God’s Garbage Pile
November 10, 2011 § 1 Comment
It is not uncommon for the message of God’s grace to be accompanied by warnings against lifestyles that warp its intent into an excuse to live without regard for righteousness. It’s not an unwarranted concern. The apostle Paul asks if we would ‘sin that grace may abound,’ and then emphatically answers his own question, ‘By no means!’ (Romans 6:1-2)
The problem, however, is when people take this teaching and craft a joyless and impossible faith around it. I recently read an article in which a pastor criticized other pastors for not using fear and the threat of not inheriting God’s Kingdom as motivations for people to obey God.
Just think about that for a moment. What if the person you most loved told you that if you didn’t completely obey them, they would not love you any more, and further, that they would make sure that no one else would? What would this expose? Wouldn’t it reveal that they never really loved you in the first place? And wouldn’t it unearth a troubling view of love within them? How could you ever feel secure in such ‘love’?
But what about conviction and shame, and other very real internal reactions of conscience that accompany sin? They have a value, they really do. But their worth isn’t found in holding us in perpetual terror. Rather, it is in driving us to the One who loves us more than we would ever believe or assume anyone could.
Here is what Martin Luther wrote in a paper entitled, Concerning the Letter and the Spirit:
These then are the two works of God, praised many times in Scripture: he kills and gives life, he wounds and heals, he destroys and helps, he condemns and saves, he humbles and elevates, he disgraces and honors… He does these works through these two offices, the first through the letter, the second through the Spirit. The letter does not allow anyone to stand before his wrath. The Spirit does not allow anyone to perish before his grace.
Recently, in my routine sermon-writing Starbucks visit, I saw what is pictured above – a piece of cardboard covering a hole that was apparently mistaken as a trash receptacle one time too many. It grabbed my attention, because at the heart of the Gospel is this very message! It finds one of its most beautiful expressions in Zechariah’s prophecy, where in a vision, the prophet sees Joshua, the high priest, garbed in filthy clothes, standing before God while simultaneously being accused by Satan. However the angel of the Lord rebukes Satan, and then commands those around Joshua to remove his clothing, saying, See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.
Every fresh encounter with our sin is a crisis of cosmic proportions leading to such sorrow that it drove David to question his own salvation. But to imply or say that we should be motivated, in our Christian journey by terror, is born of an idolatry that molds God into our own imperfect images with all the distorted and warped views that accompany us.
Here is the thing: If you dig deeply enough, or not so deeply, you will find a lot of ugly stuff in me, and in every other unfinished one that walks the planet.
I don’t think it is incidental that Jesus was crucified on top of a trash dump! So with that I gladly admit membership in God’s garbage pile. His grace enables me to see myself for what I really am, while He constantly testifies to my spirit that I am His, and ‘not a trash receptacle!’
There is no other Gospel, friends. Such good news…