I should begin with a warning. I’m going to offend you today. I’m going to use a word that is very offensive. Are you ready? The word is…grace. But what’s so offensive about grace?
Most of God’s people had forgotten what being a child of God was really about at the time Micah was writing. The words come from a portion of his book where the Lord is laying out a list of charges against his people. He had showered them with care and blessing, and they continued to turn and return to wickedness. Through Micah’s words, the Lord was calling them out on their many sins.
The words are the people’s response. They are basically saying, “What does the Lord want us to do? Haven’t we done what we were supposed to do? We brought offerings, yearling calves, just like he told us to. Does he need more? Hundreds, thousands of sacrifices? Rivers of oil? When is enough enough? Should we start sacrificing our children to appease God like the pagans around us are doing?” They thought as long as they checked the right boxes for the Lord, then the rest of life belonged to them. They could live however they wanted. They didn’t understand what it meant to be a child of God.
How about you? Do you ever want to ask that question? “With what shall I come before the LORD?” Everybody sins; just let me check the boxes I need so I can get on with my life. But what do you want from me now, Lord? Make sure to avoid… You better do…” Do you feel like Israel did?
But then Micah says, “You know how to approach the Lord. You know what the Lord wants: “act justly…love mercy…walk humbly.” But aren’t those just more boxes to check? Not exactly because these are directed at an attitude; they’re directed to your heart! God doesn’t want you to check boxes; what he wants is your heart! So give it to him, and you solve this problem, right? Box checked!
But will it work? You can say you give your heart to him. You can say he’s your Lord, and you’re committed to serving him. But what kind of gift is that heart? It’s this same heart that was trying to check boxes to please God a moment ago. It’s this same heart that will return to its favorite sins over and again, even after you give it to Jesus. This heart is crusted over with the tarnish of sin; what kind of gift is that?
Now, we come back to grace! Grace is an attitude in God by which he loves with a love that has its cause only in God himself. He doesn’t love you because you’re so cute or cuddly or have checked the right boxes; that’s not you. He doesn’t love you because you’re so pitiful and wretched and in desperate need of help, though you are. He loves because he is loving, and that’s just what he does!
Grace is an attitude in God by which he loves with a love that has its cause only in God himself.
Grace can only be undeserved; that’s why it’s so offensive! It forces each of us to admit that even on my best day, I’m not good enough on my own. No matter how many sacrifices I make, how many calves or rams or gallons of oil, no matter what pious deeds or words or decisions I put forth, no matter how many “Jesus boxes” I check, the crusted tarnish of sin remains. Death and hell should claim me.
Now come back to grace! You can’t deserve it, but the Lord only deals with you in grace. Not as Lord, not as an example, not as box maker or scorekeeper; he deals in grace as Redeemer. You don’t choose him or give to him. He chooses you. He sees your heart, crusted and tarnished by sin, and claims it as his own. He does the work for you to remove the crust and tarnish from you, but he does it by putting you to death. Your desire for the law, your wanting to check the boxes to claim his favor, your pride in the goodness of your heart, any notion that the label of Christian marks some accomplishment by you, it all must be put to death. So that is what your Redeemer does for you out of his grace. He brings you to baptism, where he is at work for you. He drowns your sinful self and all of those things with it. He nails those sins and false hopes to his own cross. He puts you to death in those waters.
He puts you to death so he can raise you up again. A new creature rises, dripping in grace, set free from sin and the demands of checking the boxes of law. It is you, forgiven and set free and bound to your living Redeemer. You can now look outside of yourself and see your neighbors around you. You want to treat them well, thus “acting justly.” You deal with them in love and charity, “loving mercy.” It is all to the glory of your Redeemer as you “walk humbly.” That’s the offense of grace; may you always love the offense of it.
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