Is the Gospel Too Free?

One of the ways to help understand the emphasis of Scripture is to think of Law and Gospel. This division is usually attributed to Martin Luther, but has been helpfully used by many theologians through history.

Law is God’s perfect law. Law is beautiful. It reveals what we should be, a standard that is necessarily immovable and unflexing because it is perfect. And so Law rightly reveals our lack, our need, our imperfection, our failure.

Gospel is God’s good news revealed in Christ. Jesus paid for our sin and extends the free gift of forgiveness and righteousness in him alone . If the law proclaims “do,” the gospel cries “done!”

These are helpful distinctions because we tend to blur and confuse the context of the Bible, both in who is being spoken to, and what is there for us to do in salvation. The law reveals the requirements; Jesus, in his work alone, has met the requirements and by his work we are not under the law, but in union with him.

To some, this seems too good to be true.

One objection to a full-throated proclamation of the Gospel is that it is too free. Proclaiming Christ alone as a free gift, the objection goes, encourages people not to work themselves.

To help with that objection, here’s a classic treatment from John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress. This excerpt is from another of his books, The Doctrine of Law and Grace Unfolded, pp. 183-184. The questioner has some concern that the gospel is too free, and Bunyon is the answerer:

Question: “Do you think that I mean that my righteousness will save me without Christ’s? If so, you mistake me, for I think not so: but this I say, I will labor to do what I can, and what I cannot do, Christ will do for me.”

Answer: Ah, poor soul, this is the wrong way too! For this is to make Christ but a piece of a Saviour. Thou wilt be something, and Christ shall do the rest; thou wilt set thy own things in the first place, and if thou wantest at last, then thou wilt borrow of Christ. Thou art such a one that does Christ the greatest injury of all. First, in that thou dost undervalue his merits, by preferring thy own works before his; and secondly, by mingling his works, thy dirty ragged righteousness with his.

Question: “Why, would you have us do nothing? Would you have us make Christ such a drudge as to do all, while we sit idling still?”

Answer: Poor soul! Thou mistakest Jesus Christ, in saying thou makest him a drudge, in letting him do all. I tell thee he counts it a glory to do all for thee, and it is a great dishonor unto him for thee to so much as to think otherwise. And the saints of God that have experienced the work of grace upon their souls, do count it also the same; (Rev. 5:9,12) “Saying, thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof.” “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.” And why so? Read again the 9th verse; “For thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy (own) blood.” See also Ephesians 1:6-7: “To the praise of the glory of his grace: in whom we have redemption through his blood.”

Reply: “All this we confess, that Jesus Christ died for us, but he that thinks to be saved by Christ, and liveth in his sins, shall never be saved.”

Answer: I grant that. But this I say again, a man must not make his good doings the lowest round of the ladder by which he goeth to heaven. That is, he that will and shall go to heaven, must wholly and alone, without any of his own things, venture his precious soul upon Jesus Christ and his merits.

Three Things

From Thomas Manton (1620-77), Commentary on James 3:2:

“A godly person observed that Christians are usually to blame for three things:

  1. They seek in themselves what they can only find in Christ;
  2. They seek in the law what will only be found in the gospel;
  3. They seek on earth what will only be enjoyed in heaven.”


(h/t R. Scott Clark)

Growing Smaller

I was at a local school today, talking with children. I was struck by my own upbringing, how much I drunk in the world’s view of growth.

When I was little, everything was about growing up. Growing stronger and smarter. Running faster. Improving my skills and abilities. This growth was about study, practice, work, effort, and repetition. In short, it was me reaching my potential.

And it worked, temporally speaking. I ran an 8-minute mile in grade school, but a little over 4 minute mile in high school. Look! I grew faster! Not only that, I grew in other ways. I read more, achieved more, did more complex math. You get the point.

There’s a problem with all that effort and work at growth. More than one, actually. But the problem I want to focus on here is that it doesn’t last. All of my thinking when I was young was toward peak ability. That peak ability, in my mind, was future, but in reality, ended in early adulthood.

I mean, that’s peak ability, right? Age 26? 28? After that, it is downhill. I don’t mean just physically, although certainly that’s true. The 4-minute mile in my teens could have been duplicated in my 20’s, but I’m in my 40’s now. I would be thrilled with a 7-minute mile. Studies show that we don’t learn as fast, absorb as quickly, or retain as well as we grow in years.

