I was late. REALLY late. I was supposed to pick up the kids I nannied at 3, but I had been stuck in traffic (and maybe spent a little too much time at Goodwill hunting for treasures). Only back roads stood between me and the daycare. As any good, country-raised Southern girl knows, back roads’ speed limits are… suggestions, right? Well, unfortunately, the police officer didn’t see it that way. When I heard the sirens, I was going 64ish in a 45. The police officer approached my window, I looked up at him in shame. I knew exactly what I had done. “Ma’am, do you know you were speeding?”, “Yes, sir…”. Thankfully, I got off with a warning. Grace. No denying I deserved a fat ticket, but instead of condemning me, the officer gave me more of a “fatherly warning” in a kind voice then let me go. “I’m going to give you a warning, but you need to slow down.” And guess what? I drove away going 40 in a 45 and was extremely late to pick up the kids. Lesson learned.
Have you ever been caught doing something wrong? Something you knew you probably shouldn’t be doing or maybe something you promised yourself you would NEVER do? In a moment of weakness, excitement or pleasure, you gave in to the desire, and it felt SO good until…. You’re caught with your hand in the cookie jar. Going 60 in a 45. You see your mom, you hear the siren. The last person you want to find you sees you for who you really are and suddenly, you feel ashamed.
I read this statement in the footnotes of my study Bible,
"The gospel is an unrelenting assault on graceless religion, on all the ways we try to avoid grace. It is also a powerful demonstration of the sovereignty of God. God can save anyone, anytime, anywhere. He is not constrained by human intuitions about who is really 'save-able.' Grace confounds our law-saturated, self-accomplishing expectations of what activates divine mercy."
This was a note from John 8. The passage in which Jesus declares Himself as the light of the world after saving the adulterous woman from being stoned. Let me set the stage a little for those who may be less familiar with the story. A woman was caught in the act of adultery, pulled from the scene, and made to stand before the religious leaders. The custom of that day was for anyone caught in such an act to be stoned (meaning stones would be thrown at her until she died). Enter Jesus. He starts writing in the sand. Most scholars believe that Jesus started writing sins that The Pharisees had committed because when he commands, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” no-one throws even a pebble. Instead, one by one, they turn and leave. I love the whole story, but the next part may be my favorite. Jesus turns to the woman and says, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She answers, “No one, sir.” Jesus declares, “Then neither do I condemn you. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” No condemnation. Whether it’s stealing a cookie from the jar, breaking the speed limit, or committing adultery, we all have fallen short. We all have found ourselves standing naked before our accusers feeling guilt and shame. But we all have been freed from our condemnation because of Jesus!
1. Only One Judge
The Pharisees did not receive this well. In fact, the message of the Gospel enraged them. Grace confounded their law-saturated hearts, and grace confounds our hearts as well. How can salvation not come from works? How can all these good things we’re doing or have done be for nothing? How can my contribution to the kingdom not result in many coming to know God? Why can’t I be more vital to the work He is doing? Why can’t I choose who I share Jesus with or who He saves? Why do I need to keep praying for my unbelieving friends, family members, or neighbors? Whether we identify more closely with the woman standing helpless before the crowd or the Pharisees jeering with their stones, we all have the tendency to think our sins are not as bad as the other side.
How often are we like the Pharisees? We are guilty of graceless religion. We set ourselves up as the standard and judge everyone who does not live out their faith in the same way we do.. We avoid grace by leaning harder into responsibilities that make us feel important or by neglecting boundaries that would allow us to rest in Jesus. Instead of leaving room for the Lord to work, we push forward. Not prayerfully but pridefully thinking we can accomplish anything we have set our minds to (whether He has set His mind to it or not). We do not trust that God can accomplish His work without us, and we insert ourselves into situations (even good situations like ministry) that He never called us into. Instead of extending grace to others and grace to ourselves, we extend judgment. We are exhausted trying to be good enough, do enough, earn enough, serve enough, BE enough.
Friend, let’s stop running from grace. Instead, let’s run into the outstretched arms of Jesus. Let’s lean into the knowledge that Jesus and only Jesus can ever satisfy. Jesus and only Jesus can apply His righteousness to our accounts. Only Jesus can allure the lost with His grace. Only Jesus can remove the heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). No matter how much righteousness we accumulate, it is all filthy rags without Jesus’ righteousness applied to our account.
2. Only One Savior
Not my name. Not your name. No other name but Jesus.
How are we avoiding grace? How are we using our finite minds to try to rationalize or reason our way through His sovereignty? Can’t wrap your mind around why he would love you? Or maybe, you don’t think your forgivable because your sins run too deep. He is able. He can do it. Whatever it is. Don’t lose heart or forget His grace. Let the mystery of the gospel confound your heart toward praise for all He has done!
We cannot give up hope for the ones who do not know Christ. Remember, the work is all His. We are called to share the Gospel and intercede on behalf of the lost, but we are not called to change or save anyone. When we take on personal responsibility for the salvation of people, we are belittling the Gospel and becoming Pharisees.
When we take personal responsibility for saving people, we steal God’s glory. When we neglect shining the light of Jesus into the darkness, we are stealing God’s glory. Both of these actions represent hearts that have not been overwhelmed by the grace of God. God shines the light of the Gospel into the darkness of dying souls. He uses us broken, cracked, jars of clay to carry His message. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. We do not proclaim ourselves, but the grace of God that has touched our brokenness and healed our scars!
Personally, I have really been struggling with this truth recently. I have been fervently praying for a few people to come to know Jesus, and after some discouraging conversations, I am tempted to give up hope. I don’t want to pray. I want to “stop giving so much time to something that will never happen.” Very spiritual of me, right? The reality is that the people I am praying for may never come to know Jesus. But is that why we pray? To get what we want? No. We pray for Him to activate His divine mercy. We pray to cultivate a rich relationship with our Father. We pray to grow our faith. We pray because we know our hearts are desperately wicked and in need of divine intervention. We pray because we do not wrestle against flesh and blood (humanity), but we fight a spiritual war. We NEED His help. We pray because we know He is the only source of life. Even as I write, He is encouraging my spirit with His truth and reminding me of His faithfulness.
The first part of this passage is familiar- His ways are not our ways, they are much higher. He has an eternal perspective that allows Him to sovereignly arrange all the happenings in our lives and in the lives of others PERFECTLY. The second part of the passage describes a beautiful analogy. Just as the rain and the snow fall from the heavens and never return, His word goes out and does not return empty or meaningless His words ALWAYS accomplish exactly what He intends them to accomplish! His words will always be successful according to His perfect way and perfect will mentioned earlier in the passage. These words do not mean everyone we share the Gospel with will be saved, but what they do mean, and what we can find tremendous hope in, is that every time we speak the Word of God, it will fulfill the exact purpose of God. We are called to faithfulness, and He does the work.
“[The Gospel] is also a powerful demonstration of the sovereignty of God. God can save anyone, anytime, anywhere. He is not constrained by human intuitions about who is really ‘save-able.'” His ways are higher, His mind is greater, His thoughts are eternal. Let’s abandon every ounce of pride that tells us someone is unreachable. Let’s kill the desire to stop speaking truth because it seems to have no effect. Let’s remember the superabundant grace of God that has touched us and allow that grace to flow out toward others.
The Spirit drew this poem of praise from my heart to my journal as I reflected on the truth found in John 7:
No condemnation, His blood flows free
Washes clean the sinner’s feet
Prepares a table with the king
Not a stranger, but redeemed!
Oh how sweet to trust His name!
My chains are gone with the shame.
Most blood leaves a stain behind
His blood washes black to white.
Abandon all that defies grace
Can’t you see the Savior’s face?
Can’t you see the thorn pierced brow?
Can’t you see His arms reaching out?
No condemnation does He bring.
He- our suffering, Savior, King
Offers His kingdom and the key
Life through Him eternally!
Oh how sweet to speak His name
Spread His fame!
Come, bow low at His feet
Pierced through to change our fate.
Leave your accusing words behind
“Pour contempt on all your pride.”
Grace unmeasured flowing out
All are equal where we bow.