When it comes to religion, we all have a compulsion to draw lines: Who’s in? Who’s out?
Who are God’s chosen people?
(Assumed) membership in the club of the divinely favored has divided us through the ages. Patting ourselves on the back for being in the club – wearing a diviner label, as it were – brings out the ugliest in human pride.
Jesus totally ruins that self-congratulatory party. He’s so disruptive that way…
In Matthew 8:1-13, Jesus does marvelous works of healing grace for members of two very disfavored groups: a leper, and a Gentile. In the Jewish economy, the pure, the chosen, the favored ones, were the physical descendants of Abraham. The unclean (like lepers and foreign races) were excluded from nearness to God.
Except they weren’t, once the new age of promiscuous grace dawned on the world. Have you ever put together the ideas of “God” and “promiscuous”? It’s a startling and wonderful thought. Someone who is promiscuous shares his or her favors around freely. Grace is like that. Dwelling inside the walls of a special club isn’t.
For a time, the Jewish nation was commanded to be separate from the world, and elaborate rules were put in place (by God Himself) to teach the human race about holiness, impurity, and sacrificial cleansing.
“Be separate,” said the Lord. And there were very good reasons to stay at arm’s-length from the pagan practices of the surrounding nations. There was much wickedness out there. There still is.
But the point is often lost – there is just as much wickedness in here. In my heart and yours. No matter what club we grew up in, or joined.
Then came the gospel of grace. And the new dividing line was humble, needy faith coming to a willing, forgiving, all-powerful Savior. The dividing line is not bloodlines. Not geography. Not diviner labels. Heart-devotion.
The children of Abraham were not merely to be his physical descendants. They would be all those with the faith of Abraham – even the unclean, the foreign, the defective, the broken, the polluted, the guilty – any and all who come to Jesus with their spiritual leprosy AND faith were now welcome into the very presence of God.
Tasting His goodness, and loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, has always been the main point – even from the earliest days of the Jewish nation.
The dividing line is now a matter of the heart. It’s a matter of gracious pardon humbly received, not bloodlines inherited or doctrinal systems embraced.
Our dividing lines can allow us a sense of superiority, while at the same time keeping us from a genuine relationship with God (and other people). If your distinguishing mark is, “I’m a good (Baptist/Jew/Muslim/Catholic/Buddhist/Pagan),” then you may, in fact, be hiding from God behind your barrier of external righteousness.
Your diviner label, which you think makes you better, is nothing more than (as the Scripture so bluntly puts it) “filthy rags.”
Jesus reserved His harshest words for those who hid behind their bloodlines, their external works of righteousness, their religious posture. But He welcomed sinners who believed in Him.
Here is what godliness looks like: “(the) leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’ Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing, be cleansed.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” (Matthew 8:2-3)
There is still a dividing line between the holy and the unclean, the righteous and the wicked, the people of God and the people who love the world. But you won’t find that line in religious club membership with the right name and list of qualifications.
Spiritual lepers who have been humbled, cleansed, and who love their Savior are the people of God. And they come in all shapes and sizes and genders and races and backgrounds. They’re not better than anyone else – in fact, their track record is often far worse. Which led them to grace instead of preening self-righteousness.
They’re only “in” because God showed them how “out” they were – and welcomed them home to Himself.
As He is perfectly ready to do with you and me. When we are ready to admit that our club uniform is, in fact, filthy rags (not holy vestments); and that, as hopeless spiritual lepers, we need a healing Savior.
“Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)