Just the Gospel (and a Milkshake)
NOVEMBER 21, 2023
We Christians just “smell like Jesus.” It’s not a matter of doing anything.
Can we really disappoint God? Does God punish us?
God disciplines us…but not in the way many think. Hebrews 12 on God’s discipline is the favorite text for Pharisees and the self-righteous. Their message is always that, of course, God loves you, but he is a disciplining God. If you get out of line, he’ll break your legs or give you cancer. That’s from the pit of hell and smells like smoke. God’s discipline is always gentle, merciful, quick…and followed by a hug. Not only that, whenever he disciplines (far less than most people think), he makes sure that we know what it’s all about.
Of course God is molding us and teaching us. But that is also kind, merciful…and always gentle. So much so that we often don’t know he’s doing it because God knows our proclivity towards self-righteousness. So he shows us enough to let us know that he’s there and that we’re growing–brief “glimpses of grace” so we don’t get discouraged–but not too much, so we don’t get arrogant about it. In fact, those who are getting better hardly ever know it because “getting better” isn’t even the issue. It’s just that the more we hang out with Jesus the more we become like him.
Whatever we think or read, or someone tells us that suggest anything less than God’s total acceptance of and unconditional love for us isn’t from him. That’s the amazing part of grace! We love him because of his love for us…when we do love him. And his total acceptance and unconditional love never change…when we don’t love him. Anything else is a lie.
In that sense, our sin, need and doubts are gifts from God when we know about our sin, need and doubts. And the most dangerous place we live in is when we’re obedient and know it. The truth is that we can’t even know love until we’re aware that we don’t deserve it. Love in response to goodness, faithfulness and obedience isn’t love. It’s reward. The only way we can experience love is when we don’t deserve it. Often when we struggle it is a “severe mercy.” God isn’t trying to teach us anything, to bring us into line, or to make us better. He’s clearing away the weeds…so he can hug us.
Don’t ever get law and Gospel confused. The law has only one main purpose (and a couple lesser ones) for the Christian. The law is a mirror that lets us see our radical sin and need…and then points us to Jesus. That’s it. The gift God has given us is repentance. Repentance isn’t what we’ve been taught and has nothing to do with change or obedience. Repentance is from a Greek word that means “a change of mind.” It is simply knowing who God is, who we are, and what we’ve done or left undone, and telling God. That’s all. It isn’t changing. It’s God’s methodology to change us if he wants to. He sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t. Repentance is an attitude. Christians are to live lives of repentance, the source of our power.
We shouldn’t obsess over getting better. We’ll get better and we can’t help it. Being crucified with Christ and his living in us isn’t a command…it’s a fact. He promised. The law lets us see (on occasion) the areas where we are better so we can praise God for it. And then the law is a guide to keep us from getting hurt and to show us where the dangers are. That’s good and a gift, but we shouldn’t try to get the law to do what it can never do. Only Jesus can make us better. And the only people who get any better are those who know that, if they never get any better, Jesus will like them anyway…a lot.
We all struggle with sin…and there are no exceptions. So welcome to the club. But God never says to us, “How could you do that? I’m so shocked, I had such high hopes for you!” The seriousness of a problem can be discerned by what it takes to fix it. In our case, we must have been seriously sick because it took the blood of Christ to fix it and that means we are “desperately corrupt.”
My late friend, Jack Miller, used to say that the whole Bible can be summed up in two sentences: Cheer up; you’re a lot worse than you think you are. And cheer up; God’s grace is a lot bigger than you think it is.
“Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”
It’s the Gospel…and we must preach it to one another.
Now go out and get a milkshake.
Read more from Steve Brown here.