Over the past couple of years I've often been asked whether or not I believe in repentance or the pursuit of holiness because I talk so frequently about the love, grace, and compassion of almighty God. Questions about whether or not I’m being faithful to the entire witness of Scripture pop up, and I find myself giving the same answers again and again. I thought it might be helpful to put a few thoughts down here.
First, I’m unapologetic about being so brazen with my commitment to be “that guy” who goes on and on and on and on about the love of God. In my 37 years in the church, I’ve never heard too much about the love of God. In fact, I’ve never met a single Christian from Lima to London who has been overly saturated in the love of God. Instead, I’ve met countless believers who’ve been burned in all kinds of fires. Some have been burned badly by horrible church leadership, and they’re at home on Sunday mornings missing Jesus and his people. Others are burned out through religious performance, serving God and others, frantic Marthas who can’t just sit still for a moment and let God be God. Still others have been burned by particular sermons on the dreadful wrath of God, the incomprehensible nature of God, or the overwhelming lip-searing holiness of God, leaving so many outside in the front yard as a stranger, rather than snuggled up in the living room as a child with their Abba.
Yes, snuggled. I used the word snuggled in reference to the God of the universe, maker of heaven and earth, the one to return to judge the living and the dead. Snuggled is a personal word, an intimate word, a sacred word, because it communicates vulnerability, childlike trust, and unwavering confidence that God can be who he says he is and not what the religious cops of the day portray him as. Being hell-bent on rule keeping and tedious nitpicking reveals that it is possible to read all about someone (i.e. God) but never actually know them or be changed by them.
When Jesus says “come to me and rest” (Matt. 11:28), or “make your home within me” (John 15:4), or “as my father loved me, so I have loved you” (John 15:9), he is not establishing a hallmark card Christianity, filled with trite sayings, something to give a little pick-me-up on a gloomy Monday Seattle morning. He’s offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for rebels on the outside to pull up a seat at the table on the inside, receiving what was theirs from eternity past—a glowing, vibrant, unshakable identity as Abba’s child.
This does not for one moment downplay the holiness of God (1 Sam. 2:2).
This in no way diminishes Jesus commands to walk in holiness (Matt. 5:30).
Kindness that Leads to Repentance
Embracing our identity as the beloved children of God in no way pushes us away from repentance. In fact, the first stop on the journey of God’s kindness is repentance! For it is the kindness of God that is intended to lead us to repentance (Rom. 2:4)! What I’m committed to preaching to myself, my wife, my children, and anyone who will give me the time of day is this—God is love, and God welcomes us on the grounds of the Good Friday cross in which he suffered the wrath of God in our place for our sins, and to dine, eating fish on the beach with his grinning Easter-face by, in, and through the Comforter, the gracious Holy Spirit who draws us even now to sit still, feel his hand on our shoulders, and hear the words spoken to St. John on the Isle of Patmos, spoken now, "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!” (Rev. 1:17-18).
The grace of God is in no way in opposition to holiness, God's grace, applied by the Holy Spirit leads us deeper into Christlikeness which is another way of saying "holiness."