Today I realized that I am making real progress after only five decades of following Jesus. What a quick study I am!
The realization is that in spite of my failings and lack of trust I am starting to believe that God loves me. Just as I am. Maybe to you that is scant progress.
As a recovering legalist I still struggle with the concept that God does not withdraw His presence when I sin. The church of my youth seared that fear into my heart by preaching how my sins, no matter how minor, could put me “out of fellowship” with God. My congregation taught that you could reach a state of sanctification where you no longer sinned. I was not mature enough to understand that they were deceiving themselves or worse. So I was constantly living in a state of tension, fear and defeat.
A song from a group called Sidewalk Prophets popped up this weekend on satellite radio. The title is “You Love Me Anyway” and it deals with the one of the most amazing and difficult things to understand about God’s mercy and grace.
Only when I went off the denominational menu and studied God’s Word did I begin to see a different picture. I saw a God who still loved me when I sinned. The lyrics from Sidewalk Prophets sums up this incredible love.
Yes then I turned away with a smile on my face
With this sin in my heart, tried to bury Your grace
And then alone in the night I still call out for You
So ashamed of my life, my life, my life
But You love me anyway
Oh God, how You love me
Yes You love me anyway
That is so hard to comprehend. That kind of love is diametrically opposed to our experience in earthly relationships.
But that is exactly the picture that Scripture paints in the story of the Prodigal Son. The son rebelled, sinned, and suffered the horrible consequences of his actions. The son realized his sin and in desperation decided to throw himself at the mercy of his father. He was convinced his sin would cause him to lose the daily privileges of being a son. But this passage tells us that nothing had changed in how the father viewed his son. The imagery is compelling. The father runs to him. That was undignified act of pure love and joy. It was a gesture of love and forgiveness but also to protect his precious child from the judgment of others.
And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began. (Luke 15, NLT)
The Father placed the finest robe on his wayward son who deserved nothing after his selfish and sinful actions. In the cultural context readers would have surmised that the “finest robe” was the father’s own robe that he placed on his son. The robe that was worn on the most special of occasions. The custom would have been for the son to bathe, put on clean clothes and then put on the robe. But in a stunning gesture of compassion, the father placed his robe over the filthy garments. By giving that gift to his wayward son, the father gave him a covering of acceptance and love. And the father also let everyone know that the son was forgiven, accepted and no longer to be condemned by others who had judged his behavior.
The story is the same today. The Father ran to forgive me when I acknowledged my sin and need. While I was still dirty and clothed in filthy garments I was forgiven, accepted, justified and wrapped in the robe of righteousness. I was declared a saint because of Christ. And I was no longer condemned. Satan would have me forget that the robe of righteousness is wrapped lovingly around me. The author of lies would remind me that I still wear dirty clothing underneath. He would suggest that I need to set aside the robe until I clean myself up. That is the power of this story. The robe of righteousness is never earned. It is a gift of grace. On my worst day the Father wraps me up in this precious garment because of His Son Jesus.
How differently we would live if we remembered that truth every day. We are saints. We are wrapped in the robe of righteousness. We are new creatures who are forgiven, accepted, and wrapped in this incomprehensible gift of grace. Even in our failure Jesus loves us anyway.
Ever so slowly I am putting my full weight on that truth. I pray the same for you.