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08 June 2016

God’s unlimited grace.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. Our love: Not so steadfast.

Ordinarily Christians bring up this particular teaching of Jesus so they can point out the lesson, “Love your enemies.” Which is a good lesson; I’ll discuss it sometime. But today I’m pointing out the other lesson found in this teaching: Our heavenly Father loves both good and evil people—and grants his amazing grace to both.

Matthew 5.43-48 KWL
43 “You heard this said: ‘You’ll love your neighbor.’ Lv 19.18 And you’ll hate your enemy.
44 And I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.
45 Thus you can become your heavenly Father’s children,
since he raises his sun over evil and good, and rains on moral and immoral.
46 When you love those who love you, why should you be rewarded?
Don’t taxmen also do so themselves?
47 When you greet only your family, what did you do that was so great?
Don’t the foreigners also do so themselves?
48 Therefore you will be egalitarian,
like your heavenly Father is egalitarian.”

Usually this verse gets translated “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Mt 5.48 KJV ’Cause the word Jesus used is téleios/“perfect.” So a lot of Christians pull this verse out of its context and insist the way Jesus wants us to be perfect is to not sin. I’ve ignorantly done it myself, in the past.

In context, Jesus is speaking about loving people in perfect consistency. Not loving some and hating others, but loving all. Showing grace to all. Being egalitarian. Like our Father.

But that’s really hard to do, so people would much rather not interpret it that way. Way easier to just follow God’s commandments than love the unloveable. Way easier, and more fun, to be evil to evil people. Let ’em get what’s coming to them, what they deserve. If karma doesn’t smite ’em for their evil deeds, let’s help karma along.

Way easier to bend the scriptures so God hates evildoers too. To insist God doesn’t grant grace to the wicked. To insist in fact his grace and atonement and forgiveness are limited, and only granted to good people, true believers, or chosen people. And since God limits his grace, and gets to be a rotten bastard towards the lost, so do we!

See, the reason many Christians claim God’s grace is limited, has nothing to do with the scriptures, and everything to do with our own limited grace. People are vengeful, so they want a vengeful God, choose to interpret him that way, and remake him in their own image. Because we won’t love our enemies, neither will our God.

“Love the sinner, hate the sin” tends to get preached, but in practice we just skip the love part, and hate the sin so much it scorches the sinners. And these preachers claim it’s precisely like God hates the sin: He hates it with a “perfect hatred,” Ps 139.22 —just like King David described hating his enemies, and some of ’em will even claim this “perfect hatred” idea is God’s, not David’s. Since God judges the wicked, and regularly lets ’em suffer the consequences of their evil behavior, they’ll claim, “See? It proves there’s a limit to God’s grace. ’Cause someday it’s gonna run out, and they’ll get theirs, and go to hell.”

Whole lotta hatred in these people. Which they go out of their way to disguise as justice. But their lack of grace, and abundance of anger, gives them away.

How God’s grace affects God’s justice.

Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a graceless Christian respond to “God is love” 1Jn 4.8, 16 with “Yes, but God is also just.” Dt 32.4 It’s almost like a call-and-response.

Leader. “The Lord be with you.”
People. “And also with you.”
Pastor. “God is good.”
Congregation. “All the time.”
Pastor. “And all the time…”
Congregation. “God is good.”
We. “God is love.”
They. “But God is also just.”

Problem is, they don’t always have the hang of what just means.

Just means morally right and fair. And you’ll notice a lot of Christians who claim God’s justice outweighs his love, are the very same Christians who claim, “You keep demanding life should be fair. Well, ‘fairness’ isn’t in the bible. God isn’t fair; he’s just.” They’re synonyms, folks. The subtle difference between the two is justice means people get what’s rightly coming to them, but fairness means people get what’s coming to them—rightly or wrongly. God is only rightly fair. And injustice means things stay unfair: People don’t get equal treatment, and evildoers never get caught and punished.

But in God’s kingdom, evildoers actually don’t get caught and punished. We get forgiven.

We sinned. Sometimes against God, sometimes against one another. Either way, we earned and deserve death. But God forgave our sin and granted us eternal life. Ro 6.23 Not just temporary life, eternal life. Jesus took our punishment for us. We deserve death and hellfire, but God decided to forgive all, restore our victims, wipe away every tear, Rv 21.4 and let us go free. He granted us his grace—and we totally don’t deserve it.

No, it’s not fair. Because grace is inherently unfair. It forgives murderers, rapists, child molesters, thieves, adulterers, liars, traitors, criminals of all sorts. People whom everybody deems worthy of death. People whose victims have been crying out for God to destroy their oppressors, and they specifically have these oppressors in mind. Yet God fully forgives them, and lets ’em inherit his kingdom same as Jesus himself. In fact Jesus willingly died so we scumbags could evade what’s coming to us. That’s how outrageous and offensive God’s grace is. It is not fair. At all.

In light of this, how on earth is God still just? Simple: God makes (or will make) everything right by the victims. They suffered loss; God gives it back to ’em and more. God suffered loss, but makes everything new. He’s gonna put everything back, heal every wound, restore every life. It’s all good. No one can make the valid claim God shafted them.

