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 either operate under threat of punishment or you operate under unbreakable one-way love. These are two different universes, two different kingdoms. Which do you believe is true?
If there was a movie scene where someone was actually washing up with blood, I think we would say that the filmmakers had really gone too far. It is a metaphor of horror. Yet this is a central and somehow beautiful tenet of the Christian faith. How could this be? Why would any intelligent sane person believe such things?
How is it that people make behavioral repentance a condition to salvation, and still call Him a savior? What is saving?
If Jesus’ mercy was expressed for killing a fly or stealing a dollar, then His mercy would work only for such shallow easy sins. Justice and mercy would kiss no further. But His expression of mercy is that we should obey God all the way until it kills us, and love our enemies and forgive them from the heart while they are murdering us.
It is the persistent love of God which keeps beaming at us regardless of our performance or degree of transformational success which transforms us.
The unadorned naked real gospel of grace has unending power to cleanse us right down to our very conscience and secret mind. The gospel has the power to cleanse us so that when handed our dangerous freedom, we may screw up terribly, but we gradually learn to love the holy. The law cannot do so.
So, you may say, McNeely DOES preach forgiveness without repentance! We caught him! However, the real perspective is this: I caught you, friend of Bonhoeffer! You are preaching forgiveness based on “repentance.” You are preaching justification based on something other than mere belief.
It seems that Peter has something like this in mind. ‘Your sin’, he seems to be saying, ‘is a very serious matter. It set you in opposition to God and handed you over to eternal condemnation. From that situation there was no escape. You were hopelessly, irrevocably lost. There is no ransom from such a situation. And then, incredibly, unbelievably, a ransom was found.
This is exactly how behavioral righteousness works under the gospel. People think the basis of the gospel is moral pressure because it is written that it many times results in righteous behavior. However, the basis of the gospel has nothing to do with this.