So this is my favorite quote in the world. It comes from a guy named Gerhard Forde, who was a theologian. He wrote this toward the end of his life. I love this perspective. It’s so liberating. He says: “Am I making progress? If I am really honest, it seems to me that the question is odd, even a little ridiculous. As I get older and death draws nearer, I don’t seem to be getting better. I get a little more impatient, a little more anxious about having perhaps missed what this life has to offer, a little slower, harder to move, a little more sedentary and set in my ways. Am I making progress? Well, maybe it seems as though I sin less, but that may only be because I’m getting tired! It’s just too hard to keep indulging the lusts of youth. Is that sanctification? I wouldn’t think so! One should not, I expect, mistake encroaching senility for sanctification! But can it be, perhaps, that it is precisely the unconditional gift of grace that helps me to see and admit all that? I hope so.
The grace of God should lead us to see the truth about ourselves, and to gain a certain lucidity, a certain humor, a certain down-to-earthness.” It explains why the apostle Paul says at the end of his life, “I’m the chief of sinners.” He was acutely aware of the fact that, when it’s all said and done, he hasn’t really gotten that much better, and that made him all that much more grateful for Jesus. It’s what Jack Miller used to say. “Cheer up. You’re a lot worse off than you think you are, but God’s grace is much bigger than you could have ever imagined.”
So what Gerhard Forde is saying is this. When we stop narcissistically focusing on our need to get better, that is what it means to get better. In other words, when we stop obsessing over our need to improve, that is what it means to improve. That’s the definition of improvement.
So this is the question. What are you going to do now that you don’t have to do anything? That will set you free. Because what’s ironic about this is, once the gospel frees you from the enslaving pressure to do anything for Jesus, you’ll want to do everything for Jesus. There is this remarkable fear that if you preach the radicalism of God’s unconditional grace, people are going to take advantage of it and they’re going to go off the deep end. Parents are afraid of that and preachers are afraid of it. It’s not true. Think about this.
The more assured I am of my wife’s unconditional love for me, whether I’m being nice or not nice, the more assured I am that she will love me just the same whether I’m in a good mood or a bad mood, whether I’m being nice or mean, that makes me want to be nice.