Thursday, August 27, 2009

Grace – More Than “Get Out of Jail Free!”

Little Rebel by Xanderalex

In “Resisting Grace,” we talked about the misguided desire some of us have to protect God and His Gospel from being abused.  We see the potential in our own hearts to abuse grace, so we conclude that grace is God’s dirty little secret, one best kept under wraps so no one will make a sucker out of Him.

In “Why Grace? we began to see just a tiny bit of the reason why Grace can never turn God into a sucker.  Grace freely pardons, saves, and transforms those who receive it.  But those who abuse it don’t make a fool of God.  They only make fools of themselves as grace does its other work…that of revealing the true condition of a person’s heart. 

Hopefully that’s enough of a review.  Today’s subject is one I hadn’t anticipated writing, but it came up because of a famous Spurgeon quote I read in someone’s blog…one of the few Spurgeon quotes I have ever disapproved of.  I feel the need to write about it here because it helps to explain why many Christians have a distorted view of God’s grace in salvation. 

Spurgeon relates the following scene (I’ve edited it for brevity’s sake):

Once a poor Irishman came to me in my vestry.

“I'm come to ax you a question. You say, and others say too, that God is able to forgive sin. Now, I can't see how he can be just, and yet forgive sin: for I have been so greatly guilty that if God Almighty does not punish me as he ought, I feel that he would not be just. How, then, sir, can it be true that he can forgive, and still retain the title of just?"

"Well, then," said I, "This is the way Christ is able to forgive. Suppose you had killed some one. You were a murderer; you were condemned to die, and you deserved it."

"Well, her Majesty is very desirous of saving your life, and yet at the same time universal justice demands that someone should die on account of the deed that is done. Now, how is she to manage?"

Said he, "That is the question.”

"Well," said I, "suppose, Pat, I should go to her and say, "Here is this poor Irishman, he deserves to be hanged, your Majesty. I don't want to quarrel with the sentence, because I think it just, but, if you please, I so love him that if you were to hang me instead of him should be very willing.

"Pat, suppose she should agree to it, and hang me instead of you, what then? would she be just in letting you go?"

"Ay" said he, "I should think she would. Would she hang two for one thing? I should say not.  I'd walk away, and there isn't a policeman that would touch me for it."

"Ah!" said I, "that is how Jesus saves.”

Have you ever heard the Gospel presented this way?  How does it sit with you?

This is what I wrote in response to the blog entry that offered this Spurgeon quote:

As much as I love the doctrines of grace; as much as I love Calvin and Spurgeon and the like; as much as I am banking my eternal soul on the substitutionary atonement of Christ... I still HATE the "gospel" explanation Spurgeon gave here.

Sometimes those of us who love the Gospel are so eager to see it vindicated that we will be pleased with the sort of scheme presented here, even though we would be appalled at it in any other setting.

If your loved one was murdered, and the identity of the murderer were known, and the government came to you and said, "Good news! An innocent party came and offered to be executed in place of your loved one's killer, and we agreed! So now the innocent party is dead, the killer is back loose on the streets, and isn't that great?"

Would you agree that justice was done? Wouldn't you be horrified? Imagine if that official looked at you in confusion and said, "Well, we had to kill SOMEBODY for the crime, and we did! How could you not be satisfied with that?"

Stay with me here, because I fervently believe in the substitutionary atonement. But the explanation Spurgeon gave was not adequate, as an honest look at the hypothetical situation above would show. What Spurgeon described was a gross miscarriage of justice. The substitutionary atonement which happened at Calvary was absolutely just. So something more happened at Calvary than what Spurgeon described there.

What happened at Calvary was this: An innocent party, completely identified with the murderer, stepped up to take the murderer's punishment and die in his place. BUT THAT'S NOT ALL! He also gave a "heart transplant" (if you will) to the murderer! The murderer's own heart was to be taken out (in essence, "killing" him), and the innocent man's heart was given to him, changing him forever. When he was turned loose, no one could rightly say that a murderer was out on the streets. Instead, a new life, with a new nature, was turned loose on the streets. (It's better than just killing the murderer, if you get a better man added to the scene in his place!) AND the innocent party who died was raised again from the dead, and now enjoys the well-deserved love and adoration of all those whom He has redeemed in this fashion.

Tell me, is this a miscarriage of justice? Could you, even as a relative of the murder victim, object to this arrangement? This is the brilliant, incredibly wise, justice-serving, grace-giving, fully divine Gospel that no human could ever dream up. It should make people admire, praise, love, and joyfully receive the God who came up with it. And it should be attractive to more murderers than just those interested in getting off scot-free. (Think about it. Doesn't the version of the gospel presented there by Spurgeon inadvertently support the very same kind of easy-believism that Spurgeon himself despised?)

Of course Spurgeon knew the true Gospel. Why he presented this illustration is beyond me, but I know it's been used by many people over the years, and every time I hear it, it makes me queasy. If just one person re-thinks this whole thing and decides not to present this distorted view of the Gospel again, it will be worth whatever ire I may bring on myself here.

If we think that the grace of the gospel is merely “getting us off the hook,” then no wonder we look at it as something potentially embarrassing to God!  The “salvation scheme” that so many people have heard all their lives is embarrassing, because it’s so blatantly wrong and unjust!  The true Gospel is glorious beyond words.  If people are offended by it (and they will be), then they will answer to God for that.  But let them be offended by the true Gospel, and not by an unjust caricature of it.

Grace is so much more than we think it is!  Next we’ll look at some wonderful ways that God, through His grace, works on our behalf, far above and beyond a “get out of jail free” card.


Laurie M. said...

You're right, that analogy, like most, has its weaknesses. It only tells part of the story. It does leave off mentioning the new heart we receive from God which begins a transformation of our whole lives. But I don't think that is its greatest weakness.

If I were victimized in some dreadful way, I would not accept such a thing as justice either. (We do not release murderers just because they become Christians, for instance. And murderers who are truly converted do not expect to get out of jail because they got saved. That's not what salvation means.) When I sin against a person, I must ask that person for forgiveness, but if they refuse to forgive me that does not keep me from heaven if I've received forgiveness from God.

My point is that ultimately all sin is against God. He holds the reigns of ultimate forgiveness. As David says, "It is against You alone that I have sinned." How could he look at Bathsheba and say that? Because he knew the true nature of sin. That is how Joseph was able to forgive his brothers. "Am I in the place of God?" he asked. He had been sinned against, greatly and certainly. But he knew that it was not his place, but God's to determine their "fate".

And so, what lacks in this story, where the justice in our hearts cries "foul" is that only the one sinned against has the right to forgive. And in the case of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, He is victim AND judge. The analogy would have better represented the gospel if the criminal showed up in court to find that the judge was the only parent of the child he had murdered. That judge would have the right (in that story) to forgive, and of course would not do it if he was not reasonably certain there was repentance and the person would not offend again. But, as I said, even that story has holes in it. I say that because God does forgive us and give us new hearts, and we STILL manage to sin against Him and others. But in spite of all that, God is still just in forgiving sins because every sin ever committed is ultimately against Him, and NO sin ever committed will ever go un-dealt with. It will either be nailed to the cross, or punished in hell.

Sherri Ward said...

Most fiction (maybe all fiction) has holes in it. It's impossible to completely portray the entire message of the gospel accurately through fiction. It is truth that takes a lifetime to understand. You've done well digging deeper into the layers, Betsy!

WhiteStone said...

It is good to question the sometimes inadequate simplicity of analogy. "Quaint" does not always equal good theology. Nor should it replace it.

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