Sunday, August 2, 2015

Luke 15:7, 20 (RSV): God Loves Us in the Midst of our Faults

Luke 15:7, 20 (RSV): God Loves Us in the Midst of our Faults


7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.
20And so he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and was filled with compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
Have you ever felt failure in living up to God’s expectations? Has discipleship ever proved incompatible with your personality and patience, sending you into head-shaking discouragement? My experience regarding the above questions has been an emphatic “yes!” I readily fall into the trap of trying to be my best for Christ and often failing miserably. Once the feeling of discouragement sets in, however, I tend to forget what really matters, God’s unmerited, unconditional love through His Son, Jesus Christ.


As we read Luke chapter 15, there are three parables told to the audience of Pharisees and scribes who question Jesus’ eating and commingling with sinners. These parables (Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son), however, spell out the reality of God’s unmerited love that the first-century Jewish religious leaders could not see -- God loves us more than we can ever know, even in the midst of our sins.  The Father relentlessly looks for us in the midst of our discouragement, and when we turn to Him, He rejoices.


7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.


The story of the Prodigal Son, for example, speaks to my own conversion, which took place in May 2012. Up until this time, I was far off in a world of self-serving Christian tepidity, confessing that I believed in Jesus if asked, but doing nothing about it.  I rarely thought of God, never read Scripture, and only haphazardly attended a few worship services over several decades. Nothing seemed to move me in God’s direction.  However, during a moment of fear and loss, I picked up a free ESV translation of the Bible and read the Gospel of Matthew. In reading Matthew’s narrative, an incredible thing happened, which can only be described as grace: I was infused with a sense of God’s love, and I met the most incredible person who was with me the whole time, Jesus Christ. God was waiting for me in the distance with robe and sandals, readying the ring, and preparing the fatted calf.  He knew I would come home, but patiently waited for me to choose when. It was God’s love, unearned and undeserved by me, that pulled me to Him.


20And so he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and was filled with compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.


My sins did not matter; Christ paid that debt. God’s love never fails, and he doesn’t keep tabs on our faults.  If he did, mine would be more than the national debt. God does, however, give us the freedom to choose.  God forgives and loves, but we must turn toward Him, another word for this is “repent.” Repentance, according to Brennan Manning in The Ragamuffin Gospel, “is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven.”


Why then, do we often try to earn God’s love?  Our self-righteous piety, like that of the first-century Pharisees and scribes, is worthless. God’s unmerited grace and love through Jesus Christ is everything.  Are we called to love and live in Christ’s light, carry the cross of discipleship, and be perfect as our Father is perfect? You bet. But we readily fail. God loves us regardless of our failures. This prodigal can tell you first hand of that amazing love.


May you all be blessed and encouraged in the love and peace of Christ.  

Stan