Growing up in church, I loved the stories of the little guy beating the big guy (e.g., David and Goliath). Or the stories about God choosing and using the weak (e.g., Gideon). I especially appreciated then and now the stories of Jesus never giving up on screw-ups like Peter.
We’ve all heard the stories. Most of us can repeat them in our sleep, and we take great pride in bragging about how awesome Jesus is toward people who don’t deserve His awesomeness.
But . . .
When a close friend or family member blows up our world by failing miserably and hurting us, we often get pretty harsh pretty quickly. Grace is amazing until someone we trust breaks our trust.
The term for this struggle is theological dissonance. When there is inconsistency and conflict between our behaviors and our declared beliefs (i.e., dissonance) about something such as mercy and grace, we typically stop acting like the One we claim to follow.
Everyone loves the story of a convicted felon coming to faith in Christ. We lift our hands and shout hallelujahs when a mass murderer confesses his sin and proclaims belief in Jesus as his Lord and Savior. But when our spouse cheats on us or our kid gets busted for drugs, we point our fingers and shout curses at them in disgust.
When we are at the center of the impact zone (i.e., ground zero), we get angry and talk a lot about “consequences” and “reaping what you sow.” We demand repentance and a clear display of remorse before embracing the offender in love or restoring them in humble kindness.
Furthermore, we are passionate as we share isolated passages by the Apostle Paul about dealing with Christians who sin. We conveniently don’t mention that Paul also said “love keeps on record of wrongs,” and he struggled with sin too.
Sadly, under the pretext of biblical concern for their salvation, we will say . . . .
They should have known better, and they’re getting what they deserve!
God holds them accountable, and so will I!
Greasy grace is far too common in the church today!
I am shunning him for his good! Paul said to not even eat with sinners!
And the list goes on.
Am I suggesting that where grace abounds, we should sin away?
No. Don’t be silly.
Am I implying that there are never any consequences for our actions?
Of course not.
(I will remind you, however, that by definition, mercy is not getting what we do deserve.)
But I do want you to think about a few things with me.
First, none of us is without sin, and there’s only One person qualified to cast any stones.
Furthermore, the Bible is full (like you find it everywhere) of stories of God taking huge messes and doing incredible miracles through broken, fractured, and imperfect people.
One of my favorite passages is John 21. At the end of this beautiful book, Jesus restores Peter to ministry over breakfast on a beach.
Jesus didn’t ask Peter why he failed. He didn’t make Peter promise to do better. And the Lord did not shame Pete in any way. Only one thing mattered, “Peter do you love Me?”
By the way, Peter didn’t have to “prove himself” or go through a long season of recovery to rebuild trust. The restoration experience with Jesus occurred just weeks after Peter’s infamous betrayal and denial.
Apparently, Jesus has a great deal of confidence in the Holy Spirit’s ability to mold and shape us into the people we need to be. (So did Paul. Check out Philippians 1:6.)
But you know what’s sad?
Right now, some of you are forming a slew of “yeah-but” arguments rather than rejoicing in the goodness and mercy of Jesus.
It’s more important to you to be right (and put the wretched in their place) than to be relational. I would suggest you might suffer from Phariseeism.
One of the godliest men I’ve ever known was Noel Campbell, a spiritual giant, and mentor in my life. He impacted thousands of people, and if you ask anyone who knew him what quality marked Noel’s life above all others, they would quickly reply “grace.”
When I blew it (and I often did), Noel would smile, give me a gentle hug, and say, “Everything’s just right, Kurt. Isn’t God good?”
Inside I would sometimes be screaming, “BUT EVERYTHING’S NOT RIGHT. I’M NOT RIGHT!” But the goodness and kindness of Jesus demonstrated through that humble man made me want to grow, change, and do better the next time.
That’s what makes grace amazing.
That’s what makes mercy so marvelous.
That’s what gives me hope when I fail again and again.
Everything’s just right when Jesus serves breakfast on the beach or communion at the Lord’s Table (with twelve guys He knew would fail Him).
Incredibly, God not only accepts and embraces fractured failures like you and me, but He also delights in using us as models of His epicness.
When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared,
he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done,
but because of his mercy.
He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,
so that, having been justified by his grace,
we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.