I think of my grandmother, who as she grew older, developed Alzheimer’s disease. At the end of her journey, she didn’t remember my name.

Here’s what I’m trying to bring out: what the world sets forth as ‘growing’ has a falseness to it that is really easily seen because it simply doesn’t continue or even last. As we grow, we get less able to function in some objective meritorious sense, not more able. Unless we take a very immature view that peak growth ends in our twenties. Thus it is really sad to see older adults, Christians even, still think that this kind of growth is the growth we attain to.

Christian growth isn’t about getting bigger, stronger, or better. Why then would we stick around when we got older and less able? Scripture actually presents growth in another way. Christian growth may be best be stated not as getting better but as getting smaller. That’s right, growing smaller. Our growth, and it continues our whole lives, is toward our death. Toward us not worrying about us, but depending on Jesus. Maturity is maturity in Christ, not personal goodness or accomplishment at all. Self-forgetfulness, not self-fulfillment.

This is captured in John 3:30, when John the Baptist famously said that “he must increase, but I must decrease.” That’s the thought. Jesus increasing, me decreasing. Jesus growing in my life, me growing smaller.

Hebrews speaks of the same idea. We must “go on to maturity,” the author writes in Hebrews 6:1, and what he means is not again talking about our dead works, our getting cleaner, our getting better, our resurrection and judgment. What he means is leaving us behind, and focusing in on what Jesus has done. Are you really leaning on his once-for-all sacrifice? Growth is growth in dependence on Jesus. We need to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. Not ourselves.

When Peter writes of the good news, he links it to the truth that “all flesh is like grass and its glory like the flower of grass,” that is, we ourselves are all withering away (1 Peter 1:24). This is the same thought. We grow, but we grow in the knowledge that we fail, we falter, we lose our ability; at the same time, the gospel is forever.

So real Christian growth is maturing in our view of Christ in us, in our dependence on Jesus, holding fast to what he says is true. We grow in the depth of seeing our failure and his sufficiency.

We do grow, in worldly terms, for a season. It is not wrong to grow in a worldly sense, to see our abilities and accomplishments increase, to enjoy these bodies and minds God has given us while health and strength and lucidity abound. But we should never forget that our real growth is towards our decreasing and him increasing, as we more and more trust in the only hope we have, Jesus Christ.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

The Truth You Know

Jesus Christ is my redeemer, my savior, my only hope; my hope is in his blood and righteousness.

Writing that sentence doesn’t begin to capture the importance and centrality of Jesus to me. Using superlatives, listing out how important he is, making a rational argument—I do all of these things as a pastor, but it still seems hard to take in.

In some sense that’s because it is just hard to take in. The reason it is hard is in part the difficulty of language, and in part the competing truths that surround that central one, threatening to drown it out.

There are many other truths people take out of the Bible, lots of principles and propositions that are proclaimed. While not untrue, as a whole those truths can drown out the nuclear-bomb-sized truth of Jesus, the center of the gospel.

I was struck last week by one particular way that Scripture highlights the main, life-altering truth. I saw it in Matthew’s gospel, particularly in chapter 27. He uses something called “dramatic irony.” Dramatic irony occurs when the reader knows something that the characters in the story don’t know.

What truth do we want to yell out as Judas realizes that he’s “betrayed innocent blood”? What central key truth is he missing as he goes and hangs himself?

What do we want to shout at Pilate as he wants nothing to do with Jesus’ sacrifice. “My hands are clean of this innocent blood,” he says.

What do we shake our heads and marvel at as the crowd proclaims “his blood be on us and on our children”? As they cry out to crucify Jesus?

Isn’t it all dramatic irony—they don’t realize that Jesus Christ is our redeemer, our savior, our only hope, and that our hope is in his blood and righteousness.

Judas has betrayed innocent blood, and that innocent blood is his only hope.

Pilate’s hands are stained with the innocent blood of Jesus, and Christ’s sacrifice is his only hope.

The crowd accepts the guilt of the wrongful death of Jesus—yet his wrongful death is their only hope for the removal of guilt and eternal life.

Judas doesn’t know this truth. He realizes he has “betrayed innocent blood.” He is so guilt-stricken and sad that he goes and hangs himself. He doesn’t see that the innocent blood of Jesus is actually his only hope.

In a world that focuses on moral improvement, social betterment, and accumulation of power and wealth, we need every tool we can get to drive into our own hearts the most important of truths: that our salvation is in Christ alone, by his blood alone, of his love alone.

