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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Indiscriminate Grace

But it was right to be glad and to have a feast; for this your brother,
who was dead, is living again; he had gone away and has come back.
Luke 15:32, BBE

The thing about grace that many have a problem with is its appearance of being carelessly and indiscriminately thrown around by our Heavenly Father as if there is no limit to it and He doesn’t care who has it. It just isn’t right by human standards. After all, fair is fair. Give people an inch and they’ll take a mile. Go soft on those who have sinned and the next thing you know everybody is doing it. People make their beds and they should lie in it. They need to learn their lesson. You’ve got to think about the message you’re sending!
All religions are built around the idea that good deeds are rewarded and bad deeds are punished. Many people have even distorted authentic Christianity into a religion that insists on a check and balance system revolving around reward and punishment. After all, isn’t that how life works?
To answer that question, it is how life that has been built around a judicial system of this world works, but it’s not how things works in the kingdom of God. As popular as that view might be, that isn’t how authentic Christianity looks. Law rules this temporal world but grace is the template by which God rules.
Grace is the thrilling (or horrifying to legalistic religionists) news that God isn’t into payback for the wrong things we’ve done. That isn’t to say that we may not still reap the consequences of wrong things we do, but the grace gospel does announce the good news that our Father isn’t in the business of balancing some kind of morality-ledger by punishing us when we’ve done something wrong. He’s not a divine bookkeeper trying to balance the books to make sure that the punishment doled out balances the misbehavior listed in a long column.
            The story of the way the Father treated his prodigal son should put that misunderstanding to rest. In the parable of the prodigal son we find a hyper religious zealot’s worst nightmare. Here, we can imagine this young boy in the youth group decides he wants to leave it all and move away. He asks His father to give him his inheritance (a subliminal insinuation that he has been thinking he’d be better off if his Dad was dead) and off he goes to the big city. His life soon becomes a blur of all things he had been warned against as a child.
            When all his money is gone and this young Jewish boy wakes up as a food-flinger in a pigpen, he is jolted back to reality. “I’m out of here,” he thinks to himself. “Even Dad’s minimum wage guys at home don’t have to live like this.”
            You know how the story ends. The moment comes when this scraggly looking, nasty smelling, son comes stumbling up the long driveway. His Dad sees him and immediately tears out running at full throttle. 
            The neighbors must have been horrified. First, it would have been a very undignified thing for a grown man to run like that. Proper protocol would have required that the father wait for the son to come to him, but that’s not what he did. He ran, and abandoning all dignity, he ran fast.
            To run toward his son also required a clothing adjustment. Like all fathers in that part of the world, this father wore long, flowing robes. In order to run, he had to pull the robes up between his legs, above his knees. As if running weren’t shameful enough, now the man is exposing a part of his naked leg for all who see. That was the height of shamefulness! A running old father! Partial nudity! What was the respectable neighborhood coming to now?
            This father didn’t care. He was, in essence, drawing the shame of his approaching son off the boy and taking it onto himself. The only thing that would shock the neighbors worse than the son’s behavior was the behavior of the father! The foolishness of the son dissipated under the father’s loving actions. Maybe that was the father’s point. Grace always is bigger than sin and people have always needed to learn that.
The father then falls on his boy and, oblivious to the stench of the pigpen on his son, starts laughing and crying, hugging and kissing him, all at the same time.  The son is forgiven before he even asks.
The boy chokes up and tries to talk. This isn’t what he had expected. He gets out half a sentence when Dad interrupts and yells orders to fire up the grill, call our family and friends, see if JJT is available (Jerusalem Jazz Trio) and let’s get this party started!           
Some surely must have thought, “That’s a strange story, Jesus. Don’t you think it might give the wrong message?
“No,” our loving Savior would answer. “It gives the right message. The message is this: It doesn’t matter how pathetic you are, how low you have gone and how long you have been there, I love you and accept you.”
The religionists of Jesus day were just as concerned about the implications of a story like this as they are in our day. There was the fear that it might sound like this sort of grace gives people a license to sin. There was the indignation that the story communicated that somebody got away with something. There was the assumption that this kind of grace might actually encourage, rather than discourage sinning.
Jesus didn’t seem to worry about all that when He told this story or in His ministry in general. He just loved people and poured out grace, grace, and more grace on the most unlikely candidates. It galls the self-righteous when their own sense of justice is violated, but Jesus never seemed to care about what they thought. He seemed to show such little discernment in how and to whom He gave so much. Even His stories seem to communicate a message that sounds downright wrong to religious ears.
            Is it possible that grace is counterintuitive to the religious mindset? I believe it is. Religion is about us and what we do to gain God’s favor and to make spiritual progress. It’s focuses on doing better to be better.
Grace takes a totally opposite approach. Grace assures us that isn’t about you and me and what we do to improve ourselves for God. It never has been and never will be. It’s about Him and His ridiculous, irrational, excessive, loving grace. The self-righteous crowd might as well calm down. Jesus is Jesus and He’s not going to change to fit their expectations or ours. Thank God.


