I am writing today, on the day following the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., because I have a humbling confession to make. For all of my passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ, which has been accurate and faithful to the best of my ability, the gospel that I have held so dear has been, in reality, a truncated and incomplete gospel.
Toward Aa More Balanced Gospel
If you know me, you know that I have invested my life and ministry in teaching, preaching and writing about the gospel. I have taught that the gospel not only addresses our past forgiveness and our future hope, but also everything we face today. I have talked and written again and again about the “nowism” of the gospel – —that is, the right here, right now benefits of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
I have endeavored to hold the gospel as the lens through which we see and understand everything we are dealing with between the “already” of our conversion and the “not yet” of our homegoing. And I have worked to help people see how the gospel sets the everyday agenda for how they see themselves, how they view and relate to others, how they make decisions, and how they live in the place where God has put them.
But as I have taken time to examine the cross of Jesus Christ once again, I have been confronted with a very significant area of personal blindness. I am grieved that it took me so long to see this, while being filled with joy that my patient and faithful Savior did not give up on me, but kept working to open my eyes, soften my heart and give balance to my gospel voice.
You may be thinking right now, “Paul, I understand your words so far, but I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about!”
Let me explain, by giving you the last chapter first and then unpacking what it means.
THE GOSPEL OF JUSTICE
By God’s grace, I have become deeply persuaded that we cannot celebrate the gospel of God’s grace without being a committed ambassador of the gospel of his justice as well.
From the moment of his very first breath, Jesus marched toward the cross because God is unwilling to compromise his justice in order to deliver his forgiveness. On the cross of forgiveness, even speaking words of forgiveness as he hung in torture, God would not close his eyes to humanity’s incalculable violations of his just requirements in order to extend to us his forgiving and accepting grace.
Jesus never said to the Father, “You know I have lived with these people—they mean well, but they just don’t understand who you are, who they are and what life is all about. Why don’t we just close our eyes to all of their rebellion, selfishness, pride, idolatry and inhumanity, act like everything is OK, and welcome them into our family?”
Of course, God would have never have participated in such a negotiation, because he is a perfectly holy God! And if he had, there would have been no need for the penalty-bearing, forgiveness-granting, and acceptance-resulting sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
Think with me for a moment. Grace is never permissive. Grace never calls wrong right. If wrong were not wrong, there would be no need for grace. Forgiveness always assumes some offense against moral law.
You don’t need to forgive a child for being immature, because immaturity is a normal part of development and not a sin. You don’t have to forgive an elderly person for forgetting, because forgetfulness is a condition of old age and not a sin. You don’t need to seek forgiveness for being weak, because weakness is not a sin but an indication of your humanity.
But when someone comes to you to confess wrong against you, you should not say, “It’s OK, don’t worry about it.” Sin is never OK. The person needs to hear you say, “I forgive you,” because communicating forgiveness doesn’t compromise God’s just standard and will help to bring relief to their troubled conscience.
If there is no breaking of God’s just requirements, there is no need for forgiveness. It is vital to recognize and remember that the cross not only extends God’s forgiveness, but it also upholds his justice. On the cross of Jesus Christ, grace and justice kiss. That means we cannot celebrate and proclaim the message of God’s grace while we do what God would never do—close our eyes to the injustice around us. We cannot be comfortable with exegeting his mercy for all people without being an advocate for his justice for all people.