What Legalists and Atheists Cannot Understand: Grace

Over at The Gospel Coalition, Chris Castaldo reminds us that how we Christians see God impacts how others see our God:

The parable [of the prodigal son] ends there. Unlike the earlier stories, there is no explicit lesson from Jesus. We don’t know whether the formerly lost son’s big brother joins in the celebration, though it is clear that he should. The point, you see, is not bowing to some crabbed notion of fairness, but losing ourselves in God’s grand graciousness. Will the son forsake his pride and jealousy and become more like his gracious father? Will the Pharisees and scribes?

The question also applies to us, especially to those of us who are considered religious leaders, who faithfully serve and obey God. Have we entertained the same kinds of warped notions about God? Do we secretly feel that serving the Lord is duty that deserves some sort of reward? If so, are we dangerously close to a soul-stifling legalism? When a sinner repents after a lifetime of dissipation, are we happy about a new brother or sister in Christ, or are we unhappy that he or she “got away with it”?

In these stories, we learn that celebration is the natural response of heaven to a lost sinner being found. Do we feel the same way? I am reminded of a message by Tony Campolo, “The Kingdom of God Is a Party.” While the kingdom is surely more than that, it cannot be less.

Christopher Hitchens was wrong. God is no cosmic tyrant. To entertain this kind of slur even for a moment dishonors the Lord and contradicts the good news we have been sent to share. So as we persevere in doing the good and hard work of the kingdom, let us never forget that if we see our gracious God as he is, chances are that others will see him that way, too.

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