I once heard two sermons. They spoke of the same little passage—a mere eighteen verses, hardly a column of text. But how different they were.
It was not merely a matter of skill or style. It was not a matter of truth or falsehood, right or wrong.
One told me what I had to do.
The other, what had been done for me.
One sent me off with the suggestion to reflect on what I was doing wrong.
The other sent me with thanksgiving of the One who came for me in my lostness.
One piled on guilt. The other mercy.
One gave a word of law. The other the message of grace.
I am no master homilitician, but I know which I prefer.
I know which one drives me to awe and praise, and which to morbid introspection.
I know which one inspires me to change, and which makes me despair of ever being good enough.
I know which one turns my eyes to Jesus, and which turns my eyes to myself.
The secret to true transformation is never law. It is never the litany of my wrongdoings, my misplaced loves, my sins. It is never the rehearsal of how I don’t measure up. Yes, I fall short, this I know—the Bible tells me so. But I thought the song was about Jesus.
How easily we forget our own message—the one that tells a story of grace coming to us in our unworthiness, the story of what has been done for us—not of our performance or our rehabilitation. All we truly have to give the world is Gospel—all else is just a Christianized rebranding of the “earn your way” slave drivers.
Grace transforms us. It transforms my behavior and my attitudes. It possesses me with its glorious, excruciating, intoxicating light.
The Spirit transforms us. He peels away the thick dragon skin of my selfishness and pride and makes me a new creation. He gives me a soft heart, an obedient heart. My life bears His fruit.
To assume that this can be manufactured through guilt tripping or pump-you-up inspiration is to miss the point. It’s to forget our history. It’s to forget the gateway through which we walked into glory.
Our story will always be about grace. Our life will always be shaped and molded through a response to what has already been done for us. It is finished. We respond in thanksgiving. This thanks changes our hearts, and our newly transplanted, resurrected hearts change our lives.
This is the message I can never get enough of. It’s the one my parched soul laps up in rejoicing desperation.