Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Cart Before the Horse

This past Wednesday evening, my pastor departed from his planned expository study (very good and highly recommended ... a treasure missed by many of our people) to share some thoughts from his personal devotional time. Those thoughts resonated with some truths I have encountered in reading from Brennan Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel. I've learned that when I encounter similar messages from multiple sources, it is often the voice of God trying to get through to my heart.

The Gospel message came from Luke 7:36ff which is the account of Jesus having been invited to the home of Simon the Pharisee for a meal. You may recall that at that meal, a woman known to be "immoral" (as the NLT tranlates the Greek) came and washed Jesus' feet not only with expensive perfume, but also -- and perhaps more importantly -- with her tears. I say that the tears may be more important because it takes some significant emotion to make someone cry enough tears to wash first-century feet. Simon took Jesus' response to the gesture as proof that Jesus was no prophet ... missing the point completely. Master of the "teachable moment," Jesus told a brief story, pointed out Simon's lack of customary hospitality, and then gave the woman the gift of forgiveness (at which point the men around the table gave the "who does He think He is?" response all so familiar to us in church work -- from our own thoughts as well as from the mouths of others).

The key realization that my pastor shared with us on Wednesday was that it was before Jesus gave her the words that she began pouring out her love on Jesus. Jesus' story to Simon seems to indicate that He interpreted the woman's actions to be a response to forgiveness. She didn't approach Jesus in fear ... she approached Him in love. Her outpouring came before Jesus told her (in the presence of the men at the table) that she was forgiven.

The point? We often think that it is our repentance that enables us to experience the forgiveness of God, when in fact it is the other way around. It is God's forgiveness ... His grace ... that leads us to the place where we can truly repent. Manning states it clearer than I can:
The saved sinner is prostrate in adoration, lost in wonder and praise. He knows repentance is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven. It serves as an expression of gratitude rather than an effort to earn forgiveness. Thus the sequence of forgiveness and then repentance, rather than repentance and then forgiveness, is crucial for understanding the gospel of grace. (The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 75).
The songwriting trio of Tomlin, Giglio and Reeves put it this way:

And it's Your kindness, Lord, that leads us to repentance;
Your favor, Lord, is our desire.
And it's Your beauty, Lord, that makes us stand in silence;
And Your love, Your love is better than life.

© 2000 worshiptogether.com Songs

So there it is. Three places (at least) where God has tried to speak truth to my heart. Could it be that when we struggle to repent, it is because we do not realize our own poverty and therefore cannot comprehend what Manning calls "God's furious love for us"? That perhaps like Simon the Pharisee we do not understand how much we have been forgiven?

That's enough to think about for now.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home