"The Good News means we can stop lying to ourselves. The sweet sound of amazing grace saves us from the necessity of Self-deception. It keeps us from denying that though Christ was victorious, the battle with lust, greed, and pride still rages within us...God not only loves me as I am, but also knows me as I am. Because of this I don't need to apply spiritual cosmetics to make myself presentable to Him." -Brennan Manning
When I was 19 years old I threw on my best three piece thrift store suit and walked through a terminal to board a plane. A few months before, over a dinner conversation, I had agreed to move to Ireland for at least a year.
After being there a few months I received a package from my parents. In that box was a book from my father. If you know, or ever meet my father, this will come as no surprise. And that book set a spark within me. It was The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning. I began to read it. Not long after starting it I sat in the small office room of the church that I had move across an ocean to work at, book in hand, waiting for the next thing I was supposed to do. But while sitting there my boss and ministry leader came in and saw the book that I held and offered his opinion on it. When it was clear that I intended to finish it, he warned me. The book was dangerous.
If you are not familiar with the book, knowing only the quote used to start this post, then I would recommend it. Within the pages the story of radical grace is unfolded. The story of God's restless pursuit of restless rebels, of whom I was and still am. The book tells the story of how God does not come to us and tell us to change. He comes to us as we are. He came to earth wrapped flesh and spent his ministry surrounded by ragamuffins and rebel-rousers.
In that moment, in the office of a church, surrounded by people who at that time were friends the words of a ministry leader aimed at the book I held made me angry. But looking back he was entirely right. Though not quite in the way I believe he meant that day. The book was, and is again as I am rereading it, dangerous. It is dangerous because the gospel is dangerous.
It often feels like the church has tried to take the danger away from the gospel. To make it less offensive. It make it easy to swallow and smooth to the touch. And honestly, they seem to have done a damn good job. But a gospel that makes Jesus look like Mr Rogers, just trying to be a good neighbor, is not the the gospel of Jesus. It's not the gospel of the Apostles, the church fathers, the church doctors, the reformers, or the great revivalists. Good neighbors keep it keep the noise down and stay out of business. But Jesus was so often found to be at the parties boasting good food and great wine that he was rumored to be a drunk (Matt. 11:19, Luke 7:34). Instead of keeping it cordial as a good neighbor should He always seemed to cut right to the core and called out sin (John 4:17-18, Matt. 23:27-28, John 8:44, Luke 11:39). But at the same time, He kept in league with those who people thought were too far gone. No one seemed as though they were too lost, too dirty, or too far gone. He came for the worst of us, He came for me.
Too long have we believed the church camp lie that Jesus is throwing us a life saver, and all we need do is grab on. Such a line is great for emotional manipulation (which seems to be the backbone of alter call Christianity these days), and works great to keep youth camp kids from sleeping around or drinking underage. But it's not the gospel. We are not those drowning in need of a life raft captioned by God in flesh. We were dead (Eph. 2:1). We could not answer the call to grab on for we could not hear the loudest bellow (Mark 4:12, Is 6:9, Matt. 13:13, Jer. 5:21). Jesus came to each one of us this way (Gal. 4:4, Rom. 5:6).
The gospel, if understood, offends to our very core (1 Cor. 1:23-24). For each of us is just a dirty as sinful as the person who we view as too far gone (James 2:10, Rom. 3:23). For each one of us, apart from divine intervention, was too far gone (Eph. 2:8-9). There was, is, and will be nothing we can do to make God love us. Not a single one of us deserves it (Rom. 6:23). And that's what makes grace so hard to swallow. The gospel of a fair wage is what so many of us have come to believe. But the gospel is all of grace. Nothing more, for once anything is added grace no longer stays grace (Rom. 11:6).
And that's dangerous. It's dangerous because there is nothing that can separate us from the radical love of Abba God (Rom. 8:31-39). There are no good deeds that could make God love us more, and no sin that could make God love us any less. God calls out for us to stop trying to keep up with the Jones, for what does it profit a man to gain the world (Mark 8:36-37, Matt. 12:26), for who wants to race to hell? God calls out to us that we can't pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, for the gospel reminds us we aren't even wearing boots.
So, as I come again to meditate on the radical love of Abba (Rom. 8:15, Gal. 4:6), I ask you to do the same. I don't know where you are in life. But this is a reminder that we all need. To be covered in a love that will not let us go (John 6:39). A radical love that allows us to take off the mask we have come accustomed to. For we have become so afraid of being found out that we have forgotten that God already know what we have done and loves us still (Ps. 44:21, Luke 16:15, Acts 15:8, Rom. 8:27). As Paul, we can and should cry out to be delivered from sin (Rom. 7:16-25). We should hate it. But we should own it, for in owning it we find grace (1 John 1:9). I find it in the middle of my unbelief, my anger (at myself and at times, God), my lust, my fear, by doubts, my sloth, my attempts to bargain with God. (And that's all been this week, and it's only Tuesday night.)
If you are anything like me, there is a fear of being found out. If people only knew what lay beneath I would not be loved. But in doing this we rob ourselves of truly being known, and in so doing we are robbing ourselves of truly being loved. And more than that, we are not allowing the overflowing love of Abba to wash over us. He does not love us more, or again, when we confess. It's just that in confession we allow ourselves to accept His grace and feel His love.
I invite you to pray with me;
Thank you for the love with which you have loved me
Thank you that there is nothing I can do to escape your love for me
But I ask that you forgive me for the times I have tried
Forgive me for all the times I have valued the love of other things over the love you offer me
Forgive me for harboring the lie that things other than you will satisfy me
You have accepted me just I am
Forgive me for believing you to be a liar and trying to clean myself up apart from Christ
Teach me to accept your love, which you give freely
Teach me to come to you when I sin, knowing there is no condemnation for those in Christ
And in doing so, teach me to trust what you say about me
Let your grace wash over me, fill me, clean me, change me
Let this grace wash over me and make me more like Jesus
Abba, I belong to you
Abba, let me not forget
Abba, thank you.