It seems that no matter how stringently I say so, people have trouble believing it when I say that grace and one-way unconditional love is the heart of the gospel. People think my main agenda is persuade them to agree with and conform to a traditional form of morality. Agreement with a traditional form of morality may or may not be beneficial, but this is not really the question at all. Outside of the gospel, no matter what you believe about where the lines of morality should be drawn, there remains a law which condemns.
Do a thought experiment with me; you’ll be so happy you did. Suppose you think some form of sexuality should be deemed acceptable, and so you draw the lines of morality that way. Let’s suppose that is OK for now, that it is not in dispute.
Does that mean you are now free from the crush of moral judgment? Of course not! There is still the question of measuring up to the standards of desirability and attractiveness. There remains the question of creative, financial, and career success. There remains a huge network of principle and standards of excellence and behavior that one is judged against, and that one judges oneself against. There remains the question of the conscience, and the thousands of daily decisions to speak and to act that confront us in our secret mind and desire. There is the question of sloth and laziness and self-centeredness and lovelessness and constant low-level irritation and hatred, and of having so little real joy in life. There is so much failure, so much falling short of glory and beauty, so much mindless numb settling-for-less living that remains.
The question isn’t where you draw the moral line. The question is how you deal with your failure concerning the standards of success and excellence that you yourself truly agree with! We don’t need to dispute over which morals are true morals and which morals are unfairly being imposed on you. Everyone of every system of belief falls short of their own standards. I don’t need you to agree with my expectations in order to say that you cannot live by your own standards which you yourself actually agree with.
This is the point: the heart of the Christian message is not that you need to agree with my set of standards; I am not talking about that. At all. Really. I mean it. I can press the case very easily that by your own standards you have fallen short of glory and that you need a savior, that you need perfect unconditional unbreakable love and acceptance. I don’t need to use my set of expectations to do that; I can use your set of expectations just as easily. I can make the case that your own culture’s judging eye bears wrath against your glaring and true imperfections. I can easily make the case that you feel the wrath and judgement against yourself from your own “accepting” people morning by morning and day by day. Do you really feel that your significant relationships are predicated upon the idea of perfect persistent unconditional one-way love?
The gospel is called “good news” because it is the door out of this intense and ever-present judgment. There is a good reason why Sartre could refer to our existential experience as nausea. We need to be rescued. It is not some small dispute about some fringe moral dispute that you need saving from. You live and breath and walk in an endless ocean of rejection and judgment and fear and relational boundaries that count you out. You are in constant fear of your own unworthiness. You need a savior, you need real love that sees you as a beautiful and priceless pearl worth dying for. You need perfect love.
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us. 1 John 4:18-19 (NASB)