I remember distinctly the time that the central message of this book was born in me. I was running a failing business and was in the middle of laying off my treasured employees. I owed great sums of money that I had no real hope of obtaining. We were going through marriage difficulties. I was a dejected and defeated man. In the middle of it my men’s group was going through the parables of Jesus, and I was pondering the parable of the pearl of great price. I will never forget when it hit me that the kingdom of God was not the pearl, the kingdom of God is the merchant, and I am the pearl. In that moment I realized that I was greatly and tremendously loved, truly treasured and desired by God, and that He really did go and sell everything to gain me. I wept and wept with very hard deep emotions, wave upon wave of the revelation that I am dearly and greatly loved, that I am desired by God. In the moment when I felt most hurt and worthless and defeated, I had the revelation that I am greatly treasured. I had known this before, but not like this. My life had changed.
This book is a loosely organized collection of doctored up essays from my blog, thereforenow.com. It is a loose collection, yet there is a tight focus on three related things in every chapter: grace, virtue, and desire. When I talk about grace, I mean scandalous forgiveness, blessing and love which are wholly undeserved and unearned. I mean that God loves us passionately and truly. When some friends brought the paralytic man to Jesus, before He healed him, He declared his sins forgiven. The pharisees grumbled and reasoned against Him in their hearts. Jesus then proceeded to heal him, in order to prove that He has authority on earth to forgive sins. In every chapter I am going to aim to ferret out the grumbling pharisee in you, and to reason with you that yes, He really does have authority on earth to forgive sins!
Another theme throughout the book is the idea of Christian virtue. When we are introduced into grace, the question always arises, can we now just do anything we want, even sin, and expect eternal acceptance and forgiveness and blessing? The answer is, first, that we often make an idol of our behavior. The first principle is not virtue, it is that we are loved by Christ. God has established that we are very loved. Virtue grows from that vine. Many times this gets turned around – we begin to think that God’s love for us stems from our virtue. This has been obscured by theologians who separate justification and sanctification and make different worlds of the two. Nothing could be more damaging. I am far from perfect, but nothing has been a turnaround from sin for me like walking around grinning like an idiot knowing that I am tremendously and forever loved by God, treasured and desired by Him. I am not advocating sin, I am saying that the main way to overcome sin is this understanding, this incredible love which God has for us. Christian virtue is wrapped up in the supernatural; this is why Paul uses terms like “the flesh’ and “the law’ interchangeably, and “grace’ and “the Spirit’ so interchangeably. So, I advocate virtue, but it is no idol, and it is not essential to our salvation. He first loves us. He gives us virtue as a gift. It is something which is a very nice perk, a fruit, not a demand and requirement for entrance. True faith will most certainly result in outward signs of virtue, but we must never let the tail wag the dog.
The third theme of the book is desire. As you’ll read later, the essential core of our fallenness, the hallmark of our sinfulness, is that we desire the forbidden. Our idea of what is good is split – the moral good and the aesthetic good are no longer one thing. We love the forbidden. Pressing law and behavioral principles upon us to control our sin is like pouring gasoline on a fire to put it out. The aim of the kingdom of God is to restore this terrible rift in us, to change our heart such that we actually love the things of God and lose our taste for sin. Thus, temptation is a twisted shadow of grace which appeals to our desire. Grace also appeals to our desire, and builds a strength of character and virtue which comes from our true heart. This does not imply that we enter into sinless perfection, we still struggle with the “living-dead’ presence of our sin nature. However, we really are new creatures in Christ, and maturity means learning to trust that more and more.
The key message that I hope never gets lost in this book or in our lives, is that we are the very greatly loved pearl of God. He loves us so very greatly; all else flows from this. It is very easy to get lost in theological problems, and these problems are important. There are real issues to be worked out if we are to be thoroughly convinced of God’s love and if we are to understand the place of virtue and desire and law in this way. However, we must not lose the fact that we are loved, and that these things are being worked out so that we can believe the love which God has for us.
I want to thank many people for their contribution to this book. My Saturday morning bible study guys in Denton TX., and now in Everson WA, have been an invaluable help to me. They walked slowly and methodically through the scriptures faithfully over the years. I treasure those mornings with them! Also, my excellent pastor Lee Connors and his wife Rosemary, who have been so encouraging to us and have sat with us for hours talking theology. I am amazed at how encouraging and visionary they have been. I want to thank my four sons, who have seen me at my worst and still they listen and treasure the message of grace. I am so blessed to have such great boys! Most of all, my wife Betty has listened to countless pontifications and insights from me as this book took shape. She has forgiven much, and has always known and walked in love – she is my best friend and she gets grace like no one else I know.
Of course, I am grateful to My Father in heaven, and to Jesus Christ His son, and to the Holy Spirit, who are a real presence in my life. They made all of this up and provided these great truths. Had Jesus not died for our sins, had the Holy Spirit not revealed these truths, I would have nothing whatever to say. Thank You Father for Your awesome love and provision for us! Bless this message to go out to many others!