Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Unconditional is not Cheap

The other night I was browsing books at my local Family Christian store when I struck up a conversation with a guy in the same aisle. He was eagerly hunting for a book by a particular author. "Man, you gotta check this guy out! He's on channel 9 at 6:30 in the morning. I was washed out on being a Christian, man. But this guy, he opened my eyes to grace!" The conversation continued about the fine line between law and grace and the failure of organized religion. I told him I was happy for him and I'd check the author out.

I meant what I said. I was genuinely happy to see his joy in Christ. His face was like many I've seen before rising from the waters of baptism into a new life. The Holy Spirit was definitely doing something in his life.

But there's a risk. We desire structure and order, so we invent religious traditions. Yet we have an inner conflict to rebel, so cheap grace is an easy temptation. Not all grace is cheap of course. But there is a risk to worshiping grace rather than the giver of that grace. We easily turn blessings into idols- our families, financial prosperity. If you don't believe me, look no further than the story of Isaac and Abraham. Isaac wasn't just a blessing, he was an answered prayer, a miracle announced by an angel! And God needed Abraham to prove that he hadn't become an idol.

I thought of this as Brennan Manning was describing God's unconditional love and how we have such a hard time grasping the concept. This comes on the heels of Manning discussing "union" with God as His ultimate desire, so unconditional love is the means to that end. Yet how easily we twist it such that God's unconditional love becomes the means to unlimited, cheap, grace. Manning writes,

"Unconditional love as a concept has transported me to intellectual nirvana, motivated the reading of at least fifty books on related themes, and deluded me into believing that I was there. Until along came a day when I was appalled to discover that nothing had changed...
Until the love of God that knows no boundary, limit, or breaking point is internalized through personal decision; until the furious longing of God seizes the imagination; until the heart is conjoined to the mind through sheer grace, nothing happens." (pgs 74-75)

Nothing changed. Nothing happened. Why? Because we confuse God's unconditional love as Him showering blessing upon blessing on us rather than His desiring to be with us. How hard we try to ascend to the level of Jesus, forgetting that he forsook all to come down to our level.

As I was reading this chapter, I made this note: Unconditional love is not giving your child unlimited undeserved gifts on Christmas morning- that would be spoiling. No, unconditional love is even after your child misbehaves you get down on your knees to and play with those gifts together.

It is Jesus, loving us as we are where we are, that brings about change. That is unconditional love.

This post continues discussion on Brennan Manning's book, The Furious Longing of God. Please check out Jason Sasyzsen's and Sarah Salter's blogs for more discussion. The "consider this" questions come straight from the book- use them as a springboard for your own thoughts and feel free to share them here.

6 comments:

Dusty Rayburn said...

It meets us where we are... but it does not leave us there. It draws us into its embrace forever changing who we are.

HisFireFly said...

because of His graet love - He desires so much more for us than we would settle for if left to our own design...

jasonS said...

I think those who espouse cheap grace didn't or don't have a real encounter with the love of God--the kind that transfers head knowledge to heart acceptance. I know when I've experienced His love for myself, my response was one of humbled praise and adoration. I wanted to give and share, not keep everything for myself. The evidence is clear. I've been in need of reminders of and encounters with His love and I can see it in how I treat others and think about myself. Great post, Frank. Thank you.

Phil said...

Great thoughts Frank, I like your reference to Abraham and Isaac; it fits perfectly. God help us to live in His grace, His truth, and His love; but worship Him alone. Thanks!

Fatha Frank said...

Dusty and Karin, next time I'm going to hire you two to post for me! I lack the poetry and simplicity you both share.

Jason, I agree. That really hit me in this chapter- the difference between intellectual belief and abiding in love. The latter is transformative, the former merely religious.

Phil, it is a hard lesson but one we need regularly apply in our lives. What are we putting ahead of God? Each day is probably something different.

Fatha Frank said...

Dusty and Karin, next time I'm going to hire you two to post for me! I lack the poetry and simplicity you both share.

Jason, I agree. That really hit me in this chapter- the difference between intellectual belief and abiding in love. The latter is transformative, the former merely religious.

Phil, it is a hard lesson but one we need regularly apply in our lives. What are we putting ahead of God? Each day is probably something different.