As a substitute teacher in the government school system I am provided with a perfect laboratory in which to study the state of the family in today’s society. I sub in both middle school and high school, “teaching” all subjects. My job description is really to call the roll, pass out the ubiquitous “work sheet,” work all the technical devices successfully (overhead, DVD player, etc.), and, ultimately, keep the kids from killing each other.
Of particular interest in the districts where I teach are the classes euphemistically called “Resource Room.” These are classes made up of students who are not handicapped physically or mentally but who are, to one degree or another, behavioral problems.
I have discovered an interesting fact about these Resource Room students as I have talked with them over the five years I have been a sub. All these students, without exception, have one thing in common: any difficulty, trouble or failure they may be experiencing is, 100% of the time, never their fault, and they stubbornly resist any alternative explanation. They see themselves as helpless victims of mistreatment by others or of ADHD or some other impossible circumstance, thus relieving them of any responsibility for their own actions.
Of course, their stories are tragic. Alcoholism, abuse, drugs, prison, divorce, etc. characterize all their homes in one degree or another, but at some point God calls us all, including these disadvantaged Resource Room students, to an authentic self-image. He calls us to see what the insightful writer of the great, old, Negro Spiritual saw: “It’s not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” The student’s sin, the 500 pound gorilla sitting in the big middle of the government school system and deliberately and aggressively denied by those in authority, is ultimately his/her responsibility before God, no matter their history.
When God opens my eyes to what the author of the Negro Spiritual saw, another insight comes, if not simultaneously, in close chronological proximity. It is what I have called in my previous posting on this topic: “Authentic Self-image, Part B.” In all my sin and brokenness, while I am in the very middle of sinning, big-time, God loves me and thinks I am adorable!
You may be saying, “Andrews, now you have taken this grace thing too far. That is license. If God loves me, no matter what, that will only encourage me to sin more.” That is an ever-present but fair objection whenever the true grace of God is preached. “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1) was a question Paul faced constantly. What is the difference between grace and license?
God is said, all through the Bible, to love us all (which includes you!) with agape love—a “love without reason,” a love that is never “because of . . . ” (your obedience, commitment, or faithfulness) but always “in spite of . . . ” (your sin, selfishness, and spiritual slothfulness). That is the very definition of agape, a love that has nothing to do with you, the loved one, and your performance, but is the very definition of God Himself, the Lover: “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
The implications of this love are staggering. This means that God is never displeased, disgusted, disappointed or discouraged with you, no matter how often you have sinned after promising Him you would never do it again; no matter what heinous acts you have committed; no matter if you have even vilely and profanely rejected Him and His love. He is looking at you right now and saying to you, “You are absolutely delightful! You are sooo precious to me. I will capture your heart with my love that never wavers, no matter what you do!” His love needle for you is stuck on “full” and does not move.
“How can this be?” you may say. “Is not God a God of justice? He can’t just ignore all I have done and still continue to do. How can His love needle never move if He is just?” But we have made God in our own image, because we can never imagine ourselves loving anyone like that, so, we reason, God couldn’t either.
However, I am here to tell you that the “good news” of the gospel is more “good news” than you ever realized. This holy, righteous God is no longer a God of justice! His holy, righteous justice that justly demands that sin be punished has been completely and forever satisfied.
Here is why: On the cross, He poured out all His judgment for the sin of the world on Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son. God’s broken laws that you continually leave behind you that give testimony to your sin, “He has taken out of the way, having nailed (them) to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). At that cross He forever “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26). Sin, as far as our relationship with God is concerned, is over. It has been rendered completely irrelevant.
License is very real in the religious community, but do you see why this cannot be license? When Christians fall into license, they refuse to see their behavior as real sin; they are never at fault, just like my students at school. But the authentic self-image we are constructing, Part A, says we are still wicked sinners, the thoughts and intents of our hearts still only evil continually, as Paul teaches in Romans 3. Sin is very real and constant in our lives, but we are forgiven sinners, with our sins as far from us as the East is from the West (Psalm 103:12), and He remembers them against us no more (Hebrews 8:12).
When you really hear this gospel, Paul’s answer for the license question in Romans 6:2 becomes a rhetorical question: “How can you continue in sin?” with the obvious, understood answer: “You can’t!” The Holy Spirit becomes a reality doing His job in your life to make you holy, and He will not be denied. In the process, all the sins you are committing, willfully or unwillingly, are all forgiven. The love of God has captured your heart.
Next week we will discuss the ever-present discipline that God uses in the lives of all His children; “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6).