And after seeing what the characters don’t in the true story of Jesus’ death, that truth is driven deeper still: Christ alone, his blood alone, his love alone, his death for mine. Hold on to the depth of what Jesus Christ has done. He’s our only hope.

Love God and Love People

Confusion can come in many forms. For me it has not been over whether the Bible is true, or whether Jesus really did miracles. It came in fuzziness about what the Gospel is.

I took imperatives from the Bible and didn’t ground them in the indicative. I thought my role was to try with all my might to do, to behave, to be as perfect as possible, and that God would judge that try, and it would be how I achieved standing in his sight.

Now I understand that God does judge that try, and it is for condemnation. My try isn’t the good news, but there is really good news.

Many of us get confused like I did. We say something like “you must love God and love people.” This becomes our functional statement of Christianity.

We look at the gospels, and see how Jesus affirmed that the two greatest commandments were exactly these: first, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; second, to love your neighbor as yourself (i.e. Matthew 22:37-38, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27).

But we miss that this was Jesus affirming something very particular: that these commands are the summary of the Law, the capital-L-law, the Law of Moses.

Keeping the law is not what it means to be Christian. Plenty of other religions (Judaism, right?) would affirm this, but not Christianity. We hold that the Law isn’t kept by us, and that the effort to do so isn’t enough.

That’s because this is the same Law that uniformly and rightly condemns us. This is the same Law by which no person will ever be justified in the sight of God (Romans 3:20). The whole point of what Jesus is saying in the Gospels is that the listener is nowhere near keeping the perfect law; we need another to do so. In the Luke 10 passage, for example, he gives the parable of the incredible love of the Samaritan. No human being loves like that!

Thankfully, we have another who has done so. His name is Jesus. He kept the Law perfectly. He was righteous all the way through. He loved God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. He loved other people as himself. So much so that he died for us.

So keeping the law is not what it means to be Christian. Trusting Christ is what it means to be Christian. Trusting that he took those requirements of the law and nailed them to the cross (Colossians 2:14). Trusting that we are dead to the law, but alive in his perfection and power (Galatians 2:19-20).

Interestingly, when you actually do this, remarkable behavior can result. If you see the wonder of a savior who died for you, who loves you this much, if you trust him instead of your own self, you are alive. You get the Holy Spirit. You start to bear fruit, which is the downstream effect of believing this incredible Jesus. Love, joy, peace, patience… you get to see glimmers of these things in your life. But they’re never the summary of the Christian. They’re the downstream fruit of believing the truth: that Christianity is critically only about trusting in Jesus Christ.

That’s why the new commandment that Jesus gives in John 13:34 is “as I have loved you, love one another.” Life now is a response to what Jesus did; our life is grounded in trusting him.

Don’t be confused. Make this your center: Trust Jesus Christ.

Geysers and Rivulets

I watched the eruption of the world’s largest geyser today. YouTube is amazing, and what’s more amazing is thinking of this incredible force that drives a million gallons of water 300 feet into the air. People on the ground say that they can actually feel the low rumbling of the steam in their chest as the water rises in the sky.

There’s a question that you rarely see asked, that I couldn’t even find the answer for via the ubiquitous Google search: where does the water go? I mean, a million gallons of water has been thrown up into the air, where does it go? The obvious answer is that it falls on the ground all around the geyser, where it forms little rivulets of running water, making the ground all around the geyser wet.

The reason the answer doesn’t show up in searches is that people are way more interested (and rightly so) in the geyser. No one comes to look at small rivulets. They all are amazed and astonished at the power and wonder of the geyser.

I wish we were more that way about our Savior. It is so easy to focus in on how I’m doing and how other people are doing. What fruit are they producing? Are they actively living out the Christian life? What are we working on, what are we doing, what are we achieving? We take Jesus for granted, we’ve heard about him all our lives; and besides, what we do is what’s important. Right?

We focus in on the branches and forget the incredible, awe-inspiring vine. We look at the little water rivulets and take our eyes off of the million-gallon wonder.

The wonder is that God became a man, and he suffered and died for us. And he rose from the dead, and promises we will too, simply by trusting him.

“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:38).

See, we’ll participate in the most incredible event ever… rivers of living water will flow from us. But it won’t be our water. It will be the living water of the Spirit, bursting forth from the most incredible event ever.

