"Nevertheless, the central affirmation of the Reformation stands: Through no merit of ours, but by His mercy, we have been restored to a right relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of His beloved Son. This is the Good News, the gospel of grace.
With his characteristic joie de vivre, Robert Capon puts it this way:
The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellarful of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred-proof grace--of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the gospel--after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps--suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started... Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, nor the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.
Matthew 9:9-13 captures a lovely glimpse of the gospel of grace:
As Jesus was walking on from there he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office, and He said to him, "Follow me." and he got up and followed Him. Now while He was at table in the house it happened that a number of tax collectors and sinners came to sit at the table with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, "Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?" When He heard this He replied, "It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. Go and learn the meaning of the words: Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice. And indeed I came to call not the upright, but sinners."
Here is revelation bright as the evening star: Jesus comes for sinners, for those as outcast as tax collectors and for those caught up in squalid choices and failed dreams. He comes for corporate executives, street people, superstars, farmers, hookers, addicts, IRS agents, and AIDS victims, and even used-car salesmen. Jesus not only talks with these people but dines with them--fully aware the His table fellowship with sinners will raise the eyebrows of religious bureaucrats who hold up the robes and insignia of their authority to justify their condemnation of the truth and their refection of the gospel of grace.
This passage should be read, reread, and memorized. Every Christian generation tries to dim the blinding brightness of its meaning because the gospel seems too good to be true. We think salvation belongs to the proper and pious, to those who stand at a safe distance from the back alleys of existence, clucked their judgments at those who have been soiled by life.
The sinner saved by grace is haunted by Calvary, by the cross, and especially by the question, Why did He die? A clue comes from the Gospel of John: "For this is how God loved the world: He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life." Another clue from Paul's cry in Galatians: "He loved me and delivered Himself up for me." The answer lies in love.
But the answer seems too easy, too glib. Yes, God saved us because He loved us. But He is God. He has infinite imagination. Couldn't He have dreamed up a different redemption? Couldn't He have saved us with a smile, a pang of hunger, a word of forgiveness, a single drop of blood? And if He had to die, then for God's sake--for Christi's sake--couldn't He have died in bed, died with dignity? Why was He condemned like a criminal? Why was His back flayed with whips? Why was His head crowned with thorns? Why was He nailed to wood and allowed to die in frightful, lonely agony? Why was the last breath drawn in bloody disgrace, while the world for which He lay dying egged on His executioners with savage fury like some kind of gang rape by uncivilized brutes in Central Park? Why did they have to take the very best?
One thing we do know: We don't comprehend the love of Jesus Christ. Oh, we see a movie and resonate to what a young man and woman will endure for romantic love. We know that when the ships are down, if we love wildly enough we'll fling life and caution to the winds for the one we love. But when it comes to God's love in the broken, blood-drenched body of Jesus Christ, we get antsy and start to talk about theology divine justice, God's wrath and the heresy of universalism.
The saved sinner is prostrate in adoration, lost in wonder and praise He knows repentance is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven It serves as an expression of gratitude rather than an effort to earn forgiveness."
*Excerpts taken from The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning