This article is part of the Gentle and Lowly: A 14-Day Devotional series.
Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. —Romans 5:20-21
Just as we can hardly fathom the divine ferocity awaiting those out of Christ, it is equally true that we can hardly fathom the divine tenderness already resting now on those in Christ. We might feel a little bashful or uncomfortable or even guilty in emphasizing God’s tenderness as intensively as his wrath. But the Bible feels no such discomfort.
The guilt and shame of those in Christ is ever outstripped by his abounding grace. When we feel as if our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds are diminishing God’s grace toward us, those sins and failures are in fact causing it to surge forward all the more.
But remember that the grace of God is not an impersonal thing. God’s grace comes to us no more and no less than Jesus Christ comes to us. In the biblical gospel we are not given a thing; we are given a person. Let’s drill in even deeper. What are we given when we are given Christ?
More acutely, if we can speak of grace as always being drawn out in our sin but as coming to us only in Christ himself, then we are confronted with a vital aspect of who Christ is—a biblical aspect that the Puritans loved to reflect on, namely, when we sin, the very heart of Christ is drawn out to us.
This may cause some of us to cringe. If Christ is perfectly holy, must he not necessarily withdraw from sin?
Here we enter in to one of the profoundest mysteries of who God in Christ is. Not only are holiness and sinfulness mutually exclusive, but Christ, being perfectly holy, knows and feels the horror and weight of sin more deeply than any of us sinful ones could—just as the purer a man’s heart, the more horrified he is at the thought of his neighbors being robbed or abused. Conversely, the more corrupt one’s heart, the less one is affected by the evils all around.
Carry the analogy a little further. Just as the purer a heart, the more horrified at evil, so also the purer a heart, the more it is naturally drawn out to help and relieve and protect and comfort, whereas a corrupt heart sits still, indifferent.
So with Christ.
His holiness finds evil revolting, more revolting than any of us ever could feel. But it is that very holiness that also draws his heart out to help and relieve and protect and comfort. Again we must bear in mind the all-crucial distinction between those not in Christ and those in Christ.
For those who do not belong to him, sins evoke holy wrath. How could a morally serious God respond otherwise? But to those who do belong to him, sins evoke holy longing, holy love, holy tenderness.
It is not our loveliness that wins his love. It is our unloveliness.
Just as we so easily live with a diminished view of the punitive judgment of God that will sweep over those out of Christ, so we easily live with a diminished view of the compassionate heart of God sweeping over those in Christ.
The sweep of the entire biblical storyline causes us to catch our breath. The sins of those who belong to God open the floodgates of his heart of compassion for us. The dam breaks. It is not our loveliness that wins his love. It is our unloveliness.
Our hearts gasp to catch up with this. It is not how the world around us works. It is not how our own hearts work. But we bow in humble submission, letting God set the terms by which he will love us.
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