“Ragamuffins have a singular prayer: ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ Any additional flourishes to make that cry more palatable are pharisaical leaven. Warning: Mine has been anything but a straight shot, more like a crooked path filled with thorns and crows and vodka. Prone to wander? You bet. I’ve been a priest, then an ex-priest. Husband, then ex-husband. Amazed crowds one night and lied to friends the next. Drunk for years, sober for a season, then drunk again. I’ve been John the beloved, Peter the coward, and Thomas the doubter all before the waitress brought the check. I’ve shattered every one of the Ten Commandments six times Tuesday. And if you believe that last sentence was for dramatic effect, it wasn’t.”- Brennan Manning, All is Grace, 31.
“Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”- Psalm 127:1
O.K., O.K. Enough with the Brennan Manning, right? Wrong. I know this man is a controversial figure. I know he is labeled as a “free-grace” kind of guy. But at some point in time, we just have to understand he got something right. And i even believe that his mansion in heaven will definitely outdo mine. His may be a 6 bedroom, 5 bath. I’m hoping for a 5 bedroom, 3 bath. Readers of this quote will say, “He is making excuses for his sin.” Well, no, and maybe. First, he spends the next 180 something odd pages of his memoir owning his sins and describing their consequences. So no, he isn’t making excuses. But maybe. I say maybe because i think Brennan would say that. He understands that we all have mixed motives, and none of us are as sincere as we want others to think, or even as sincere as we want ourselves to think. But the question stands for us today; How much credit do we want? How much credit can we realistically take? Do we really desire to hold on to the doctrine that we have some epic role to play in our salvation? Do we really believe that man is able from within, free of any restrictions or slavery, to choose salvation? If we do, we are denying the doctrines of original sin and total depravity, asserting that each one of us is free and good, in some measure, to really respond to God without God irresistibly working and drawing us to Himself. In this case, we can and should glory in having a part in our salvation. It’s just true…if you buy that. Me? I’ll eat the raga-muffin top and cry, “Have mercy.” We could cite Ephesians 2, John 8:34, John 6, Romans 1 and 2, 1 Corinthians 1, and others to prove that it is in fact God who chooses, God who draws, and only God who saves. But how about Psalm 127? It is true that this Psalm is, on the surface, referring to actually building a house, but the concept stands nonetheless. If man wants to build freely, his building will crumble at the test of God, whose test will destroy anything imperfect, anything with imperfect motives, anything with imperfections, period. But if God builds, His building stands free from imperfections, free from flaws, and free from corruption. His building stands namely on His own character, and so does our own salvation. I understand we are not free from these here on this planet. But rest assured, because of God’s workmanship, we’re going to be tricked out in eternity. Or glorified. Whichever one works for you. What is credited to a believer’s account when the believer comes to faith in Christ? Christ’s righteousness. Who works within a believer to accomplish sanctification? The Holy Spirit. Who chooses who will be saved before the foundations of the world? The Father. Who dies the substitutionary death for His people? Christ. See, it is God who works and God who builds.
This is, indeed, the only certainty believers have in this life. If we would be free from overwhelming gloom and despair, free from insecurity, let us rest in God and not ourselves, knowing that we are, in fact, secure, not because of anything we have done but because he is the Master Builder, the one who started, the one who is carrying on, and the one who will complete our very salvation. So let’s glory today in His merciful favor and respond by pursuing Him relentlessly, laying aside our sin and with eager hearts serving His people. By nature, we are not free, but God’s grace and mercy are. They have been purchased by the Son by His death and resurrection for His people. Because of that, God is free to exercise salvation to whomever He wishes, making them, in the process, beneficiaries of His freedom and partakers of His glorious mercy and favor. One last word…and i like this quote because it doesn’t fit into my box…and it’s Brennan’s last pot-shot to people like me…
“Some have labeled my message one of “cheap grace.” In my younger days, their accusations were a gauntlet thrown down, a challenge. But I’m an old man now and I don’t care.“- 192.
Cheap grace is Bonhoeffer language for grace that doesn’t require anything of you. If you listen to Manning’s preaching and read some of his stuff, you may come away with this. I admit, i do as well. And grace that doesn’t transform ISN’T GRACE. But true grace is still grace. At the end of the day, it is radically free because of Christ and yet, at the same time, takes everything from you. It gives us what we don’t deserve, and it makes us what we don’t deserve to be. It’s just that good, it’s just that “out-of-the-box”, it’s just that crazy. I don’t think Manning would say that God’s grace doesn’t require anything of you, but maybe he would. What i do know is that he is honest where most Christians are liars, he is transparent where most Christians are hidden, and he glories, not in his own freedom or sin, but solely in the grace and mercy of our God where other Christians shrink back and tend to glory in their own progress of holiness. At the end of the day, a story fits well…
“‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather that the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.'”- Luke 18:10-14.
God, be merciful.