"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • « Thoughts on Thinking | Main | Not Pursuing Justice »

    Images of the Savior (20 – His Forgiving of a Sinful Woman)

    And having turned to the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered into your house, you gave me no water for my feet; but she has washed my feet with her tears, and with her hair has dried them. You gave me no kiss; but she has not ceased kissing my feet from the time I came in. You did not anoint my head with oil; but she has anointed my feet with myrrh. Therefore, I say unto you, her many sins are forgiven, because she loved much; but the one who has been forgiven little loves little. Luke 7:44-47

    Among men, it is universally acknowledged that, in proportion as one has something valuable to offer another, he is likely to be well-received by him; and according to his ability to give more to any person than he must take from him, he is apt to be commended and praised. A rich man who lavishly bestows his goods upon his friends is well-thought of; but a beggar is despised, or at best, pitied with a condescending demeanor. But let us learn well, from this account, that it is not so with our Savior. All those who suppose that they are doing something valuable and praiseworthy for his sake, by means of their sacrificial and generous acts of religion, would do well to consider what the apostle Paul has said, that “God, who made the world and all the things which are in it, being himself Lord over heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made by hands, neither is worshiped by the hands of men, as if he were needing something, when he himself gives to all life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:24-25).

    Far otherwise is it with Jesus, who accepts a man in proportion as he has nothing to offer, and commends him according to his utter inability to give anything in exchange for what he must take! The more a man receives from Jesus, with nothing to give in exchange, the more he finds his favor and praise. Simon thought that our Savior should praise him, as he had invited Jesus into his own house, and had freely provided him with food and drink; but this woman, who was a notorious sinner, he considered worthy only to be rebuked and sent away by Jesus; and indeed, he supposed that Jesus would do so, if only he knew what the woman was like. But in his thoughts, Simon was betraying an utter ignorance of the nature of true religion, as we shall soon see.

    How wise is our Savior, able to pierce the inward thoughts of a man with his all-seeing eyes, and to expose them with much clarity and forcefulness! For he recognized at once, from Simon's unspoken thoughts, that he greatly erred in that he supposed acceptable religion to be that which offers something to God, and does not take anything from him. But in fact, true religion, which finds praise with God, is not that which offers some duty or service as if it were meritorious, but that which overflows in love, because it has accepted the merits of another. Let us especially observe that Jesus did not quarrel with Simon's basic premise, that in proportion as one gives without taking, he is worthy to be praised: instead, he utterly overturns his false understanding that the worshiper is the one who gives to the Lord, and is therefore fit to be glorified. Is this one lie from Satan not the heart and essence of every false religion? Satan whispers in the ears of all men, “You are worthy to be glorified as gods; if you only do these notable things, you will have praise from all, even from God himself”. But God replies, “I only will be glorified, for I alone created the worlds and give all things to all men. Who pleases me? The one who glorifies me by his humble reception of all things from my hand, who recognizes that he can do nothing in exchange for what I have freely done for him”. And so Jesus employs his parable, easily obtaining Simon's consent that the one who has been forgiven the greatest debt loves the most, and that the one who has so freely forgiven is therefore the more loved and the more glorified by him who has been freely enriched. This is the heart of religion: we beggars and indebted sinners obtain free grace from God, and our unmerited riches abound in love and praise, overflowing in humble and delighted gratitude for all eternity. In this way, we are freely blessed with all good things, and God is greatly glorified as the only One who gives without taking anything in exchange.

    If we would be commended by Christ, and bring glory to his name, let us learn the way from the example of this woman. First, we must be made aware of the depths of our sin and the enormity of our debt. He that has been forgiven little, loves little: but were we not staggering under a debt of infinite amount, in that we had offended an infinitely holy God? If we love but little, the problem is not that we were not vile enough before we came to the foot of the cross – it is only that we are not so in our own eyes. Would we find our love overflowing as the love of this sinful woman? Then let us meditate much and often upon the holiness and righteousness of God, and compare ourselves with this standard, and not that piddling standard of goodness relative to the expectations of a fallen world. In this way, we will find even our greatest deeds of righteousness to be “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), and our vilest deeds, ah how much worse than that?

    Second, if we would love as this woman loved, we must be assured of Jesus' free forgiveness. How could we praise him whom we saw as still being angry with us, ready always to cast us into hell if we offend in word or deed? But if we cast ourselves upon Jesus' feet, clinging to him with tears and kisses, ready to pour out all which is ours in a display of love, then what sort of Savior will we find him to be? Not the Savior whom the self-religious expect; for their Savior would turn someone away, when once he admitted that he was indebted, and had nothing to offer. No, he will be a Savior which is despised in the world's eyes, but all the more loved therefore by his people – for he will be a Savior who will never turn away the filthiest sinner who has but this to say, “I can give you nothing, but I would take from you everything”. If we would be commended as this woman was commended, we must be deeply impressed with these two truths: I am an abomination before the infinitely holy God; but by his free grace, I can be made an object of his eternal delight. This is true religion; and though it is despised by the world, it is most precious with God.

    As we have noted what kind of Savior this Jesus truly is, one who is pleased with the vilest sinners who seek free grace, but who turns aside the most respected men that think they have something to offer, let us examine ourselves, to see whom we the more resemble. In our religious occupations, do we think that we are doing something which God has need of? So Simon thought he was favoring Jesus by inviting him to his table. Do we think that we, who have done much for God, are therefore more pleasing to him, and more profitable to his kingdom, than they who are worse sinners than we, and less gifted with wealth or talents? Do we despise the humble janitor who was freed from his sins and addictions, and who now works quietly with a heart full of love; but exalt the golden-tongued orator who speaks to multitudes and greatly affects them – only not with a sense of their vast unworthiness and Christ's great glory? If we do so, are we not like Simon? Do we not love the Lord little? Oh, we say we love him, and the proof is in the mighty things we have done for him – but if he has done all for us, and we find ourselves unable to do mighty things, or even the littlest things – will we not then love him more? Simon loved little, and Jesus gave him little comfort, little assurance of grace. Would we be like him?

    But oh how different will be our end, if we are like this sinful woman! Have we been broken down by the greatness of God's holiness and the vastness of his righteous demands? Do we see the infinite unworthiness of our own selves, in light of these staggering standards? Have we been forgiven by the Savior, and so been filled with love and gratitude, that our mouths want only to kiss his feet, that everything we have and are we would feign pour out before him as a sacrifice, not of merit, but of praise and thanksgiving? If this is our case, then we are blessed indeed. Jesus has freely given everything to us, so he must be glorified. We have received everything from him, so we must be filled with joy, love, and gratitude. From henceforth, there is no place that may thrill our souls, but in his presence, bowing at his feet, careless of the reproaches of the world – for he is our hope, our joy, our love, our everything. O reader, are you like Simon, or like this despised but richly blessed woman? If the former, you will bring no pleasure to God, no matter how mightily you strive to do so. And you will receive no favor from him, no matter how desperately you need it – for you do not see your need, and would not take his eternal riches though they are offered to you free of charge. But if the latter, God will be pleased with you indeed. He will be glorified as the only One who gives and does not receive. And your own soul will be filled with riches and pleasures which are unimaginable. Oh let us cast ourselves at the feet of Jesus, let us offer him the kisses of our love, the sweet and precious myrrh of our gratitude, and seek him as our only comfort and treasure! For as we do so, we will hear him whisper in our ears over and again, until we finally reach our place in heaven before his glorious presence, these words which are our only strength and comfort and nourishment, as we press on in this life: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace”.

    Posted by Nathan on May 4, 2007 09:45 AM

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