13And they brought them children so that he might touch them. But the disciples rebuked them. 14But when Jesus saw them he was indignant and he said to them, “Let the children come to me, don’t prevent them, for of this sort is the kingdom of God.” 15I tell you truly, whoever doesn’t receive the kingdom of God as a child will never enter into it.” 16And he called them, placed his hands on them, and blessed them. — Mark 10:13-15
I’ve been poking my nose into a debate about the atonement in the blogosphere off and on. (In case you haven’t realized it yet, this is Henry.) Last night a friend asked me just what it’s all about. She didn’t really follow the debate. I think that’s a good question. Personally I think if you can follow the debate, in which phrases like â€œpenal substitutionary atonementâ€ and â€œforensic justificationâ€ are quite common. You might come to think that salvation is complicated.
So I want to step aside from all the debating and say clearly: It’s not complicated. If you can come to the end of this devotional, of any sermon I preach, or of any class I teach understanding simply that God loves you because you’re his child, then I’ve gotten across all the complexity that I need to.
I’m not criticizing people for discussing the complexity. I get involved in that just as much as they do. There’s so much to God and the way he works in the world that we can never completely comprehend it all. But that’s not the most important thing. Take it from meâ€”I’ve been there. You can get so immersed in the theological complexities, even in defending sound theology, that you lose sight of God, who is the subject of theology. You can be so careful to keep people’s theology correct that you drive them away from God.
My grandchildren are visiting this week. I love my grandchildren. Since I’m a stepparent, I tell folks that I’m totally objective when I say that my children are the most wonderful in the world and my grandchildren are the smartest and most beautiful children out there. You’re going to laugh at me, and that’s OK. Why do I love my grandchildren? Did I look at their first baby pictures, discern the signs of future genius and heroism in some part of their features and then decide to love them?
Any of you who are parents or grandparents know that’s a silly notion. Before there was a picture, before I knew anything about them, I loved them. It didn’t matter whether there were signs of genius, of beauty, or of physical prowess. They were beautiful before I saw them. There was never a chance that I was going to look at them and decide they were anything else. I didn’t have to wait for them to realize what a grandfather was, or to do any particular thing. Am I thrilled when they hold out their arms to me? Yes!! But that doesn’t cause me to love them. I already do.
That’s the way God looked at you. He’s not waiting for you to figure something out. He’s not waiting for your next great accomplishment. He doesn’t save you because you’re cuter, better behaved, orâ€”and this is importantâ€”smarter than anyone else. We humans are really afraid of grace. We want to find a reason. If God loves us unconditionally, that’s simply too good to be true. He must require something. So we invent salvation by works. But Paul said, â€œNot of works, lest anyone should boast.â€ So back comes the theologian and says, â€œWell, then, if you don’t understand fully that it’s not of works, if you try in any way to do good works, if you think in any way that you’ve done something right, then it is works, and you’re not saved.â€ That’s being saved by correct doctrine.
But you don’t have to understand all that correct (or incorrect) doctrine. Come to God as a child. Before a child knows what a parent or grandparent is, or how their mind works, or how love comes to be in someone’s heart, they just accept love.
God loves you. It may be too good to be true, but it is true!