One of the greatest scandals of the gospel is the free grace of forgiveness. But we say this, and I do not think we often let it sink in. The scandal of free grace is God’s love of sinners, God’s love of His enemies, His love of the worst kinds of evil people.
We like to hedge this. We say that God loves repentant sinners. He loves it when we turn from sin. When we feel the depths of our wretchedness. But that doesn’t quite get at it. Who feels the depths of their wretchedness? Who really understands just how evil they are? “Who can understand his errors?” David asks. Nobody, I know. But even if it were possible, this would put a price tag on forgiveness. God forgives so long as you understand just how hard, how scandalous this is. God forgives so long as you shape up, so long as you get with the program of being good. But God’s grace is completely free, completely careless, completely gratuitous — for the sake of Jesus.
God’s beaming smile has nothing to do with you. It has nothing to do with how you understand His grace, nothing to do with how you explain your sin, your failures, your mess ups, your face plants. In one sense, it doesn’t even have to do with your response to His grace. Have you ever sinned in the face of grace? Have you ever rejected His grace? Why didn’t God give up on you? Why didn’t God turn His back on you? Because His grace is poured out on His perfect, sinless, faithful Son Jesus Christ, and all who are in Him receive the same welcome, the same love, the same favor, and they will never be put to shame. Not one of the sheep given to Jesus will ever perish; no one can snatch them out of His hand. He bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you are healed (1 Pet. 2:24).
This means that God receives prostitutes who sleep with married men, helping them break their marriage vows, helping them betray their wives at home. God receives those prostitutes.
This means that God receives sex offenders, men who prey on little children, rapists, abusers, stalkers, molesters, and creeps of all of shapes and sizes. God receives filthy sex offenders.
This means that God receives murderers, haters, backbiters, gossips, and liars. He receives those who have planned the execution of the innocent. He forgives abortionists and the women who order the murder of their own babies. He forgives the military officers who order unjust attacks, and He forgives the soldiers who carry them out. God receives bloody murderers.
This means that God receives homosexuals and transexuals and bisexuals and transgendered and porn addicts and adulterers and fornicators of every stripe. God cleanses. God forgives. God extends mercy. God receives the sexually immoral and confused.
And someone will say, but don’t they have to change? Don’t they have to repent? Don’t they have to stop sinning? Don’t they have to understand something about the grace of God? Otherwise, why wouldn’t God save everyone? We’re not universalists are we? Yes, good questions. But first let’s fix the pronoun problems in the previous sentences.
Why do you say they…? Why do you speak as though they are out there, they are behind bars, they are extreme cases? Don’t you know that they are you? Don’t pretend that these sins are so far removed from you. Don’t pretend that you are all holy, chaste, and pure. If you say you have no sin, you deceive yourself, and the truth is not in you (1 Jn. 1:8). But if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9).
From most unrighteousness? From the milder forms of unrighteousness? From the socially acceptable forms of unrighteousness? No, from all unrighteousness.
Yes, when God’s grace comes, it accomplishes miracles, it transforms, it breaks through, it heals, it changes. Absolutely. This is no inert grace. This is reactive, explosive, living grace.
But God is this kind of grace by being scandalous, by being patient beyond our imaginations, by forgiving the worst kinds of sin. And this means that we must leave room for grace to be grace. Yes, you can tell when a sinner has tasted grace. There’s a humility, a softness, a quiet joy, a peace that passes all understanding. It’s all there, and the fruits of the Spirit start tumbling out. But God is not on our clock. He does not answer to our expectations. And what may look like a lost cause, what may look like a hardened sinner, what may look like the most wretched, abusive situation, often looks to God like the perfect opportunity for grace.
Perhaps you are that person who needs grace. Perhaps you doubt that you can be forgiven, that God can accept you because of what you have done, because of how you have failed, because of where you have been. But you need to know that there is no other kind of grace. In God’s economy, there is only unbelievable grace; there is only grace that’s too good to be true. There is only scandalous grace. It’s always a scandal that God accepts sinners. There are no mild cases. There are only fatal cases. There is only high-handed treason against God, and therefore there is only this amazing grace in Jesus. And therefore, no matter what you have done, no matter what has been done to you, there is grace for you. God receives sinners.
But perhaps you are the prodigal’s older brother. Perhaps you have been scandalized by the way God receives sinners, the way sinners are welcomed into God’s family, the way scandalous sinners are not turned away. Perhaps you have been burned. Perhaps you have been betrayed by someone in the church, by a friend, by a relative, and now you want justice. You want sinners to pay. Perhaps you have become self-righteous and proud, and perhaps you have forgotten how you got here: What do you have that was not given freely? Don’t you know that all you have is grace? Don’t you know that you’re standing on undeserved grace, standing in piles of unbelievable grace? You’re soaking wet with the kindness of God and it’s pooling all around your feet, and you’re objecting to the thimble of water going to the famished beggar? Are you offended by your Father’s kindness to the undeserving? Don’t you remember that you too are the undeserving?
We are not Mormons. We are not do-gooders. The Christian Church is not a place for the healthy, for the well, for the righteous. We come to Christ because we are desperate for grace, starving for grace, needy for grace. The Body of Christ is for the sick, for the broken, for the diseased, for the unrighteous. There are no other categories. There is only scandalous grace.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.