“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would even dare to die–but God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” -Romans 5:6-8
I have made it a point to attempt to intentionally prepare my heart for Easter this year. As I have done so, I keep coming back to this verse in Romans. My heart has been really broken over the social chasm between the culture and the church. I am sad for the people who need the church the most but feel like they’re not welcome–or worse–hated. I’m sad for the people who have worshiped at the altar of political correctness and in doing so abandoned truth. I’m especially sad for the people who think that there are some who are less deserving of grace than others.
Those of us who have grown up in the church often have a hard time grasping just what it is we have been spared. We who have had the privilege of loving Jesus for our whole lives (or most of them) forget how things might have been. Somewhere along the line we replace God’s infinite mercy with our own false sense of worthiness.
Sometimes I think that in our heart of hearts, the story goes like this:
“I was a pretty good kid. I went to church a lot and didn’t get into trouble. I was smart enough to understand that I needed Jesus as my savior so I accepted him into my heart and since then I’ve been living pretty right. Definitely more right than all the sinful people my crazy pastor is telling me to love.”
But if we turn to Scripture, we find the truth of the matter. We’re reminded that our sin separates us from God (Romans 3:23, Genesis 3). We learn that the best we had to offer God was utter filth (Isaiah 64:6). And here at Easter, we remember that Jesus lowered himself to the point of death on a cross to take the punishment for our sin (Philippians 2:8). We see that He defeated death through His glorious resurrection–the hope upon which our faith is built (1 Corinthians 15).
There is no part of this story that includes our righteousness. The pastor of my church in college, Steve Hussung, often said,
“If you are a Christian right now, it’s not because you made a decision when you were nine. It’s because God determined in eternity past that He was going to redeem you.”
When we face down the daunting command to love our neighbor as ourselves, we must also face the reality that were it not for God’s grace, we would be our neighbor. God did not look down on us and demand that we get our sin under control before He would save us. Had he done that we would all be doomed. To entertain the illusion that we are somehow deserving of God’s love and Christ’s very life is to warm our hands by the fires of hell.
What would it look like for us to look at the people around us and see the need instead of the sin? What would it look like for us to speak the truth in love? That’s what Jesus did. He never wavered from His claim to be the Messiah. In 33 years He did not make one step outside His father’s will. And yet he surrounded himself with the very people the church had deemed unworthy. Do we have the humility to do the same? For the sake of the Gospel, we must.
No one is going to enter a relationship with Jesus because you were rude enough to them to make them see the error of their ways. There is nothing enticing about a faith that breeds pride and hatefulness. But if we can enter in to the pain and the mess and the need–if we can engage but not endorse–we will see lives changed by the saving love of Christ. As we reflect on what has been done for us this Easter, may we surrender ourselves to the furthering of God’s word and the spreading of His infinite love at any cost.
“Christ died for men precisely because men are not worth dying for–He makes them worth it.”-C.S. Lewis