Forgiving Grace: If I Can’t Have It Now, I’ll Never Have it

Read with How He Loves playing. To the God of the brokenhearted in Romans 4:5.

The grace I need is deeper than the grace they have
I can’t wait around to be forgiven
I need forgiveness today
Actually, this second

Don’t meet me at my weakness, and do the rest
No, go underneath it
To the bottom
And do it all

Don’t tell me to be what I never will be in this life
And then tell me that afterward it will be OK
No, I want more than “OK”
And I want it now

I need grace after all I can do to screw up
My opportunities
My relationships
My heart

Regard me as something that I’m not
Treat me like I’m already everything
You ever wanted me to be
And then change me

I don’t want the prospect of your forgiving love
I want the reality

Righteous Sinners

From Ron Julian’s “Righteous Sinners: The believer’s struggle with faith, grace, and works“:

Righteous SinnersOur salvation is pure mercy; we do not deserve God’s kindness. However, who in this life is destined to receive God’s mercy? Not those who hate God. Not those two can’t admit their own sin. Not those who refuse to trust God. Not the “wicked” of Psalm 32. The hearts of such people are marked. Something is fatally wrong with them: They are spiritually blind. Mercy comes to those who loves God, those who know how sinful they are, those who believe God’s promises, those who seek God’s instruction. Their hearts are also marked. Although much is wrong with them, something is also very right: They are children of the light who have been given “eyes to see.” The Bible sometimes calls them “righteous”:

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. (Luke 2:25)

These “righteous” ones are not hypothetical, sinless people; they are flesh and blood believers. In spite of their own sinfulness, God has blessed these righteous ones with spirits alive to Him. Their hearts are rightly oriented toward God. They believe His promises and admire His goodness and lament over their own evil. Abraham’s nephew Lot is a particularly interesting example of such a “righteous sinner”:

righteous Lot oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day with their lawless deeds)….(2 Peter 2:7-8)

Peter calls Lot “righteous”; yet it is hard to read the story of Lot and conclude that he was an example of sinless perfection. He was a timid man with small faith. Although he believed the angels, they had to drag him out of Sodom. His daughters twice got him so drunk that he had sex with both of them and never knew it. But for all his faults, Lot was a believer in Yahweh. He cared about what was right, and he mourned over the eagerness with which Sodom gave itself over to sin.

The children of God in this life are righteous people. They are not sinless people; they do not have the righteousness of moral character that would earn them salvation. But their faith is a flag marking a certain righteousness in their hearts. Unlike those in the world around them, their eyes see and their ears hear. In a blind world, such sight deserves to be called “good.” …

All human beings live according to a dishonest double standard. When others sin against us, we can think of little else but the wrong and hurt and evil of what they did. On the other hand, when we sin against others, we find it easy to excuse, to defend, and to downplay our offenses. We are self-centered people. When justice is in our favor, we want justice; when mercy is in our favor, we want mercy. This tendency shows itself in the most trivial and the most serious aspects of life. I have seen this in my own life so often it has taken on a tragicomic flavor. I have lost count of how many times I catch myself benig irritated by another person’s actions, only to realize I do exactly the same things myself. When I mess up, I want you to be tolerant; when you mess up, I want you to stop it.

The gospel demands that we abandon the double standard. If we take the gospel seriously, it will not let us downplay our own guilt; we are so morally unworthy that it took the death of Christ Himself to pay the penalty. When we face the choice to forgive others, we are confronting that double standard directly. If I condemn the one who has sinned against me, how can I expect to escape condemnation myself? When struggling with whether to forgive others, it is as if God is speaking to us like this:

Look at the evil this man has done to you. You are right to be upset. This man has been unloving; this man has shown contempt for Me. This man has done evil and deserves to be condemned. But what do you deserve? Will you call down the lightning from heaven on his head? If you do, what will keep it from striking you at the same time? Has he been unloving? You cannot begin to count the times you have been unloving in your life. Did he show contempt for a holy God? Think of all the times you have ignored and distrusted and disobeyed Me. Is he evil? Are you trying to tell Me that you are not? When you look into the eyes of your enemy, you are looking into your own eyes. There is no difference; you are both guilty. Are you willing to see your own sins in the light of his? I have no double standard. Do you demand justice? You will receive justice, and you won’t like it. Do you want mercy? You are as guilty as your enemy; if sins like yours can be forgiven, then so can sins like his.

How Justification by Faith Looks in the Morning

Oh Lord, your mercies are new every morning. I am a sinner. I am ashamed of yesterday, and I despair of myself. I have no freedom to be a slave to righteousness apart from you and your forgiveness. I am a slave to sin. Pay off my debts so that I might have a new master. Your Son died and was buried and rose again. Unite me to that death, burial, and resurrection, Father. The only sins you conquer in me are forgiven ones. Lord, forgive me of my sins, according to your unfailing love. There is no waiting period required for proving my worthiness or receiving confirmation of forgiveness. I am not worthy. You are always faithful to cleanse and to forgive. ‘Ask, and you will receive.’ Lord, I am asking.

