it’s empty. I believe our purpose is to love God and for that love to be real we must love him of our own choice, meaning failure must be possible as well or it is not a real choice. Without this free will which is a grace of God, the problem of why there is evil in the world looms very large. If choice is not required and all our actions are merely automatic then suffering becomes bizarre and pointless cruelty and I do not accept that God is cruel. Only because we can choose falsely do we have need for a redeemer a rescuer in Christ. We still can choose to like Goliath, for whom we all must now pray. We are allowed to suffer and to cause even Christ to suffer because our free will is so crucial to meaningful worship. Christ was willing to die to persuade us to love him through demonstration of the highest order. He could compel it of course. I do believe that once we choose rightly we are given all that we need to remain in him but that our active choice is still there so that our love is still fresh with meaning. So all that I have to do is want to be with him.
    Sin is downstream of loss of love of God, faith and self love. It’s not really anything to worry about much, there is plenty of reason for optimism Rejoice!, because as long as you really love someone you would do anything to stay with them. The risk is very slight but important theologically.

  44. Near universalism. I like that way of putting it. It’s difficult to proclaim true universalism without also proclaiming a sort of god who forces himself on people, who coerces them to worship him. That hardly looks like love. It looks more like rape.

    But here I follow closely with St. Isaac the Syrian. I find it difficult to imagine that anyone could stand in the fire of God’s unending love without having their hearts at some point warmed by that love. So I hope that all will be saved, that none will forever turn God’s love into an experience of pain and darkness.

    But I know my own heart and I fear that some may be able to do just that.

  45. Memphis Aggie says

    Near universalism would be nice but Matthew 7:13 makes me thinks otherwise

  46. Universalism usually turns sin into non-sin, which means that the Gospel has to be about non-grace. God is not the gracious savior who rescued you from damnation with his own blood, but sort of an omnipresent version of Stuart Smalley.

    God never describes hell as the “fire of his unending love.” That’s an idea that later Christians came up with in an attempt to harmonize Christ’s teaching with the principles of neo-platonism. The conclusion they reach, of course, is that when God says that sin is a “stench in his nostrils” and other such earthly language, that he didn’t really mean it like it sounds.

    The real story is that indeed, all are invited to the wedding feast. All. And “all” means “all.” But the path is narrow, and few find it. Why? Because to get into the feast, you’ve got to win the bright, new, clean, pricey garment that the Bridegroom bought for you. Most people, including many people in the comments here, want to wear their own filthy rags in. They think if they work hard enough at scrubbing the stains out of their revolting dumpster-duds, and yell at enough people to get busy washing their rags, they’ll not only get a spot at the table, but get a better spot than all the people who are wearing the Groom’s clothes.

    Some of them even fool themselves into thinking that they can buy detergent from the Groom, so that when they scrub their rags in the back alley, they’re really “cooperating” with him in making a spotless, new garment.

    The problem is that, when they insist that the Groom cannot simply just give new clothes to people to wear at the feast, when they accuse him of injustice or scoff at such action as a “legal fiction,” that the are insulting his generosity to the greatest degree. He is being generous, and they accuse him of evil! But of course they know the host can’t be like that, because they studied theology.

    So they show up in their rags and are cast back out into the darkness. Don’t insult the Bridegroom at his own wedding feast.

  47. We are saved FROM sin and death. We are saved TO the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God on this side of the eschaton looks like a life of love and good works in obedience to God’s will.

    Such a life is impossible apart from Christ because when we stumble, and we stumble in everything we do on account of our depravity in sin, the Kingdom of God is closed to us. The Law reveals God’s holy standard and condemns us in what we do. But Jesus Christ on the cross fulfilled the Law and in his resurrection defeated this condemnation. So now, in union with Christ, we are made right before God so we can obey freely. When we stumble, we can get up again and go on living for the Kingdom.

    This way defeats both the legalist and the antinomian: the legalist, for the cross and resurrection annihilate all condemnation on God’s servants; the antinomian, for the person with no interest in obedience has no interest in God’s heaven either, since the former looks like the latter.

  48. Mempis Aggie — “Near universalism would be nice but Matthew 7:13 makes me thinks otherwise”

    “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”

    It seems to me that a lot more people are attempting to enter through some requisite formula than do by pure faith in the gift. The former lends itself to pride, arrogance and judgmentalism, while the latter leads to pure humility.

  49. Ignoring all the comments above me…

    This is an awesome post! One of your best ever. Thanks for it, TMH.

  50. fashionkath says

    This post is incredibly freeing for me. I have a wrong view of God in that whenever anything “bad” happens, I think it is some sort of discipline or chastisement for my sins. I experienced several losses in a rather short period of time, and I distanced myself from God because I felt I could not worship a god who takes my loved ones to teach me a lesson. I should add that I’ve been a Christian for a long time, but this nearly pushed me over the edge. I’m slowly finding my way back and visit this site quite frequently. I’m almost always comforted by what I read here as I really need to know about Grace. I know far too much about the legalism that has wrapped its tentacles around me far too tight.

    Thank you so much, Michael.

    fashionkath