  1. and the grace is there for the accepting for those self righteous folk too. But usually when we say that, their feathers get even more ruffled. :/

  2. This goes against everything I was brought up to believe about religious ness, religiosity, and s self-righteousness! Bring it on Steve! Good blog! Dave Candel

  3. I don't understand. What about Hebrews 6?

  4. Hebrews sounds pretty scary until you get to verse 9

    9 Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. 10 God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.

    It is funny, the author of Hebrews says it would be unjust for God to discount the works of love and mercy shown by one who has fallen into sin.

    It is a belief among the ancient patristics that what the author of Hebrews was doing was quoting a fasle teaching going around that it is imposible for those who were enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gifts to be renewed again to repentance if they have fallen into sin and fallen away from the faith.

    But after making that argument, the author says that he is confident of better things concerning them, even tho he is speaking in that manner.

  5. It sounds scary until you get to verse 9

    But we are convinced of better things in your case, brothers and sisters, even though we are talking this way—things that go together with salvation. God isn’t unjust so that he forgets your efforts and the love you have shown for his name’s sake when you served and continue to serve God’s holy people.

    Heb 6:9-10 CEB

    It was a belief among the patristics that what the author of Hebrews was doing was quoting an argument..

    "Because it’s impossible to restore people to changed hearts and lives who turn away once they have seen the light, tasted the heavenly gift, become partners with the Holy Spirit, and tasted God’s good word and the powers of the coming age. They are crucifying God’s Son all over again and exposing him to public shame."

    Heb 6:4-6

    But he tells the people to relax, that God isn't like our fallen earthly fathers, he even suggest that God would be unjust to not take into account the love and effort the fallen Christian has shown in the past.

  6. i just have a question and im not seeking to accuse because i love this message im just wondering how all the verses in the bible talking about the people being judged according to their deeds when Jesus comes back, he says he was going to repay them in accordance with their work...

  7. Interesting that it is always only the humbled, beat down sinners that receive grace. The uppity, in-your-face, self-righteous sinners (whether religious or not) don't get exactly the same treatment.

  8. @Hendrick - I was tormented for years by Hebrews 6. I wish that on no one. Notice that no where in the passage does it say that we have fallen away from salvation, we read that meaning into the passage ourselves. What we have fallen away from is our understanding of who we are in Jesus; pure, holy, righteous, beloved. The fact we have forgotten who we are in Jesus is evidenced by a life displaying the deeds of the flesh and those deeds have no eternal value and will be burned. Why can't we be brought back to repentance? Because in God's view we are still in Jesus (pure, holy, righteous, beloved) and there is no sin to repent from. To act at though you need to be saved again disgraces the message of the cross in that it implies that Jesus' death was not sufficient the first time.

  9. The love of the Father running to restore the son! Such is Indiscriminate Grace! I wish we could get a feel for the initiative of the Father and rejoicing with HIM! "There was an idea, " but God saw fit to supersede with a hupernikao of Victory exceeding expectations of our tunnel vision for He is truly not willing that any should perish! Great blog! Dave

  10. It's about the shocking love of the Father having indiscriminate grace instead of what prevailing ideas of cycling reward and punishment are. Excellent thought Steve. Imagine the Father running and adjusting clothing to embrace the son returning, shocking love showing! These seem incredible quality of rejoicing to us!

    1. In the next comment I believe a Father like my own Dad gave chastening not discipline. Discipline is a harsher term. " No chastening for the present seemeth to be pleasant but afterward produces the peaceable fruit of righteousness." That's In James. Excellent blog. Dave

  11. How we respond to perceived cycles of reward and punishment as a child in between non-rewards of unconditional acceptance and Agape love and real grace gave us a either healthy or warped view of our Dads and by transfer to our Heavenly Father! Dads treatment was good discipline mixed with healthy gifts of provision! If we were receiving with thanks and hearts of gracefulness we learned contentment and hopefully a godly perspective! Good blog! Dave

    1. Dad's treatment of us not called discipline in my opinion but chastening. Thanks for the correcting of myself Steve. Good blog. DC

  12. There must have been very much indiscriminate grace for the son as he stumbles up to the Father's House and The Prodigal Father sees and bolts out to meet the son full throttle! Shocking there is no rebuff in the least but shockingly so, a party given! Great blog! Full acceptance uncondional based on Father's actions! He always has our best welfare in mind! Jesus' Death shows that! We can fall on that Stone and God will pick up every piece broken, repair restore it! Dave

  13. The father's love. Extravagant love.

    1. Like grace and love shown Meshibobeth! Love he couldn't possibly return fully! But Lavish Prodigal Love at the King's Table! Amen!