On Saturday I was at Transformission in Exeter. I’d like to take a comment I heard there and resonate with it here. Mike Reeves, speaking on Adoption said something like this: “We don’t need to minimize the intimacy God offers us in order to protect our respect and awe for God, we just need to remember who our Father is!”
How true is that?! There is such a tendency to try to balance our statements about God. Barely have words of God’s grace escaped our lips, and there will be some Christian leaning forward to re-emphasize that God is holy too. If you say something about intimacy with God, you’ll quickly get a response including language of transcendence and mystery. Mention God’s love and you’ll quickly hear a “but He’s also just, you know!”
Is God really so conflicted? Is His love really balanced by His justice? Is there a dynamic tension keeping His grace from going overboard?
I am increasingly unconvinced. I was reading Jonathan Edwards recently, and he seems very satisfied with the idea that God’s holiness is a beautiful central feature of His love. No tension. I don’t find the Bible stumbling over itself to avoid overstating God’s love. The more I think about it, the less I see the need for 50:50 approaches to these issues.
Take the matter of sin. Our tendency is to preach the New Covenant, celebrate the forgiveness of sins by God’s extravagant grace and then quickly retreat into an Old Covenant solution to the abuse of grace. But turning from the New Covenant to the Old is surely a demonstration of a lack of faith in the provision of the New Covenant. Does the New Covenant take sin seriously? Does God forget Himself and forgive sins but not think through the fact that people will quickly rush headlong into rampant sin unless checked by some external pressure?
I’ve been struck by how the New Covenant addresses the real issue with sin: the human heart. It isn’t that God goes soft on sin in the New Testament. He takes it seriously enough to address the root problem (as He did in the Old Testament, although we tend to lose sight of this in our monochrome reading of the books of Moses). God addresses the problem of the human heart. So what is the solution to the potential abuse of grace? Is it to impose a balancing restriction? God loves you and forgives you of your sin, but quickly, hear the constraints and caveats I must add lest you go all flagrant on me!
No, the answer to potential grace abuse is not balancing grace with great pressure, but proclaiming grace aright.
Which brings me back to the quote from Saturday. In a sense we need to answer the right questions. What has God done for us in Christ? How has He done it? Even, why has He done it? All good questions to probe the grace of God. How do we have intimacy with God? What sort of intimacy has God made possible for us by giving us the Spirit of His Son? What, how, why – good questions.
Now let’s add Who? into the mix. Who is it that has done this for us? Who is it that invites us into a profoundly deep, close, personal, intimate relationship? Who is it that invites us to call Him Abba?
We don’t need to reduce intimacy to keep the balance with respect. We just need to remember who it is that draws us close.