“But God showed His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
When the God of grace is referenced exclusively in terms of love something extraordinary happens. God tends to fall out of the picture. A God, after all, who is reduced to sentiment and generic good will is hardly worth bothering with in any serious way. Perhaps this is why with all the religious noise being made in wide portions of the church today, there seems to be little belief in the God of the Scriptures.
The church has become very good at calling people to affirm one another in whatever lifestyle we have chosen to inhabit. We are scolded endlessly about our lack of inclusiveness. And there is no end of sermonic hand-wringing and beetle-browed finger pointing over humanity’s bad housekeeping of the planet. Recycling and “living green” are the new piety, signs of the new holiness. ‘Have you got your Prius yet? No? You mean you are still driving that gas guzzler? How could you!’ While God has fallen out of the picture, our belief in ourselves has skyrocketed. Salvation will come when we have total affirmation of the neighbor and when we have established a utopian existence of realized peace and justice – with all the trash picked up.
There is a kind of decadence in this. The God in three Persons who is the subject of the Bible’s witness and the One with which we ultimately have to do, simply falls out of the center. The implications run all over the place. We don’t know who we are and we fundamentally misread the human dilemma. We run around trying to keep the deck chairs in place while the Titanic sinks beneath us.
But the God revealed in the Scriptures simply cannot – and will not -be understood apart from the Cross. Which is another way of saying that the God of grace desires to be known exclusively in Jesus. God is love, to be sure. But God and His love and grace have no depth of meaning apart from the Cross. For on the Cross God defines the issue. He died for you, to save you from sin, death and the powers of evil. For the Cross is the vital intersection where the searing reality of God’s grace in Jesus Christ meets, exposes, overwhelms and forgives the sham and phony pretense of our claim to love anything ultimately but ourselves and our own plans and projects.
Here is love and grace that actually has teeth. This is a God who has gotten down and dirty in the muck and mire of our lives, as real love always does. This love and grace meets us, comes upon us. This is God’s doing, alone, by His grace alone, because of Christ alone. Our fiddling with the world and all its works and all its ways is a hollow substitute for this work of God for us. For the central issue of the Christian faith is not that we must be reconciled to the neighbor or that we must become better managers of the creation. It’s not that these things don’t matter. They just don’t matter ultimately. These are penultimate concerns only. The ultimate concern of the Christian faith is that you and I become reconciled to the One that matters most; the One who out of His sheer love and grace died for our sins and was raised for our justification.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”