Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.Hebrews 4:14-16
Andrew Ripp has a great new song out called “For the Love of God.” I really love this song. I love the truths found in verse 1 and verse 2, the chorus and the bridge. I love the sound of it too. Ripp’s voice is soulful and catchy. You can listen to it here.
Maybe my love for the song is why verse 3 caught my attention. What Ripp articulates in verse 3, I resonate with in my heart. However, as soon as I heard it, the “truth-meter” in my head sent alarm bells going off. As soon as I heard it, I knew two things: 1) there was something “off” about it theologically, and 2) it is a common trope in Christian circles that is regularly accepted as “true” but doesn’t line up with the life of Jesus.
So what does verse 3 say?
The first half of verse 3 says, “If it wasn’t for my failures and mistakes, I would never know the depths of this grace…”
My guess is that, if you have any experience in church, this sentiment feels familiar and maybe even comforting. You may have heard something like this a thousand times. And while it may resonate with our hearts, it actually articulates something that doesn’t line up with the gospel.
What this phrase actually ends up saying is that my sin was necessary. It’s saying something like, “The only way for me to know the grace of God is to sin against God and then experience His grace.” But, is that true? Jesus never sinned yet perfectly knew the depths of God’s grace. Can you see the problem here?
There are a couple issues with thinking our sin is a mandatory prerequisite to knowing the depths of God’s grace. First, it limits the definition of grace to something like “forgiveness.” But God’s grace is bigger than just His forgiveness. If all you know of God’s grace is the forgiveness aspect of it, then you don’t yet know “the depths of this grace.” Grace isn’t just God’s willingness to forgive us over and over again as we sin over and over again. Grace actually empowers us to to be transformed. Grace enables us not to sin.
Imagine God’s grace as a kind of spiritual fuel. We use up more grace not sinning than we do sinning and being forgiven. We can’t live a holy life in our own strength. So living a holy life actually requires more of God’s grace, not less. This is why Jesus knew the depths of God’s grace more than the rest of us yet was without sin.
The second issue with framing sin as a mandatory prerequisite to knowing the depths of God’s grace is that it makes our relationship with God dysfunctional.
Think of a parent/child relationship. There are two main parent/child paradigms where the child subconsciously feels the need to rebel in order to “prove” that their parent really loves them unconditionally. One paradigm is where the child got the message that they had to perform and be perfect in order to earn their parent’s love. Often, a child living in this paradigm will perform well and live a “perfect” life until they can’t take the pressure any more. Then they will subconsciously snap and turn into the “prodigal son,” all as a means to test if their parent’s love is real.
The second dysfunctional paradigm is that of an orphan or adopted child. Orphans will often test their adoptive parents through rebellion because they don’t really believe they are lovable. They are waiting to get rejected once again in order to prove what they already believe.
The point is this: if the only way I can know the depths of God’s grace is through sinning against Him, then I am relating to God either with a performance mentality or an orphan spirit. The truth is that I can know my parents’ deep love for me without rebelling against them. In fact, in a healthy parent/child paradigm, I can better experience their love for me if I don’t rebel against them. The same is true of God.
I don’t have to rebel against God to know the depths of His love and grace for me. If Jesus is our example, then obedience may actually give me a better taste of the unconditional love of God and the empowering grace of God. This concept is so foreign to so many people only because we’ve gotten so used to a dysfunctional relationship with God.
Again, don’t get me wrong, I do love Andrew Ripp’s new song. There is so much truth packed into it. But I wish verse 3 didn’t accidentally perpetuate a common theological falsehood. I wish, instead, it said something like, “Even in the midst of my failures and mistakes, I experience the depth of His grace…”