Nothing rattles the airwaves or creates viral impact like a scandal involving some lecherous leader or fallen star.
Whether pastor or politician; celebrity or corporate executive, it seems sadly we are titillated and fascinated by tarnished, adulterated implosions. Face it, there is a perverse societal interest when people topple from grace.
I got to thinking about it. Maybe herein lays the secret to transforming the church’s impact on culture:
…recover and unleash the shocking scandal of the gospel!
It is a story worthy of tabloid headlines.
Grace going to places respectable people don’t frequent to seek outcasts we find unattractive, unproductive and unworthy. Grace running to the edge to capture the marginalized, crawling in the gutter to rescue the filthy and getting locked in prisons to embrace the guilty.
- Grace is scandalous–it offends the sensibilities of people who have any trace of the Law left in their value system.
- Grace is ridiculous–it upends the neat packages and categories by which we decide the value of people in our world.
- Grace is promiscuous–it embarrasses with its indeterminate and unqualified invitation to all sorts of people with whom we’d rather not be associated.
From the human perspective justice is pristine while grace is obscene.
Honestly, there were only a few characters in the Bible who understood true grace well enough to face off with this scandal. They journeyed far enough to comprehend its radical nature. And they were affronted and appalled at the profligate nature of this loving God.
- Jonah: he grasped the crazy mercy of God so well he first ran for his life and then begged for his death. (Jonah 4:1)
- The Elder Brother: he knew it was not fair or right to even let the prodigal come home, much less throw a party in his honor. (Luke 15:29)
- The laborers: they saw it as an unjust welfare handout to pay the lazy men who worked only an hour the same as those who worked all day. (Matthew 20:1-16)
- The Pharisees: these committed lived demanding lifestyles focused on rule-keeping and were incensed by Jesus’ choice of undisciplined, irreverent friends. (Matthew 11:19)
- Saul of Tarsus: he completely grasped this dangerous, subversive message of grace and violently tried to abort it because he knew it would turn everything upside-down. (Acts 9:1)
It seems our problem today is that we don’t have nearly as clear a picture of the outlandish, radical, imbalanced nature of grace as did this sad lot of malcontents. We simply don’t go far enough to face the offensively logical conclusions. In fact, most contemporary cultural resistance to the church’s message is not about the scandal of God’s extreme love, but against our legalistic and limiting application of it as a moral code used for behavioral modification.
Interestingly, we revel in the idea of grace when it comes to forgiving our sin, but recoil from the reality of grace when forced to apply it to those whose sins we consider heinous and unpardonable. Everyone seems to have a line they draw in the sand that says “this is as far as grace can go”.
Where do you draw your line? Who is beyond grace for you? When do you say “that is all there is…no more. Not that person. Not that sin.”
When do you tap out on grace?
The very point at which you draw your line and say “this is as far as grace goes” is the very point at which you let go of God’s hand.
He never stops walking deeper into grace.
Some theological types are afraid of “hyper-grace” or “radical grace”. Seriously!?
God’s grace is hyper-radical!!
How do you put boundaries on the boundless love of God? How can you put limits on the limitless mercy of Jesus? How do you call it quits when God says “it is finished!”?
“Where sin abounds…grace super-abounds!” (Romans 5:20)
Our fear should not be of scandalous grace but sensible grace.
We need to remove the boundaries and watch what a wild, ferocious, untamed grace can do to transform lives–ours and others! Grace will create a purer, cleaner, more loving and obedient people than any form of the “law”. It is precisely this scandalous extremity of grace that makes it unconquerable and unquenchable.
Truth is, after Saul ran headlong into the blinding beauty of Jesus’ transformative love, he consistently used radical, offensive language to describe it.
Foolishness: repeatedly the Apostle speaks of the “foolishness” of God and the message of Christ crucified. The Greek word he uses (moros) is the root from which we get our word “moron”. The message of grace and the action of God is rescuing man is moronic! But when God plays the moron, He relativizes all man’s religious baloney. (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21, 23, 25; 2:14; 3:19)
Offense: He also speaks of Christ and His message as a “stumbling block” or “offense” to the religious mindset. The Greek word (skandalon) is obviously where we derive our word “scandal”. (1 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 5:11; see also 1 Peter 2:7-8). The idea of a holy God getting His hands dirty to fix the filth of humanity is just, well, scandalous!
Grace that is not inexplicable, complicated, shocking and outlandish simply is not grace.
Grace doesn’t have a sensible bone in its body! Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones once warned that if we preach grace and are not accused of heresy, we have not truly preached grace!
The farther you go on the grace spectrum the more you really “get” God. You understand His heart, sense His passion and grasp His purpose when you embrace the words of John Mark McMillan, “If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking!”
- Where we have sanitized grace, we have marginalized it.
- Where we have tried to make sense of it, we have made less of it.
- Where we have tried to make it palatable, we have made it sickening.
But the scandalous nature of grace does not make it cheap, tawdry, weak or shallow. How extreme grace is can ultimately be defined by how expensive it was.
The nature of grace is that it is too good to be true and too costly to be false. It is because God paid such a high price for such a seemingly low return that grace seems utterly ridiculous.
- God “justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5)
- “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)
- “though He was rich, yet for our sake He became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
- “beloved, NOW we are called children of God” (1 John 3:2)
It is scandalous! True grace is disgraceful!
And it is only that grace that saves us.