Last week I posted an article called Theology of the Cross. The emphasis in that article was that the Good News of our salvation is that it is not based upon our ability to succeed in being righteous. The Gospel is an unconditional promise of God to restore all things.
Of course, I received friendly push-back from Evangelical friends who said, “yes, but, don’t we have to receive the gift? Isn’t there any responsibility on our part?” Really good question.
This week I am preaching on Isaiah 5:1-7 and Isaiah 11:1-5. The passage in chapter five is written in the form of a love song, but then turns out to be a song about a jilted lover who finds that his lover is cheating on him. The singer planted a vineyard that was supposed to produce sweet wine, but all he finds in the vineyard is the sour and rotten fruit of injustice and violence against the poor and needy: the fruit of a cheating lover.
Last week we heard a sermon from Hosea 11:1-8 which spoke of God as being like a father who loves his children and holds them to his cheek. It was a wonderful sermon and I wouldn’t change it (let the record state). However, the irony of the text is that those are the only positive verses in the book of Hosea. The passage actually speaks of the heartbreak of a Father’s love for children who have betrayed him and disregarded all of his instructions. They have turned to other gods and have chosen a life of self-indulgence, injustice, and violence against the poor and needy.
So, what does God do? What does the loving Father do to rebellious children? What does the jilted lover and disappointed vinedresser do to the cheating and rotten fruit?
He throws up his hands and says, “Fine. Have it your way. I will withdraw my protective walls. I will allow you to reap the fruit of the seeds you have sown.”
Then he watches, tears streaming down his face, as the devastating consequences of his beloved’s choices rip them apart. The Kingdom of Israel is utterly and brutally destroyed by the Assyrian Empire, ten tribes of Israel never to be restored.
Too many parents, and too many jilted lovers know the pain that God feels when this happens.
I am also sitting in (as a TA) the course called Law and Gospel at Luther Seminary, taught by Pat Keifert and Rolf Jacobson. We wrestle with the tension of Law and Gospel. The key word in this phrase is AND. The ongoing creative activity of God is Law AND Gospel.
The law is conditional. If you stick your hand into a hornets nest, you will get stung. If you eat rotten meat, you will get botulism. If you cheat on your spouse, you will destroy the fabric of trust that holds your children’s universe together. If you practice promiscuity in your sexuality, you will have a much higher risk of contracting and spreading STDs. If you eat chocolate cake for every meal and never excercise, you will probably develop diabetes. And on, and on, the law goes.
The law is conditional, and the law exists to produce health, safety, life, and security in society. And it is good. And, it is completely dependent upon our will to choose to follow the Law.
The Gospel, as I described it in the Theology of the Cross post, does not negate the consequences of breaking the Law. You will still suffer those consequences when you make those choices. The Gospel declares that God loves us so much, that, even while we were sinners and lawbreakers, Christ died for us. Jesus took all those consequences upon himself and let our violence and injustice destroy him on the cross.
Let that sink in for a moment.
And that is what saves us.
We must remember that this is the collective us, not just the individual self who only cares about not going to Hell when I die, but the collective us, as in ALL of creation. That is the promise.
So, what is the dark side of Grace?
Many times, when we are still listening through self-absorbed ears, we can hear the theology of the Cross, and hear preachers say things like, “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, or what you do, God will always love you,”and think, “Sweet! I can do whatever I want to do.”
The apostle Paul was accused of preaching this. That is why he says in Romans 6:1-3, “what should we say, then, should we continue sinning so that Grace may increase?”
His response to this accusation of “anything-goes-free-grace” mentality? NO WAY!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls this “cheap Grace.”
Grace is costly. It cost Jesus everything.
We have been set free from sin and death through the cross of Christ. This freedom is not for self-indulgence. This freedom is given to us so that we can produce the sweet wine of God’s vineyard for the world.
Jesus said in John 15:1-5, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Remain in me and you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.”
What do you think? How do we balance the words of the prophets in the shadow of the grieving Father and heartbroken lover, with the words of the Gospel that we have been given the unconditional gift of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection?
I welcome your comments below.