11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:11-13
I often marvel at the things that keep people from grace. I was recently confronted by a woman who wanted to know if our church was “inclusive.” By that she meant, do we condone homosexuality? This was the Big Defining Issue for her. I told her we were so inclusive that we include people who disagree on the issue of inclusiveness. She was quick to indicate that she herself was not homosexual – I guess that we should be inclusive towards people who are embarrassed by their own convictions – and she has not ever shown up at our doorstep. It appears that I gave the wrong answer.
We all have pet issues against which we judge the world. However, when we come to the gospel, we come to something radically different. We come to the message that God Himself is crazy about us. God Himself forgives all. God Himself would rather die than live without us. God Himself has pledged eternal love towards us. We’re talking about GOD. Apologetics teaches us that if we look at the nature of existence, there is a creator who must be. The gospel tells us the shocking nature of the God who actually exists. He is love. Radical sacrificial unbreakable resurrection eternal persistent forgiving faithful love. Love that loves all the way. Love that genuinely forgives when forgiveness is actually needful.
The gospel trumps all of these divisive issues. If you make a proper stance on homosexuality (one way or the other) your plumbline, how will people who disagree with your stance ever get past that idea to the real grace of God? Insisting on proper opinions (meaning, they completely agree with your own) before you can declare a congregation as legitimate, is like saying you can’t go to the symphony unless you can bring your own kazoo. Do you really think that God hasn’t figured out how to remain holy and merciful at once just because you haven’t figured it out? Do you really think you’re that smart? Maybe we should crown you with many crowns and bow down to your superior wisdom! The love of God is our transformation – not conformance to all of our damned opinions.
Let’s assume that your particular set of moral opinions is absolutely perfect. You are a pillar of ethical greatness and moral perfection. If your perfect moral stance has the net effect of causing even one sinner to refuse or disbelieve in the power of Jesus Christ to satisfy justice for their sins with His blood, your perfect moral convictions are leading people to hell. In fact, if you do not see that the main message of scripture is grace, and that the purpose of the moral law is to lead us to our need for grace, you are probably going to hell yourself. You are proclaiming the law as solution, and not the cross as solution. If you do not understand that, you’re probably not really a Christian believer. God loves sinners. If you refuse to get on board with that, if your passion is to turn sinners away, and you continue to believe that you have functionally escaped the need for mercy, you are operating outside of the kingdom of God. Jesus eats with tax-gatherers and sinners because He likes them. When He was challenged about that by the pharisees, He didn’t say “Wait a minute guys! They’ve all repented! They made me Lord!” His brand of repentance was to talk about tales of rescue and mercy, and the kind of repentance these people exhibited was clearly not recognizable by the moralistic religious elite of His day.
But you, O critic of real grace, are better than the pharisees, and better than Jesus. You can maintain your “relationship – not religion” idea while still being morally demanding. You can reject sinners while still holding your strong moral ground. You have figured out the right way to reject sinners. You have figured out the right way to marginalize the cross of Christ. When you approach the throne of God and say “Lord, Lord, didn’t I reject sinners and hold the moral high ground,” it is going to work for you. You know how to do this. You know that when it comes down to it, all this mercy and grace talk is lunacy if it means sinners can get away with it. You’re going to make sure God gets this right.
Here’s the real issue: do you really think that your strong moral stance is going to convince sinners to reform? Your harsh rejection is going to inspire them to get right? Isn’t that a little bit like the terrorists thinking that bombing the World Trade Center towers would help the cause of Islam? Mercy and kindness and acceptance and forgiveness are the things that lead us to repentance. You aren’t going to help people by putting harsh conditions as the doorways to grace. We need grace first, in order to change. We need grace further on, because our change may take a while. Your harsh stance has the opposite of its intended effect. You can go back and read all your cherry-picked proof verses like 1 Corinthians 6:9,10,11,12 with that in mind. You need to work on working out your salvation (Philippians 2:12) and give such a great salvation much greater attention (Hebrews 2:1-3).
For my part, I am going to stay all soft and stupid when it comes to proclaiming real grace for sinners. I am going to be offensive and in your face about it. I am going to make sure I say one scandalous thing after another about the degree of eternal acceptance we have in Christ. If you do not love the idea of being washed in Jesus’ blood, if your main “go to” idea isn’t Christ and Him crucified, if grace isn’t your first refuge, you are going to hate my church. But that will not stop me from saying these things over and over and over again. Because I am a sinner and I need it, and so do all the losers who are a part of my glorious community of grace.