It is something of a paradox, that our work is actually to keep our eyes on the marvel of the geyser, and not to be so distracted by ourselves. “This is the work of God, to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29). I need to trust in the geyser, that water will be delivered, and the water isn’t produced by me, but is a result of the power and strength of someone else.

Jesus isn’t just the headwater of our faith, like a roaring stream has a little tributary that starts it off. Jesus is the geyser, and he gets us wet. He’s the force and the power. The Holy Spirit is our comforter, reminding us of all that he’s done and all that he’s promised. We have life if he gets us wet – his righteousness is ours, we don’t have any of our own.

The Christian life is dependent entirely on the massive geyser of what God has done. May we never cease to marvel. May we never cease to praise. May we not focus on the tiny rivulets of our own stream, when the wonder is the love of God expressed incredibly in his Son.

Assurance Today!

Many Christians are afflicted by doubt. I’m more and more convinced that the church helps feed this doubt by how we talk about assurance.

Assurance is almost always spoken about in terms of how you experience victorious Christian living. At least, that’s how it has seemed to me. People pull a verse or two from 1 John, and say that if you are really saved, then your life needs to show it. You should have ever-increasing good deeds and ever-decreasing sinful behavior. If that is going on, then you can possibly have some semblance of being sure you’re going to heaven (hence “assurance”).

If your life doesn’t show that clear advance, you are right to doubt, and to work on showing good fruit, so that you can possibly feel less in doubt that you really are saved.

I knew there was something missing there, but it was hard to get to. Works can certainly be faked, so it seems incongruous to use them as essential proofs. I tried bringing up cases, you know, like the thief on the cross. He didn’t have good works, but he knew he was going to heaven! Yes, I was told, a “deathbed” conversion could be true, but if he would have lived, it would have been very important for him to “show” his salvation.

On the one hand, I get the concern. If you have been regenerated, if you are united with Christ, if you have been astonished by the gospel, if you believe in Jesus, you will surely show some change, right? There is no possibility that a person who is really alive won’t bear fruit. Not of themselves; it is the fruit of the Spirit, and by being alive and connected to Jesus, that fruit comes.

But I’ve come to see that this “practical syllogism” of united-to-Christ believers bearing fruit which is assuring actually skips the main part of assurance. And not just because fruit can be hard to evaluate and sporadic. It is also, more importantly, that the main part of assurance is closer to faith and closer to the gospel than the downstream fruit-production which we tend to focus on.

Faith itself has to have a strong strand of assurance built in. That’s because our belief is in Jesus and what he has done, rather than in what we do. So faith is believing that what Jesus has done and what he has said is actually true… which is the very message that he by his work and action has secured our salvation.

Verses abound:
“God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his son” (1 John 5:11) Well, has he given it, or not?

“Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 15:31). If you believe, that’s trust, then it isn’t about downstream works at all (even though they will come), it is about the nature of the agent (that’s Jesus).

I live by faith, not in my fruit, but in my Savior (Galatians 2:20). My faith is the assurance of what Jesus said is true, and this is my hope (Hebrews 11:1). Over and over the clear statement of Jesus, that he is our only hope, our rescuer, our redeemer, that his sacrifice is what counts—the main part of assurance is that he has said it, and he has done it, and he is faithful.

Jesus reveals a loving Father with a plan to rescue us, if we will trust him. I rest in that finished work, which has yet to come to sight for me. I live by trusting in his plan, revealed by Jesus, that I am adopted into his family and united with my savior forever.

Seeing little downstream effects, like joy, patience, or kindness (fruit of the Spirit, according to Galatians 5:22) is really encouraging. But those encouragements should never take the place of (or really hold a candle to) to the incredible reality that my assurance hung on a tree and shed his blood. His word is sure, his promise is true, and I can stand on Him with certainty every moment of every day.

May you find your assurance in the truth of Jesus Christ. Trust that he really has you, now and forever, as you turn from your own self-righteousness to the perfect righteousness of the Son.

(n.b. this post was inspired by our church’s morning men’s group, which is discussing Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ, a treatment of the controversy over the Marrow of Modern Divinity. Wonderful read.)

Reading Your Bible, Finding Jesus

In our Sunday studies we’ve been in the Gospel of Matthew. I’ve been struck by how vehemently Jesus speaks against the teaching of the Pharisees, and we are only halfway through.

