Some of the discussions I hear nowadays (cool word) seem to revolve around this issue: “How much sinning can I do and still be a Christian?” Or: “Is sin important anymore to Christians?” Many old sin standards seem to have been rejected, or in postmodern lingo, “those boundaries have been transgressed.” For me this is at the same time freeing and frightening. Granted, the church era I grew up in was too judgmental, often acting as if policing behavior was more important than saving souls, but I do wonder sometime what has happened to the basic Christian impulse to be Christlike. However, I think that grace trumps judgment in the Bible’s picture of God.
I am reminded of the story of Joseph Hart, an Englishman of the 18th century, who was educated at the height of the “Age of Reason,” and rejected religion at an early age. He was an opponent of the church and published a widely read pamphlet, “The Unreasonableness of Religion,” which was a direct challenge to the essay of Christian philosopher, John Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity. Hart finally yielded his life to the Lord in 1757 at the age of 45. Ironically, he became a pastor and hymn writer, although he only lived another 11 years. He wrote dozens of hymns that were widely used at the time, and his funeral was attended by over 10,000 people. In one of his most enduring hymns, “Come Ye Sinners,” Hart weaves many scriptural motifs into the words. Consider the fourth verse, echoing the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28:
Come ye weary, heavy laden
Lost and ruined by the fall
If you tarry till you’re better
You will never come at all
My favorite part, though, is the refrain, which is drawn from the reunion scene in the Parable of the Prodigal Son:
I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.
So here it is: Jesus welcomes sinners. He did this throughout his ministry. He did not feel a need to confront them. He did not understand his purpose as scolding them, although he did scold the self-righteous hypocrites who did not think they were sinners. He welcomed sinners of his world and ate with them in fellowship. I think he wanted a church that welcomed sinners. Sinners are welcome. Grace trumps judgment. And that’s Giant Theology.
Nebraska Christian College