God Loves Sinners: A Dialogue

A: Yes. But only after they have stopped sinning, or at least vowed to try their hardest to stop sinning, right?
B: No. It’s not conditional.
A: Well, yes, it’s not “conditional.” But, I mean, they will want to stop sinning, right?
B: Maybe, but that is totally different from the first thing that you said.
A: Yes, but listen, we can’t really be saying this to people all by itself. They will think they can just do whatever they want and God will keep on loving them.
B: They can’t?
A: Well, no. Of course not. They can’t just take grace for granted, that would be cheap grace.
B: So you prefer expensive grace?
A: No, I just mean, can we really expect God to do all the work that saves us? We have to contribute something, right?
B: What exactly should we contribute?
A: Our obedience! Of course.
B: Actual obedience?
A: Is there any other kind?
B: Well, do you mean “trying hard” obedience? Or like, rigid, “you are actually following the law in word and deed”-type obedience? Because Jesus himself made it clear that white-washed outward obedience isn’t the kind of obedience in which God is interested. So, what exactly is it that we have to add to our salvation?
A: What?! I didn’t say we have to add anything to our salvation! See, you are trying to trap me into saying something I’m not! That’s not very Christian of you.
B: Okay. I’m sorry. Tell me again what kind of obedience you think God is interested in: the kind that just looks on the surface like God-honoring obedience but on the inside is lusting and envying and raging and rebelling; or the kind that is actual obedience?
A: Well, okay, maybe sometimes it is the first kind. But that doesn’t mean all obedience is bad. We should at least aim to be actually obedient to God.
B: So we should obediently aim to be obedient to God.
A: Umm. [Mumbles to self: “….obediently aim to be obedient…”]. Yes. Definitely. Yes. We should, right?
B: And you think that is foolproof? There is no way that could go wrong?
A: I mean, I guess no, not really. Aiming to be obedient can’t really go wrong. But even if it could, should we really worry about it? I mean, it’s good to try to be obedient, right?
B: There is no way anybody could ever become self-righteous if the aim is to just try our hardest to be obedient?
A: I suppose it is pos-
B: So you still think we should preach that? Even if we know most people will take it and turn it into a method of projecting their skin-deep holiness to the world and to God, leaving them basking in a lonely, toxic pit of pride and despair?
A: I don’t know about “most” people. Do you really think people are that bad?
B: I think we are programmed to jostle control of our salvation out of the hands of another. I think we are sickened by the idea that God could actually be responsible for our entire salvation. I think we don’t like low-stakes, child-like, joyful obedience that comes from weakness and humility. Obedience that is rooted in our certainty that God loves us more than we could ever imagine. I think we spit that out perpetually in favor of begrudging, self-absorbed, self-evaluative, begrudging (did I say that already?), self-congratulatory faux-obedience because it looks much more glorious than beggars receiving bread. I think we love a trajectory that sends us towards high-stakes, salvation-on-the-line-at-every-turn self-righteousness. So, yes. We are that bad.
A: My goodness, man! Okay. But. I mean. What?
B: You okay, buddy? Your face is turning a bit green? Should I call a doctor?
A: I’m fine.
B: You don’t look fine. Are you dry-heaving?
A: I said I’m fine. Listen, what you just said leaves me with nothing. What am I supposed to say to my non-Christian friends? Or my Christian friends? Or anyone! Who am I?
B: Let’s talk about something else, you really don’t look so good.
A: No. Tell me. Where do I go? You are leaving me with nothing! You just ripped everything away and now there is nothing left. Why are you doing this?
B: Really, listen, I think I should go. The cappuccino was outstanding. Do I pay you or up at the counter?
A: Tell . . . [gasps] . . . me.
B: [sighs]. God loves sinners.

5 Comments

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  1. But Jacob, wasn’t Jesus always telling people “go and sin no more”?

    Seriously though I always heard Philippians 2:12 preach but often 2:13 would be left out. 2:13 is a key to our obedience. Why do we even have a hope of obedience? Because God works in you to will and work for his good pleasure. If I have any obedience at all is because it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. So I guess I have nothing to contribute but a dead flesh that he can make alive and use with his spirit.

    I still don’t like the idea that I can’t do anything some days when I don’t “feel the love” but it’s good that truth is truth whether we feel it or not.

    • BAM. That’s the spot, Mauricio. Go and sin no more, absa-tively. I feel like most Christians don’t properly grasp the depth of Christ’s forgiveness, the way in which it turned everything on its head, the scandalous depth of his public forgiveness of a woman literally caught in the act of adultery. If we properly capture that emotional reality, if we imitate that somehow – even to the point where people are walking away from us because of our scandalous forgiveness – then I think we can boldly say, Go and sin no more.

  2. My friend and former pastor Steve Brown always says, “of course it is cheap grace, if it wasn’t cheap you couldn’t afford it.” Good post.

  3. Cheap for me, costly for Him. Praise God who bought us with a price!

  4. “I think we are sickened by the idea that God could actually be responsible for our entire salvation.”

    WOO HOO! PREACH IT!

    Thank you for a breath of fresh air (THE Gospel) this morning!

    Jesus paid it all!

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