“Don’t get any of their leaven in your dough,” Jesus essentially says in Matthew 16. And he’s talking about their teaching. Wow! These are the serious students of Scripture. They memorized the Old Testament. All the prooftexts we commonly use for studying the Bible, you know, like “thy word have I hidden in my heart that I might not sin against thee,” or “your word is a lamp unto my feet and a guide unto my path,” are verses they knew better than we do.  Even “your word will not return void” is a quotation from Scripture the Pharisees held and cherished.

If we take the position that Bible reading will change you, without further discernment, then we have to account for why that didn’t work for these Scripture-readers.

Logically, we can understand where they were at. I mean, these seriously religious people had read and understood the condition of the nation. They understood the curses of not following the law. They saw the nation exiled because of disobedience. They looked at their situation and saw their own oppression at the hands of the Romans. And they thought they knew the answer: redouble their efforts. Get serious about obedience. Don’t just avoid sin, avoid the situation that sin comes from. So… they washed their hands, they avoided any work on Saturday, they made sure they kept the instructions of the Scriptures.

They searched the Scriptures, in other words, and found principles. They found precepts. They found rules to follow, to stay in the good graces of God. And by their obedience, by their keeping these principles, it would go well with them and they would be blessed. They understood that God had chosen them, and they were kept by their obedience.

They searched the Scriptures to find life, and thought life was in the principles… not in finding Jesus.

They located righteousness in themselves, rather than in Jesus.

This sounds much like modern-day American Christianity in some forms. Obey the principles to be blessed. Stay in the umbrella of protection and blessing by following the rules.

Yet Jesus said – watch out! Avoid their leaven. Don’t even get a drop of their teaching. It will infect the whole lump.

Do you see how surprising this is? Do you start to get a glimpse of the upside-down wonder of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

It is not a both-and. You cannot simultaneously be a Pharisee grounding righteousness in your own actions and be a Jesus-follower grounding righteousness in him. Righteousness is a gift or it is earned. If it is earned a little, it is still earned.

The radical declaration of Jesus is that the Scriptures do reveal eternal life, and it is them that bear witness of him. The Law thunders our inability. As Augustine wrote, “the utility of the law is, that it convinces man of his weakness, and compels him to apply for the medicine of grace, which is in Christ.”

The Scriptures lay out the gracious, beautiful, wonderful standard of what God requires. That standard doesn’t affirm the moral person, it crushes everyone. And to the crushed, the beauty of the perfect Savior is a balm and a wonder.

The Gospel says Jesus has done it all. He is the Lord and Savior. He’s got the power; he redeems. His salvation is more than we can imagine. We aren’t just wiped clean, we are robed in his righteousness, adopted into his family, united to him.

And so we read our Scriptures, we pore over them, because in them we find life: his name is Jesus. O that we might know him more; that we might see the depth of the love God has for us in his Son.

Bible reading will change you. If you find Jesus.

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” (John 5:39)

Friends with Jesus

Have you ever had someone manipulate you with the offer of friendship?

“If you are really my friend, then you’ll do X,” where X is something you wouldn’t do otherwise?
“If you want to be my friend, you’ll give me your dessert.”
“If you are really my friend, you’ll throw this wad of paper at the teacher.”

It sounds rather grade-schoolish, like something that would happen on the elementary school playground.

Yet… we often seem to be willing to ascribe such thinking to Jesus. If you do what he says, he’ll be your friend. C’mon, prove that you’re his friend.

That’s how people often take John 15:14. Jesus says “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” There it is! If you want to be Jesus’ friend, you better do what he says. If you don’t, he won’t be.

And from there we are off to the races, trying to prove to Jesus that we are his friend. Can you find an imperative in his teaching? Do it, because then you will be his friend.

Something is lost along the way. Something called…. context. And thereby, great damage is done to our understanding of the good news.

Let’s look at what this really means. Jesus is talking to his disciples the night before he goes to the cross. He is telling them that what they need to do is simply abide in him. Everything they do will be because they abide in him, remain connected to him, not be independent of him.

And then he says in 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Hmm. I wonder who is going to do that. Oh, right – Jesus is going to lay down his life for his friends. His friends. The disciples. They ARE his friends.

He says in 15:15, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you…” Hmm. Jesus calls them friends. And not because they shared their dessert, or did anything. Because of him choosing them, and him making known the good news of the Gospel, what he has heard from the Father, to them.

Jesus is their friend on the basis of his own action, not on the basis of their command-keeping.

