As Christians, we often talk about “grace and truth” or refer to speaking “the truth in love” — as if the “truth” is very unlike grace or love.
But for a moment, can I address the truth about grace? The truth about love?
The truth about God’s love and grace is that both are way too extravagant for our comfort. Some will even say (and have said) it’s dangerous to preach “too much” about God’s love and grace.
But don’t we already know the Gospel is dangerous? It cost Jesus His life. You’re absolutely right it’s dangerous. Remember the powerful passage from The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe? When Lucy asked if Aslan is safe, Mr. Beaver answered,
“. . .Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
You may be familiar with an account of God’s dangerous grace — Jonah and the whale, anyone? Quick synopsis: Nineveh is bad bad bad. God tells Jonah to go there and tell the people to turn back to God. Jonah refuses. Then the bit about the big fish. Jonah finally obeys God. Nineveh turns back to God. God has compassion on them.
But have you ever paid attention to Jonah’s response to God after he calls out the Ninevites and God shows them mercy? Jonah says,
“I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:2b)
Sounds great, right? But if you read it in context, you see Jonah is actually hurling this at God as an ACCUSATION. Because truly, the people of Nineveh were THAT BAD. They were “those people.” Whoever “those people” are to you – that was the Ninevites. And no, I’m not specifying any one particular sin — because which sin is irrelevant. This applies to any of it, all of it. Plus, I’m pretty sure they had every sinful, selfish thing covered and then some.
Even so, God called out to them. And they responded. They turned back to God and He received them in grace and compassion. It was such an extravagant display of grace, it made Jonah uncomfortable. Actually, it pissed Jonah off.
God’s grace is so deep and so wide, it’s quite unsettling.
Can people take grace and abuse it and use it as license to sin? Yep. But if you are welcomed into the presence of God, just as you are, and still encounter and receive the fullness of His love – even in your imperfection, your selfishness, your stuff… who can come away from that unchanged?
I recently asked God, “Do You really love me as I am right this moment? Imperfections, selfish ways, and all? Or do you love the potential in me? The me I could be? This feels important. I need to know.”
He took me straight to His Word for the answer:
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
God really loves me just as I am. Not some future version of me. Not some what-could-be or what-might’ve-been. ME NOW. ME MESSED UP. ME TODAY. But my sin was not without effect – the effect was that I could not access that love. So… JESUS.
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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17, emphasis mine)
Please understand: I’m not saying we don’t repent when we come to Jesus. What I am saying is, REPENT doesn’t mean “clean yourself up first.” Biblical repentance is a change of heart and mind which results in a change of action. It’s changing your mind from rejection of Jesus to faith in Jesus. And Jesus transforms your life.
God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness, he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.
(Romans 2:4 MSG)
How can anyone change except in His presence? And how can they get to Him if we just throw rules and condemnation at them? His kindness. His unrelenting love. His fierce compassion. It warmed my heart and changed me from the inside out. “… it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love…” (Hosea 11:3,4) I can’t even begin to tell you where I would be if it wasn’t for Jesus. If not for His kindness. His mercy. His unrelenting pursuit of my heart.
I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. (Anne Lamott)
The world doesn’t need more rules. The world doesn’t need more condemnation. The world needs Jesus. Y’all, condemnation doesn’t change the world. Changed hearts change the world. And Jesus changes hearts.