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How Getting Busted is Grace in Disguise

Sadly, I am a consummate excuse-maker.

For example, if I’m playing tennis and miss a shot, it is because the sun got in my eyes. If driving and I slam on my brakes, causing my passengers to lunge forward uncomfortably, it is because the car in front of me stopped irresponsibly quickly. I was just responding to their faulty driving technique. If I respond to my wife with a harsh word, it is because she “pressed one of my buttons.”

Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to cast blame on other people, passing judgment on their faults, flaws, and failures, while minimizing our own?

For almost thirty years, I drove without receiving even one moving violation by law enforcement. I took pride in that, feeling superior as I drove by another motorist on the side of the road who had been pulled over for speeding.

“I'm not a speeder” was a self-righteous boast I maintained for decades.

Until I got busted.

Driving home from a pastoral hospital visit in Gainesville, GA, I passed a patrol car in the median and glanced at the speedometer. Clinching my teeth, I looked in my rearview mirror to see the blue lights appear as beacons of judgment in the darkness.

But I was a pastor. Driving home from visiting a sick child in the hospital would qualify for leniency, right? Maybe if I had been on my way to the hospital. 😁

The law is the law, and no excuses were going to get me out of the inevitable. I received a ticket. My streak was over and my “driver righteousness” with it.

In Romans 2, Paul is on the heels of blasting the Gentile world for a multitude of rebellious sins against their Creator. Oh, how easy it would be for the Jewish converts in Rome to point fingers at the scum of the earth being pulled over with citations.

In this chapter of Romans, the apostle shows us that when we point a finger at the sins of others, three fingers are pointing back at us.

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

The truth is, I could have been pulled over thousands of times over the years, every day. Probably every time I drove!

I counted a few miles over the limit allowable. I don’t speed badly. Just a little. At least I don’t break the law as much as others.

But the moral law of God isn’t like that. There is no room for error.

As James says,

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

Or, as Paul has stated in Romans 2,

Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?

When I point out someone else’s sin, there are three fingers pointing back. In condemning them with a spirit of self-righteous superiority, I condemn myself. Why? Because I do the same thing. I rebel against the wisdom of God, too. As you know, the Bible calls rebellion sin, whether irreligious sin or self-righteous, Pharisee-style sin.

To be honest, the reason I didn’t speed much wasn’t the glory of God or the good of my neighbor. It was fear and self-glory. I was afraid if I got caught, I’d have to pay higher insurance premiums. And I loved being able to look at those poor, unrighteous souls on the side of the road suffering the humiliation of getting busted. It made me feel superior.

Just like a Pharisee.

But in verse 4, there is good news for every stripe of sinner—even for us Pharisees.

Getting busted stings at first, until we allow the depth of mercy to be revealed in the word kindness.

It helps me see how getting busted is grace in disguise.

Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

Paul wants us to see that every human stands on the same ground as equal sinners deserving the full wrath of the law in the form of divine judgment. There are no bigger sinners who need more grace and no smaller sinners who need less.

To this population of grace-needy humans, God holds out the gospel, an offer that explodes all categories of how we expect religion to work. Not only does humanity function on a “works” basis in practically every area of life (business, academics, athletics, etc.), but human understandings of religion are especially “works” driven.

In human-fashioned religion, the devotee is forgiven and blessed because of their obedience to and sacrifice for God. But the gospel is precisely the opposite. Those who become disciples of Jesus are not forgiven and blessed because of their obedience and sacrifice for God. Instead, they are forgiven and blessed because of Jesus’ obedience and sacrifice to God for them.

Jesus lives, dies, and rises as a substitute law-keeper and sin-bearer. He becomes the giver of true righteousness to the undeserving who simply will confess their need through what the Bible calls repentance.

Let's be clear. Repentance is not a promise to change, do better next time, or try harder.

There are fruits of repentance, which include various changes in one’s life empowered by the Spirit as we abide by faith in the gift-righteousness of Jesus. But repentance itself does not involve a moral change as much as a change of posture. Rather than hiding and making excuses, we own up to our sin with moral honesty.

Honesty admits, “I deserve to be nailed.” To that confession, the gospel replies, “Jesus was nailed for me.”

This message is so extraordinary that, long after we have been Christians, we continue to struggle with the implications.

  • Can grace really be true? Not only for becoming a daughter or son of God but for remaining one? Yes, it is that true… and amazing.
  • Will the Father not forsake us, even when we stupidly continue to yield to the flesh with future acts of foolish rebellion? No, he will not.
  • Do my besetting sins not undo what Jesus has done? Nope.

When we struggle with these questions, we need to hear Scottish pastor Robert Haldane (1764–1842), who wrote in his commentary on Romans,

“No sin can be crucified in heart or life unless it is first pardoned in conscience. If it be not mortified in its guilt, it cannot be subdued in its power.”

Not only is grace true, but it is also far truer (and better) than we can imagine.

In Christ, the Father does not merely tolerate you. He treasures you. His love is complete, unrelenting, and unfailing.

Embracing this reality is the prerequisite for true repentance, where I come to the Lord with an honest evaluation of my objective guilt as a sinner. If I am not aware of his extravagant kindness, his willingness to forgive absolutely and unhesitatingly, I will hedge on the depth of my need for mercy. I’ll continue to make excuses or minimize the hideous nature of my sin and the damage it has caused.

To this, Paul says invitingly, reminding us, “It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.” Not the fear of judgment. Not guilt or shame. But kindness — a disposition of mercy, ready and willing to forgive it all fully and freely.

So, as a “call to action” of sorts, will you join me in responding to the invitation with the ruthless trust of gospel faith? What an opportunity to believe that getting busted is grace in disguise!

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