Go even wider for a moment. Jesus says this to them on the night he is betrayed. And he is betrayed not only by Judas Iscariot, who is definitely not Jesus’ friend… but by Peter. Peter, his supposed friend. Peter goes out and denies that he even knows Jesus, not once but three times. The last time, Jesus looks straight at him, and Peter slinks away crying.

Well, I guess Peter isn’t Jesus friend either, if being Jesus’ friend means doing all that he commands. Doesn’t he belong in the same category as disobedient Judas?

So it is really remarkable that John’s gospel ends with Jesus appearing on the side of the lake where Peter has gone back to fishing. Jesus cooks him breakfast. Jesus restores him. Peter would live a fruitful life of response to the good news, because… Jesus never let him go.

If you are Jesus’ friend, he won’t let you go. You’re his friend if you receive the gospel. And if you are his friend, then you will do what he commands. Because he’ll get you there.

Could it really be true that everything, simply everything, is about Jesus? That life is about his strength, his sacrifice, his righteousness? What does that birth in your heart?

Welcome to Christianity. Where the truth is that you are his friend, his family, only because of what Jesus has done. Believe it, live in it, rejoice. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Jesus, Paul, and Me

For a long time I thought there was a bit of a tension between Jesus and Paul. I mean, I knew it didn’t make sense—after all, Paul met with Jesus on the Damascus road, Paul was the apostle sent by Jesus to the Gentiles—but there seemed to be a different emphasis in messaging. Paul writes about how everyone is a sinner, there aren’t any righteous people and we are saved by grace alone. Jesus, though, told people to be better. He even said we should be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect.

That last statement is directly from Jesus’ most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount (see, it even gets capitals!). And when I was younger I read it as a call to action. Jesus says not murdering isn’t enough; you need to not even be angry at your brother. Adultery? Of course that’s wrong, but even looking at an attractive person with lust is something to avoid. And don’t get me started on the wonderful, idealistic call to love enemies, go the extra mile, never judge, and give so that even your own hands don’t know you did it.

I suppose that’s how I took them, as ideals. And so that’s what the Kingdom of heaven became, an idealistic place, a place without reality, really, but rather a sort of an ideal held up for us (humanity) to work toward.

I repent of that. I’ve changed my mind. Probably better (and more hopeful) to say that I’ve grown.

I am convinced that there is a real, actual kingdom of God. The place where he rules and reigns. The place where he is. And to be in that kingdom means that you are a person who belongs there. Who exhibits what the kingdom is about. And Jesus really laid it out for us, so that we would see not only the kingdom, but also ourselves.

And therefore I see Jesus and Paul talking about the same thing. Because when I consider that the kingdom isn’t an ideal but a reality, I realize that I don’t belong. I realize that you don’t either. And I realize Jesus is doing what Paul is doing: there aren’t any righteous people. We need to be saved by grace alone.

See, I continue to struggle with lust. Not the in-your-face-adultery kind, but the longing for things that God doesn’t long for. He and I don’t see eye to eye on gut-level things, and that means I’m wrong. I’m twisted. I get frustrated (and yes, that’s just another word for angry) at my brother. I definitely know when I make a sacrificial gift, and I give myself lots of back-pats. I don’t want to love my enemy, I usually want to bring them to justice (as defined by me). I see other’s faults, not even recognizing the tree branch sticking out of my own eyes.

Maybe I’m being a little hard on myself. But maybe I’m not being hard enough. What I am convinced of is that Jesus’ presentation of the kingdom includes the reality that I will not make it. The summary of ‘be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect’ doesn’t push me to greater heights of sanctification. It pushes me to my knees. I puts me on my belly.

I’m with Isaiah, who famously said “Woe is me! For I am lost. I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King…”

My eyes have seen the King. Glorious in mercy. Awesome in perfection. True and righteous all the way through. And His kingdom reflects his holy perfection.

And when I see my unworthiness, I see that there is just one message. That we are unworthy, unclean, unrighteous, unable. And yet God, in his great mercy, while we were dead, made us alive in Christ. Jesus loved us in this midst of this state that we are in… and by what he did, we are united to him, given righteousness, made to belong, adopted, put in the family, sealed with the Spirit, kept for heaven, admitted into the holy Kingdom where God rules.

We need to grow in wonder. That Jesus says how happy are the spiritually bankrupt, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. How Jesus came for sinners. How Jesus heals the sick, makes the blind see, cures the leper, conquers the demons, raises the dead.

Come, see what it means that God has a heart for mercy, not sacrifice.