Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Cross and Social Mercy, Pt. 2 - The Cross is the Climax of Grace and Mercy

In part 1 of this series, I quibbled over semantics. I suggested that "social mercy" is a more helpful phrase than "social justice" for Christian care for the poor and needy. I mostly appreciate that it is broader. It is true that poverty is often caused by direct injustice. It is also true that in a perfect world (i.e. the world that will exist when our Lord returns), there will be no poverty, sickness, or general neediness, which points us to the reality that the Fall is at the root of poverty. So, ok, "social justice" isn't totally unreasonable. Still, I don't think it's the most helpful for the reasons mentioned in that post.

But if you're not with me on that, it should make little difference for your opinion of the rest of this series. Besides, who really wants to extend a theological argument with the esteemed Ian Clausen? Certainly not I.

So let's pick up with a reminder of our definitions of mercy and grace that we borrowed from Grudem. "Mercy" is God's kindness toward those in misery and distress. "Grace" is His kindness toward those who deserve only punishment. These are not hard and fast biblical denotations, but summary definitions of two completely biblical truths about God's character.

So here is the point of this post: the cross is the central display and outworking of both God's grace and mercy. This will sound obvious, but again, think about the terms as they are defined above: it is not just that we have grace for sin- we also have mercy for misery.

Here is the truth: the sinner is in miserable condition. Christians don't believe that sin is the consequence-free breaking of arbitrary rules. We believe it is offense against God and His wise laws. They are "wise" in the standard (and biblical) sense of the word: the person who keeps God's laws is not just right with God, but is like a tree planted by streams of water which bears its fruit in season. The sinner is like chaff blown about by the wind (Ps. 1). The former is a picture of fullness of life. The latter is a picture of wasted life.

The unrepentant sinner then, by all biblical accounts, is someone who lives a life of wasteful misery. Sin has made this world "not the way it's supposed to be", and this truth is more important and more visible in the life of any one sinner than it is in Hurricane Katrina.

The cross is God's great response to this, where grace and mercy meet and bring the sinner to spiritual life. I now have forgiveness and the power for a life well-lived by God's Spirit. I need not live in the misery of fighting against God's design for this world. The Spirit changes my heart and frees from that. This all happens only because of the cross.

At this point every Christian should be giving a hearty "amen". At least he should be. We will never understand what the cross means for how we ought to live from here on out until we first understand that how we were living before was senseless misery. Receive and thank God for His literally infinite grace and mercy. That is first and foremost. Fight with me about what it means for what we will do next after the next post.

No comments: