Christ came for sinners. We must not replace this truth with the veneer of some posh and polished version of redemption. I fear we’ve so sanitized Christianity that we no longer need grace. In so doing, the appearance of redemption becomes a substitute for the reality of redemption. Searching the Scriptures for Christ’s purpose, taking a glimpse into American church culture, and genuinely understanding grace can help believers to grasp the reality of what it means to be redeemed from our iniquities and our damnable attempts at justification by good works.
1. Why did Christ come?
Paul makes it clear that Christ came to save sinners.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15)
He goes on to connect the mercy he received to the overarching doxological purposes of God. Indeed in Mark’s gospel, Christ was rebuked for reclining at table with tax collectors and sinners. In response to this rebuke, Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). So, if Christ came to save sinners, why are Christians so obsessed with convincing people to modify their lives rather than having them confess who they already are before a merciful God?
What of love, lust, and loss? What of pride and pain? What of reality? As millions struggle with doubt, sorrow, injustice, and enslavement, are we content to let the bandage of morality treat the patient in need of a heart transplant? Our brokenness qualifies us more than our qualifications ever could (Psalm 51:17). Christ came for sinners!
2. Museum, hospital, or mausoleum?
The adage goes that “the church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” There is, of course, a great deal of truth in that statement; however, I submit that the church is a mausoleum in the resurrection business. Of course, God does the resurrecting; nonetheless, the church is an instrument in his hands.
Why is it essential to draw such a distinction? Because if we understand the true nature of humanity as totally depraved, then the church would not dare try and reform those “dead in trespasses and sins” when resurrection alone will suffice. The implications of this distinction must not be underestimated. The church culture of improving behavior instead of trusting the sovereign redeemer is a misguided and futile attempt to manage rebirth. The church must become the spotless bride presented without blemish by the washing with water and the word by Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27). This requires supernatural new birth and ongoing supernatural sanctification.
3. What of grace?
I may not agree with Brennan Manning on every theological issue, but his understanding of grace is robust.
This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the Orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough.
In the arms of grace, we are comforted and frightened, but if we dare embrace it, then we see the beauty and glory of unmerited-scandalous love. Such grace is indeed equally offensive to the religious and irreligious because neither group can stomach the reality of true freedom, which leads to reckless abandon.
It is entirely too easy to forget Christ’s purpose, lose the proper perspective of the church, and become numb to the scandalous glory of grace. However, meditating on these things can help us to reclaim the offensive and beautiful truth that Christ came for sinners.