Work everything out for my good, even my sin. You are a good God, and you will turn my shame into joy. You will turn my embarrassment and pride and guilt into humility and worship. Swallow me up into the joy of knowing you. To know Christ is to know the Father. He is the resurrection, the life, the bread, the living water. Oh Father, the Law shed light on my unrighteousness. Now I look away from myself. Now I look at Christ’s righteousness. He is my righteousness, my wisdom, my sanctification. I have died with him, I was buried with him, and I was raised with him.

Lord, have mercy on my wife. Help me to be merciful to her. I am no better. Help me to know her as a co-heir, and let us share the sweetness of being forgiven. Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered! Blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not count his sin! Oh, let this overflow from our marriage to all the people groups of the world!

Grace on Every Layer

I’ve got your works, I’ve got my faith
I’ve got all the wine that you can make
I am the kiss of your betrayer
But I’ve got your grace on every layer

Derek Webb

1. He renders / rewards / repays / recompenses to each one according to his works

  • “[T]he Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” (Matthew 16)
  • “[T]o those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life…” (Romans 2)
  • “[H]e rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11)
  • “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done.” (Revelation 22)
  • “…those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5)
  • “Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work”. (Psalm 62:11-12)

2. He blesses the righteous and punishes the evil

  • “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.” (1 Peter 3)

3. He opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble

  • “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5; James 4:6)
  • “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11; Luke 18:14)

4.He gives mercy to the merciful

  • “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5)
  • “[I]f you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you…” (Matthew 6)

5. He justifies and loves the ungodly who trust in him

  • “And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…” (Romans 4)
  • “[S]teadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.” (Psalm 32)
  • “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1)

6. He grants repentance

  • “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11)
  • “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth…” (2 Timothy 2)

7. He grants faith

  • “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…” (Philippians 1)
  • “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…” (Ephesians 2:8)

8. He unconditionally elects and predestines and hardens and “mercies”

  • “[T]hough they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call… So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy… So then he [mercies] whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” (Romans 9)
  • “In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1)


Thoughts on the Aforementioned

  1. This is part of the content of saving faith (Hebrews 11:6) and is seen as part of the graciousness of God. This deserves more than a few references because it is largely untaught today.
  2. Part of being a Christian is being called to stand favorably under this judgment (1 Peter 3:8-12; cf. 1 John 2:28; 1 John 4:17). Note that the modern usage of “called” skews our understanding of this passage.
  3. Negatively, this means not being like the Pharisee of Luke 18. Positively, this means being like the tax collector. Positively, this also means proactively being a good guest: “[G]o and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you” (Luke 18). This is probably part of what it means to seek “glory, honor, and immortality” in Romans 2.
  4. This involves proactively seeking reconciliation (Mark 11:25) and forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15) with others.
  5. In one manner of speaking, this is wholly passive. If you “work”, according Romans 4:5, you aren’t justified. You must necessarily “not work” to be justified. This is, of course, in keeping with the type of working that verse 4 describes. Also, notice that the “ungodly” man of Romans 4:5-8 is the same “godly” man in Psalm 32 (quoted by Paul). He has sins and iniquities and transgressions that need forgiving. He is helpless and has nothing to offer God to fulfill Romans 4:4. But in his “spirit there is no deceit.” He “confess[es]” and “acknowledge[s]” his sin and “trusts him who justifies the ungodly.”
  6. Believing this is practical for thanksgiving toward God, interpretation of success in missions (Acts 11:18), and fulfilling the imperative of 2 Timothy 2:24-26.
  7. This is intimately related to the teaching that God has prepared us–before the foundation of the world–for good works (Ephesians 2:10).
  8. If you don’t believe this, then how can you feel the grace of Romans 1:5-7?

Every single one of the above layers is a layer of God’s grace. If we had a God who merely exacted strict penal justice, none of these layers would favorably apply to us. Indeed, many of them involve conditions and a sort of “transaction” or “exchange” or “give and take” (i.e. 1 John 1:9): consider that sometimes, in certain contexts, the Bible wants us to think of our relationship with God that way. But layers 1 – 4 are built upon justification of the ungodly by faith. Faith (the kind the says, “I have nothing to offer!”) is the alone and foundational instrument of everything that follows. If we get that wrong, we mess everything up and aren’t “favored” by any of the layers—including final judgment according to works.

As if that wasn’t enough, there is unconditional election. God unconditionally secures the conditions required for final salvation. He provides what he asks for. The starting point and the foundation is all grace!

See also