Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”
Matthew 9:12-13 MSG
I want to share with you something Donald Miller wrote in Blue Like Jazz. He’s talking about grace:
But if I cannot accept God’s love, I cannot love Him in return, and I cannot obey Him. Self-discipline will never make us feel righteous or clean; accepting God’s love will. The ability to accept God’s unconditional grace and ferocious love is all the fuel we need to obey Him in return. Accepting God’s kindness and free love is something the devil does not want us to do. If we hear, in our inner ear, a voice saying we are failures, we are losers, we will never amount to anything, this is the voice of Satan trying to convince the bride that the groom does not love her. This is not the voice of God. God woos us with kindness, He changes our character with the passion of His love. (2003:86)
I recently read something on Facebook, the gist of which was that this person was tired about hearing how sinful we humans are all the time and to give us a break, etc. And I remember thinking, “Why?” Why on earth do we want a break from hearing how sinful we are? After all, being reminded of our sin is also being reminded of our grace… And vice-versa.
I think we need to hear both messages. Terrible things happen to our faith when we forget, even for a moment, how great our debt is, how great a debt we’ve been freed from. Or maybe “debt” is too mild a metaphor – what about death? That’s the metaphor Paul uses (Romans 6). We were dead. Dead. And now we are alive. That’s something to celebrate, but the celebration only lasts as long as the remembrance of what we were before.
When we’re religious, it’s easy to forget just how sinful we are. What a travesty! We get used to grace. Religion as a system is primarily about ticking boxes. To a good purpose, but still. Therein lies the trap: the better we get at ticking those boxes, boxes like tithing and volunteering and teaching and preaching, the less good we are at ticking that other box, the one that reads “sinner, saved”. The one that has a picture of Jesus on a cross next to it. The one that’s sort of the whole point.
Why is that? Like Donald Miller says, we can’t love if we don’t accept God’s love. But accepting God’s love is a simple task, and I’m convinced that’s why we struggle with something that should be very easy. It’s too easy! I think it boils down to deservingness. It’s a catch-22: we work to earn God’s grace, which we don’t need to do; but the working tells us we don’t need his grace. What a number’s being done on us!
This is why Jesus is after mercy, not religion. Religion can fool us, but mercy is a pretty straightforward concept, as straightforward as a man on a cross saying, “It is finished.” Just one box to tick there.
Prayer inspiration: “Amazing Grace”
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.