The Gospel for Losers

The following article appeared in this week’s Eclipse – the newspaper in Parkersburg, Iowa.

“By nature, you are completely addicted to a legal method of salvation. Even after you become a Christian by believing the Gospel, your heart is still addicted to works . . . You find it hard to believe that you should get any blessing before you work for it.” Those words were written by a Puritan pastor by the name of Walter Marshall (1628-1680). I strongly suggest that you read that sentence again.

After I read it, I was immediately gripped by its truth. Then the question popped into my head: Why is that the case? Why do we have such a hard time receiving God’s grace? One of my professors in seminary said, “If you want to make people mad, preach the Law. But if you want to make people really, really mad, preach grace.” I ask you again: Why is that? Two reasons come to my mind.

First, we live in a tit for tat world. We swim in a sea of conditionality. We tell our kids, “If you clean your room, you can have some candy,” or, “If you get good grades, I’ll buy you a new pair of shoes.” This is how we relate to one another. Additionally, although the words may not come out of our mouths, in our interaction with other people, we harbor thoughts like, “If you hurt my feelings or fail to meet my expectations, then I will refuse to speak to you. And if you ask me to forgive you, well, I’ll have to think about that.” At our jobs if we fail to perform, we won’t get a raise. For the most part, this is how our world works. Everything is conditional. At a basic level, our human relationships are built around reciprocity. In turn, this is how we view God. We believe that in order for God to accept us, we must earn it. We must do something in order to receive something from him. We’re suspicious when something seems too good to be true. After all, there’s no such thing as free lunch.

Second, grace makes us uncomfortable. Even though we say we love grace, and sing about grace, it makes us squirm just a bit. Why does grace do this? I know you don’t want to hear this, but you’re a God-wannabe. You want to be in control . . . of everything. Yes, you even want to be in control of grace—who gets it, how much, and when. Even though when we sin we want God and other people to show grace and mercy to us, when people sin against us, we’re a little less lenient. In our minds, grace is always being handed out to the wrong people. If you read the gospels you’ll see what I mean. Those receiving grace are the tax collectors, prostitutes, half-breeds (Samaritans), and Gentiles. Jesus drove the religious people of his day nuts! That’s the problem for a lot of us: We think other people need grace, but fail to see that we’re just as messed up as everyone else.

In contrast to the way things work in our world, grace is “a liberating contradiction between what we deserve and what we get,” to quote Pastor Tullian Tchividjian. Jesus redeems those who realize they’re losers and have nothing to bring to the table. We come to him empty-handed. You contribute nothing to your salvation. The gospel is a one-sided rescue mission. Anglican theologian Paul Zahl states the matter beautifully: “Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable.” The gospel is the good news that God gives good stuff to bad people for free because Jesus earned it for them.

Come to Jesus right now, admit you can’t do a thing to save yourself, and trust in him alone for your salvation. The gospel is the announcement that the penalty for our sin has been paid. If you’ve trusted in Jesus, guess what? You are free (Jn. 8:36). I think you should go to T&L here in Parkersburg and get a black raspberry malt and celebrate.

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