Christians Need Good News, Too

Brennan Manning says in The Ragamuffin Gospel…

“The saved sinner is prostrate in adoration, lost in wonder and praise. He knows repentance is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven. It serves as an expression of gratitude rather than an effort to earn forgiveness. Thus the sequence of forgiveness and then repentance, rather than repentance and then forgiveness, is crucial for understanding the gospel of grace.”

This really resonates within me. Maybe that’s because I don’t think we – as Christ-followers – truly understand that. I don’t think we’re taught that. I don’t think we’re shown that.

Instead, we are taught or shown the steps to Christian growth. We are given the different stages of Christ-likeness. We are told that we aren’t sinners any longer. We are encouraged to do… to try… to strive… toward acting like Jesus. We even have worn bracelets, reminding us What Would Jesus Do as we go about our day… all in an effort for us to produce something or someone that looks like Jesus.

In the process, we inevitably fail. We don’t live up to the standard that is set before us. We, exhausted with broken hearts and crushed spirits, find we can’t live up to that standard.

Thankfully, that is where a sinner like me finds God with open arms.

Understanding the Gospel of grace helps me to grow in grace. When I truly grasp what has been done for me and understand the Good News that God loves and accepts me, it sets me free from the unspoken requirement by the those around me to get better. As Manning says above, repentance is a natural byproduct of a sinner who truly grasps God’s love for him or her. As Romans 2:4 says, it is His kindness that leads to repentance.

We say that we know that God is love. We’ve read that in the Bible. (1 John 4:8) What I don’t think we truly grasp is that God loves and accepts each of us in such an unconditional, unchanging, and unrelenting way. As Pastor Shane Lilly says, “God loves you and there’s nothin’ you can do about it!”

Truly understanding that love and acceptance has the power to set the captive free, even if the captive is a Christian like me caught up in a world – even a Christian world – of performancism.

Out of a grateful heart pours the Spirit of Jesus into a world straining to find meaning, purpose, and peace.

And that Spirit is love and grace.

Just come home

Every night this week, Sharon and I will be watching a 6-part video series entitled “The Easter Experience” by Kyle Idleman and City on a Hill Productions. So far, it’s shed some unique light on a familiar story.

For instance, did you ever equate Judas and Peter? Both were disciples. Both walked with Jesus for roughly three years. Both saw the miracles, the healings, and the crowds. They heard the parables and the teachings that turned the Jewish world on its ear. They both shared countless meals with Jesus, including the last supper.

And they both denied Jesus. Their sins were basically equivalent. They knew Jesus intimately. Jesus said they both were his friends. Yet, both betrayed their Lord. They both turned their back on Jesus. One ratted Him out. The other denied ever knowing Him. Which one was worse? What’s the difference between them?

Kyle Idleman teaches that the only real difference between Judas and Peter is how they handled their denial. One felt remorse. The other repentance. Judas, with remorse, ran from his God, turned inward, and landed in utter despair… so desperate that he hung himself.

Peter, on the other hand, initially must have felt the same way. He must’ve thought to himself, “What have I done?”, the same thought Judas certainly had. All four gospels recount his three denials, and Luke’s gospel says that the Lord actually looked at Peter after his third denial. What a crushing moment for Peter! The gospels say that Peter wept “bitterly.” That seems like an understatement to me.

But the moment that seemed to change everything for Peter was when he was back at his old job… fishing. After the Crucifixion, after all seemed lost for the rest of the disciples, after Jesus was seemingly dead and gone, Peter was in his boat casting his net and not having much luck catching anything. And some backseat fisherman yells out to him to cast the nets on the other side of the boat, and when he does, the nets can’t hold all the fish!

And the boat can’t hold Peter! Immediately, he realizes that it’s his resurrected Lord on the beach and he jumps out of the boat and swims — I imagine frantically — toward shore. There was no hesitation. There was no delay. There was only a desire to see his Lord.

There’s no punishment waiting. There’s no demotion or dressing-down or throwing Peter under the bus in front of the others. After coming back to Jesus, with regret and repentance in his heart, Peter is restored gently by Jesus.

Remorse versus Repentance. Turning inward versus turning to Jesus.

And as Kyle Idleman points out, Judas and Peter each had the same opportunity to do what God wants us all to do: to just… come home. Just. Come. Home.

Distress that drives us to God does that. It turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets. (2 Corinthians 7:10, The Message)