Scandalous: causing general public outrage by a perceived offense against morality or law.
Reckless: rash; showing no regard for consequences.
I am fairly certain that I was born a skeptic. But when I was re-born, Jesus began the process of transforming me through the study of His word and the power of the Spirit (Romans 12, 2 Cor 5, Eph 4, Col 1, Titus 3). Slowly, but surely, I’m exchanging cynicism and a critical spirit for hopeful expectation. While I will never reach perfection this side of heaven, I am thankful that I have seen progress. There’s evidence that Jesus is working on and in me to make me what I ought to be (or maybe I should say, who I am now in Christ).
One of the most evident – but SLOW – changes in me has been my perspective, especially as it pertains to the love of God. I was graced to have been born to an extremely loving father. Even so, overcoming misunderstood ideas about the perceived conditions of God’s love has been a challenging battle in my soul. I have gone to war in my mind and heart many times … rehearsing the Truth and rejecting the confusion and misconceptions. To fully believe that God’s love for me has nothing to do with my behavior or performance has been a lifelong pursuit. Grasping the truth that my obedience is to be FROM love rather than FOR love did not happen immediately. Being the score-keeping, rule-following fairness police that I am, I have had to be very intentional to sing the songs and speak the words of Truth to my soul. In my human frailty, I can not reconcile such mercy being shown to me without me earning it in some way. The fact that the gracious Father demonstrated His love to me while I was a sinner is nearly inconceivable! (Rom 5:8)
“The condescension of God towards penitent sinners is very great. He seems to stoop from His throne of glory to fall upon the neck of a repentant sinner. God on the neck of a sinner! What a wonderful picture! Can you conceive it? I do not think you can; but if you cannot imagine it, I hope that you will realize it. When God’s arm is about our neck, and His lips are on our cheek, kissing us much, then we understand more than preachers or books can ever tell us of His condescending love.” Spurgeon
Several years ago I read a book by Elyse Fitzpatrick that was deeply impactful (Because He Loves Me). In it, she emphasizes how the extreme forms of both legalism and lawlessness completely miss the heart of God. I have had to repeat to remember: God loves me … because He loves me. His love is based solely on His character, not mine. Paul tried to describe this kind of love as he prayed for the saints. But as much as he did comprehend it, there was even more depth to it than he could fully grasp. There’s a sense in which we should pray to know “the length and width, height and depth of God’s love”, but even still it “surpasses knowledge.”
As recent conversations have occurred in Christian circles regarding lyrics to a popular song, I have pondered the arguments and have concluded that words like “reckless” and “scandalous” are not inappropriate nor do they misrepresent God’s nature. In fact, I think they communicate exactly what a skeptical heart like mine needs to hear and know.
In Matthew 11, the enemies of Jesus mockingly called Him a friend of sinners. And thankfully, He WAS! The very calling of His life was to enter into our world to save us … sinners as we were.
The love of Jesus WAS scandalous—it offended people, it shocked people, and it ultimately made them mad enough to kill Him. It was also reckless. Jesus showed love to widows and lepers and prostitutes and the diseased and the tax collectors and the children. He was consistently rebuked but showed no regard (humanly speaking) for the consequences of publicly demonstrating such mercy. In fact, He often used these opportunities to tell stories and make the outcasts the heroes. What it must have been like to be a witness to that scandalous moment when Jesus made a Samaritan the “good guy.” Or the time the tax collectors came to Jesus with their questions and the religious leaders were infuriated: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (They thought they were insulting Him.) So very little did they understand the Father’s mercy and goodness that it paralyzed them from moving toward Him. Even still Jesus was undeterred in His mission to help them see what great love the Father has shown to us rebels. As if to strike a massive blow to their legalistic hearts, He then began to share the story of stories about the heart of God that is in contrast to the self-reliance that leaves us empty. It’s a story about a Father’s love so great that it’s lavished on the most undeserving of all. A story about a father who would run toward his rebellious son with open arms of celebration, while the loyal and law-abiding son stood bitterly in the shadows, blinded by his cynical and jealous mindset.
“In this story, the father represents the Heavenly Father Jesus knew so well. Paul writes: ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses’ (2 Corinthians 5). Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal [reckless; extravagant] toward us, His children. God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience.” Keller
So I preach and sing to my soul again and again. It’s so true: to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry; nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky. The more I know of His love, the more I realize how impossible it is to fully comprehend such love. It truly is amazing … that the sovereign God of the universe would literally love me to death.
The love of God is greater than we dare to hope or dream!
The hold of God is stronger than we dare to hope or dream!