Yes, you read the title right. After lots of dialog with people about God’s grace and forgiveness, who ask, “are you saying people can just SIN,” and, “what about hell and damnation?!” and such, I’ve decided to come out and admit it – I advocate evil. Since I believe in grace and mercy, that means that I want everyone to sin more and more and more. If someone is a Christian, that gives them license to do all kinds of evil and harm. Forgiveness means you get to do anything you want, ever. Wife beating is just cool. Wild orgies. Genocide. Pornography and alcoholism are the bomb. Christ died for us so we could go on sinning and sinning and sinning.
Since that is what people seem to be afraid that I am saying, I thought it would be helpful to lay the cards out on the table, there is no use beating around the bush. Let’s reason about it from there.
Let’s take our friend the serial adulterer. I’m not sure, but it is possible that the swinging free-sex lifestyle is not exactly the happiest and best life. Maybe our friend’s insatiable appetite for lasciviousness is not always the best and most joyous thing. I’m sure he doesn’t list his skills for secret sex on his business card, nor blog extensively about his experiences and send letters home to his proud mother about how his life of forbidden intimacy is coming along. Maybe he is sick of the shame and secrecy and rottenness of the consequences of his appetites. Maybe he is tired of taking such a powerful and beautiful part of his life and making it cheap and tawdry and shameful. Maybe he is missing true intimacy, sexuality combined with real affection divorced from shame. Maybe he would actually like to entertain the idea of change, maybe he WANTS to change, but is so stuck in destructive patterns that he doesn’t really know how to change. He feels that his life is over if he confesses and loses the comfort of it if he stops.
If I come along to our friend, and say, you are certainly going to hell for your deeds, how dare you go one cheating on your wife with other people’s wives! You can’t say you love God without having a transformed life! Adulterer! Idolater! Sinner! Turn or Burn! What might be the result? He might think, well, God already hates me, and this certainly reinforces my fears, and everyone else hates me too, and I even hate myself, but when I am with a woman she accepts me for a time and my troubles melt away. Why not go on with my caprine ways? Sometimes I feel bad afterwards, but hey, I feel bad all the time anyway. What does God offer but condemnation and the promise of hell? At least let me have my fun on the way to hell, I’m never going to be able to change anyway.
If, on the other hand, I come along to our friend, and say, despite your ridiculously evil lifestyle, God loves you deeply, and has a vision for the true strength and purpose of your life. You have fallen short of God’s glory, but He will forgive you forever and will work with you to help to dislodge this nasty pattern of desire in your life, and forge a new heart in you which loves honorable good things. There is real mercy, lasting mercy, mercy for your past and mercy for your future. There is mercy for what you actually need mercy for, forgiveness for your actual specific guilt! If you screw up and mess with a woman again (because you have years of this ingrained in you) God will still forgive. He wants to walk you out of this for the long haul. I am only His humble helper, but the Holy Spirit can touch your very soul with a supernatural power and change you. He sees past your behavior and loves YOU, as YOU, and wants to move past a focus only on your failures, to speak to you about what your life might look like if you had a chance to WIN! Not only in terms of stopping your addictive behavior, but also in terms of going on to a much much better way of life, full of joy and peace and contentment and rich spirituality.
Which approach might bring our friend the serial adulterer more surely out of his terrible ways? Which might lead him more surely to repentance? The harsh promise of the fear of hell and condemnation, or real lasting forgiveness and mercy, EVEN IF HE HONESTLY CAN’T PROMISE TO CHANGE? Perhaps he is honest, and can only promise to want to change. Perhaps he can only promise remorse. Isn’t this exactly the kind of man that Jesus said went home justified?
“”Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. “The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, “God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. “I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ “But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”” Luke 18:10-14, NASB.
Notice, the justified man didn’t promise to change at all! He didn’t even ask God to change him, he thought he was too far gone to ask favors of God. The idea of change did not enter into the justified man’s mind. The role of behavioral change in justification is clearly absent from JESUS’ conception of justification. Do you see it? Can you interpret other passages in a way that don’t violate the clear intent of this passage?
This whole dynamic of enduring forgiveness without promise of change isn’t just true for serial adulterers. It is true for every sinner, the obvious ones and the religious white-washed ones. What if God really actually loves us, and seeks our best? What if God longs to extend kindness, to forgive, and to offer a path to heartfelt genuine righteousness that will not be revoked? I believe that He is always the Father who longs for His beloved prodigal to return, for things small and things great. Grace means the path is always clear and the door is always open to righteousness, help and power are always available to get up and try again. That is what it means. Love always trumps judgement. The transformed life might be a long time coming, but the love of God for us is real and present now. Transformation is a fruit that follows, and everyone wants it. Grace doesn’t negate that, it opens the door to it. But if grace demands transformation, it is no longer grace. Grace says I forgive, I love, come to Me, I accept you, I will not stop seeking your best at all times. God is love and love always wins for everyone. Undeserved kindness transforms.