The Danish physicist Niels Bohr once said, “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.” I’ve often thought the same could be said of grace.
This month, an object lesson on the truly amazing nature of grace has arrived in the form of a song by the US-based pop band LANY. Lead singer Paul Klein is from a Christian background and was previously a worship leader. Fans have noted the religious imagery in the band’s music for years, although most of their songs are about romantic love and break ups. But last week the band released what is probably their most overtly Christian song yet.
‘I still talk to Jesus’ might contain references to God and church, but given how it also mentions cocaine and drunkenness, it’s unlikely you’ll hear it played on Christian radio.
The whole song is worth a listen, but three lyrics stand out:
1. “If there’s a heaven I hope that I get in / But I probably won’t / I break all the rules / Do all the things the Bible says ‘don’t’”.
It’s been said before that you won’t understand the good news of Christianity until you’ve grasped the bad news. And it’s obvious from this lyric, that Klein has understood the bad news. The bad news is that even thought he knows what is right, and what the Bible teaches, he ignores it. He isn’t ‘good enough’ for heaven.
2. “I lie to my momma / Smoke Marijuana / Most of the time I do what I wanna / You might not believe it / But I still talk to Jesus”
I’ve been a Christian long enough to know some of my fellow believers will be tempted to sit in judgement over some of these lyrics. Too often, the attitude inside the Church to such confessions has been ‘Clean yourself up and stop sinning!’ But in reality, such a perspective is deeply unChristian. We who worship a God of grace are surely called to extend that same grace to others.
There is a kind of religion which excludes people. It teaches, ‘Believe all the right things and do all the right things, then God will accept you’. This kind of religion suggests you cannot speak to God until you’ve cleaned your life up. But Christianity says even when you offend him, God still wants a relationship with you. God wants sinners like Klein (and you, and me) to talk to him. That’s why ‘I still talk to Jesus’ is such a powerful lyric. Klein is pointing us toward a God who embraces sinners.
This sentiment reminded me of Steve Harvey's words in Premier Christianity this month: “My mission is for you to understand that you can be a flawed human being, with a history of mistakes, that you can flunk out of school, that you can be on your second or third marriage, that you can lose everything you’ve ever owned, that you can be homeless and completely done, and God will pick you right back up, dust you off and let you try it again…What I learned about Christianity was that God don’t require you to be perfect. You’re not going to be. No one is, but he does require you to be consistent. He says: 'At least talk to me. When you slip and fall and you get off track, man, can you just at least still talk to me? I got this thing called grace for you, man.'"
3. “Hallelujah / Amazing Grace”
Even though we mess up and do the worst things, God is still waiting for us with open arms. Surely, this should prompt us to sing with Klein, ‘Hallelujah / Amazing grace’.
But often it doesn’t.
Grace can be offensive.
Jesus told a story about a son who squandered his huge inheritance on prostitutes. After he realised the error of his ways, he returned home to his father, desperately ashamed. The father responded not in condemnation, but in love and grace. He spent even more money on his son by throwing him a huge party. But the older brother didn't like it. He threw a strop.
Grace tends to offend ‘religious types’ who think they’re holier-than-thou. But grace is always good news for those who know they're sinners. That's why Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mark 2:17)
How grace works
Both of the following statements are true: ‘God loves you just as you are’ and ‘God loves you so much he wants to change you’.
Grace isn’t just that God loves us despite our wrongdoing. Grace works in another way too. When we come to God and ask for his forgiveness (made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus), he gives us the grace to live differently.
Grace isn’t just about God accepting us. Grace also gives us the power to change.
After singing ‘Hallelujah / Amazing Grace’ Klein adds, ‘Just trying’ to do better than yesterday’. Klein might understand the bad news (he isn't good enough for heaven). But he might have missed the good news.
The good news is not that you have to 'try better than yesterday'. The good news is you aren't good enough for heaven, but Jesus is. And if you put your faith and trust in him, his righteousness becomes your righteousness. In other words: God has already done everything on your behalf. Jesus lived the perfect life you could not live. Trust him for your salvation. Don’t depend on your own efforts. They'll never be good enough.
Those of us who have put Jesus first know that change really is possible. We've discovered that slowly but surely, our desires to live for ourselves have shrunk and been replaced with the desire to love God and love people.
Perhaps the rapper NF said it best: "Christian is not the definition of what perfect means / But thank the Lord that I serve a God that's perfect."