You accuse me of eating with sinners. You are absolutely right. That is precisely what I do. But as a matter of fact I not only sit down and eat with sinners, I rush down the road, shower them with kisses and drag them in that I might eat with them. It is much worse than you imagined!
- Kenneth Bailey, Jacob & The Prodigal
The only thing harder than forgiveness is the alternative.
- Phillip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?
For the next Christians, skepticism isn’t to be feared, it’s to be embraced. They know that for centuries God’s grace has been wide enough to meet entire cultures right where they sit. They know that today’s typical outsiders aren’t likely to be reached through persuasive argument but instead through first experiencing an authentic Christian: someone who’s willing to roll up his or her sleeves and restore alongside them.
- Gabe Lyons, The Next Christians
“I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge.” — Bono
What comes around goes around…What ye sow, so shall ye reep…You get what you deserve. The world is built on these expressions of karma, the idea that you if you do good things in life, then you’ll be rewarded; if you do bad, then you’ll get punished. Look around and you’ll see karma everywhere. In school, your diploma depends on your ability to know the correct answers. At work, your worth to the company is based on how well you perform in your job. Within the marketplace, you matter only so much as your credit rating.
Religion smacks of karma as well. Hindus believe how you live this life determines what sort of creature you are in the next. Obedience to the Five Pillars of Islam is the ticket to Paradise for Muslims. In Judaism, Mosaic Law proclaims “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” What’s more, all you hear coming out of some Christian circles is a long list of “do’s and don’ts”. Every part of our lives seems to depend on our ability to measure up. When we succeed, life can feel pretty good. But, when we don’t make the cut, life sucks.
Yet, regardless of how well we thrive in school or a career, there’s one area of our lives in which we instinctively know that we don’t measure up: our relationship with God. Our conscience screams of our failure. Personally, I can’t go a day without sinning, let alone a lifetime. Just when it looks like we are doomed, however, something amazing happens: a sudden, miraculous, and unexpected twist occurs in our story. Like a meteor from above, grace crashes into this bleak and hopeless existence. Grace transforms the worst possible situation into the best promise imaginable. In the song “Grace” [Lyrics] [iTunes], U2 explores this otherworldly stuff called grace, which is the idea at the very heart of what Jesus Christ – and authentic Christianity – is all about.
Are we forgiven by God of our sins because we repent of those sins? Or does repentance and faith follow in response to a genuine encounter with the forgiveness of Jesus Christ? Capon provides some insight:
We are forgiven for one reason only: because Jesus died for our sins and rose for our justification. Forgiveness surrounds us, beats upon us all our lives; we confess, to wake ourselves up to what we already have. We are not forgiven, therefore, because we made ourselves forgivable or even because we had faith; [faith] is not a transaction, not a negotiation in order to secure forgiveness… We are forgiven solely because there is a Forgiver. Nothing new is ever done to achieve anything. It was all done, once and for all, by the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world – by the one God, in the Person of the Word incarnate in Jesus. We may be unable, as the prodigal son was, to believe until we finally see it; but the God who does it, like the father who forgave the prodigal, never once had anything else in mind.- Robert Farrar Capon
The humiliation of the father in the Prodigal Son story provides a striking parallel to the humiliation that God took on for us on the Cross.
Have you ever observed someone making a fool of himself? Even if you are a detached bystander, such a scene can be excruciatingly hard to watch. When I see a person embarrassing himself on television – such as a singer singing the national anthem off key or an actor forgetting a line in a live performance – I find myself flipping the channel, as if that will somehow help end the awkward situation. Clearly, we all have a keen sensitivity to “shame” and “humiliation”, making it truly painful to observe, let alone experience.
We commonly hear the word “humility” associated with our walk with Christ, but how often in the church do we talk of “humiliation”? It is really a foreign concept. But the more you read through the New Testament and discover what God actually did for us on the Cross, you begin to realize that our all-knowing and all-powerful God willingly humiliated and shamed Himself for us. One of the best examples in the Bible demonstrating this is found in Luke 15 in the parable of the Prodigal Son.