Here’s where that subtle difference comes in: It’s just, but it’s not fair. If it were fair, people would get their revenge. It’s not enough for God to make everything right; they wanna see sinners suffer for their crimes. They feel cheated of their vengeance. Which, by the way, they’ve been pretending is “justice”: They’ll settle for an eye for an eye, Ex 21.24 but really they want death for an eye, if they can get away with it. And if God forgives their enemies, they won’t get the death they wished upon ’em.

Every single time a graceless Christian states, “God is love, but God is just”: It’s because somebody’s talking up God’s grace, but the Christian wants it crystal clear God’s not that gracious. Somebody’s talking about God freeing people from hell, and the Christian wants ’em in hell. Somebody’s talking about God blessing the wrong people, and the Christian insists grace is only for the right people. Somebody’s talking universalism, the idea God’ll save everybody—and while the Christian correctly points out it’s not gonna happen, ’cause not everybody desires God, often they’ll wrongly claim God doesn’t wanna save everyone. He bloody well does. 1Ti 2.4

Anyone who claims God limits his grace, that God won’t accept and receive everyone who calls to him, Ac 2.21, Ro 10.13 doesn’t understand justice. Only revenge. They don’t imagine God’s just; they easily imagine him vengeful. They imagine he has just as little grace as they do.

Limited versus prevenient.

Prevenient /pri'vin.jənt/ adj. Comes first, comes before, pre-exists.
[Prevene /pri'vin/ v., prevenience /pri'vin.jəns/ n.]

Time for an old-timey word, prevenient, which you’ll only find theologians use anymore. Gotta inflict it on you. Sorry.

We humans are messed up. Selfish to our core. “Totally depraved,” is how Arminians describe it: Our first impulse is to please ourselves, to look out for number one. And when these behaviors coincidentally happen to not violate God’s commands, people’ll claim, “Well see, there y’go. Proves humans aren’t all bad.” ’Cause self-justification is also selfish.

Total depravity means we’re too messed up to save ourselves. We’re never gonna be good enough. Even if, by some mathematically impossible fluke, we follow all God’s commands to the letter, we’re still gonna have this hanging over us: It wasn’t done out of love for God. It was done for selfish reasons: We wanted to be able to claim righteousness. We wanted to earn heaven. We wanted to be number one again. Don’t lie; it’s totally why we’d go to all that trouble. It’d be a pride thing. And God never did care for pride. Jm 4.6, 1Pe 5.5

So how could we be saved? Well duh; God has to save us. Turn to God.

Yeah, but if we’re so depraved, how could we turn to God? Aren’t we so focused on ourselves, we’ll never even notice he’s here? Aren’t we spiritually dead inside, and therefore unable to hear the Holy Spirit poking us in the conscience? Doesn’t God have to graciously transform something within us before we can even turn to him?

Well, he did that. By Jesus paying for the sins of the world. 1Jn 2.2 Sins past and future, Ro 3.25 for Jesus’s death works its way backwards and forwards through time, and makes it so everybody receives God’s grace, from Adam and Eve to you. Thanks to Jesus, every human on the planet, no matter how messed up, has the ability to realize we need God to save us. Had it before we even realized we needed it. This grace has always been around. It’s prevenient, as the theologians put it.

Other Christians insist grace doesn’t work like that. It’s not prevenient; it’s particular. God doesn’t wanna save everyone; he only wants to save specific individuals. He doesn’t waste his grace on sinners whom he already knows will never turn to him; he only uses it on specially-chosen people who will.

No, the idea doesn’t come from the bible. Not without twisting some scriptures really hard. It comes from Christians who don’t wanna save everyone. Who believe grace is a limited commodity, because from them it’s a limited commodity. Who figure there are sinners who just aren’t worth saving, aren’t worth loving, aren’t worth grace. Jesus can’t have died for them. So, in their minds, he didn’t.

They take Jesus’s comment about how his life is a ransom for many, Mt 10.45, Mt 20.28 and interpret it as God’s intent, his plan, his design. Not as it truly is: What’s gonna happen despite God’s intent, plan, and design. God wants to save the world. 2Pe 3.9 But not all the world is willing. Mk 13.34, Mt 23.37 God distributes his grace to all, and lets both the good and the evil experience sunshine and rain—and offers his kingdom to all. To all who receive him, he makes them his children. Jn 1.12 To all who don’t… he tries again. And again. His mercies never come to an end. Lm 3.22 ’Cause he’s patient like that.

S’funny: Most of the folks who insist God limits his grace, always describe him as limiting it a lot. Unlike the way the scriptures describe God, this limited-grace version has very little patience. It’s always turn or burn. “Make today the day of your salvation! You don’t know if you have tomorrow!”

Originally that saying was meant to describe time—we don’t know how much time we have in this world, so it’s not wise to assume we have unlimited time to capitalize on God’s unlimited grace. But that’s not at all what the limited-grace folks mean. They mean God’s “grace period” expires like milk: Sweet today, induces vomiting tomorrow. Their own grace has a cut-off switch, and they figure God’s the same way. His grace won’t always be around. But it will so. We’re the ones with an expiration date.

So nope, God’s grace never expires. Call upon him today.