How Can God Forgive Me? Dane Ortlund
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Dane OrtlundDane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) serves as senior pastor of Naperville Presbyterian Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is the author of Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers and Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners. Dane and his wife, Stacey, have five children.
“How can God forgive me?” If fear or guilt keep you from God, bestselling author Dane Ortlund offers a surprising, even overwhelming picture of Jesus.
How Can God Forgive Me? Dane Ortlund
Dane: Here’s the challenge we have right now with our listeners. Dave and Ann are talking with Dane about the grace of God. I already know that. Click; go on to the next thing. Hang on a second. If we are thinking to ourselves, “I know the grace of God, let me move on to the next thing,” that's proof we don't know it. We need to understand that the engine—the power to our life as a Christian disciple is surprise.
Dave: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Dave Wilson.
Ann: And I’m Ann Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Dave: This is FamilyLife Today!
Alright, thinking back to when you were a mom—I mean, you're still a mom—[Laughter] I mean, when the kids, our boys, were in our home and you were trying to lay a foundational truth about God, Jesus, it just hit me, what was it you really wanted them to get?
Ann: Ooh, that's a good question. That would be a good question for all of us to think and really act upon it. It probably—His love. Like, if they really understood how much He loves us, how He sees us; probably that.
Dave: Why do you think I’m even asking this question?
Ann: Because we have Dane Ortlund with us in studio. Dane, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Dane: It is so much fun talking with you guys. Thank you.
Dave: Well, I mean, obviously one of the reasons I brought that up is you were here last time talking about Gentle and Lowly, a book you wrote two years ago?
Dave: Yes; man, you're getting old. [Laughter] That means we're getting old too.
Dane: Look at all this gray hair here, Dave.
Dave: Yes, and I mean that book—
Ann: It's transforming.
Dave: It was transformative to what we just talked about: how to view Christ. It was beautiful. And now you've written Surprised by Jesus, which in some ways I was like, “Wow, I can see—”it's like Gentle and Lowly was almost a foundational truth and out of that comes this whole other look at Jesus.
Now you're a pastor in Naperville, Chicago suburbs. You're preaching on this. You're leading a congregation. How would you answer the same thing as if you think about, you know, what you want people to understand about Jesus?
Dane: In that book, Gentle and Lowly, and in this book, guys, I want people to be on the journey I am on, namely, tearing down the natural intuitive Jesus I think is there. The one I think is there when I roll out of bed every morning, I'm going to do the same thing tomorrow morning, which is not what He's really like, but someone who actually is endless in His love and grace. And to know this is not how you start your Christian life by understanding the good news of the grace of God in Jesus Christ; it is fuel for your Christian life. “You then, my son, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy. So yes, I'm a pastor every week, Dave; all I'm trying to do is help people see Jesus more truly.
Dave: And so even as you write this book, is there something that surprised you?
Dane: Well, yes. I would say I'm going to look back; I'm 43. The 53-year-old Dane will look back at the 43 and say, “Hey doofus, you still didn't get it.” I'm going to die one day, and I will just have begun to—I'll be dipping my big toes in this ocean of grace. What I'm trying to say in this book is when we read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you don't find Jesus predictable. There's no reciprocity; grace is wild. There's almost a chaos to it. It's not something that you can't—there's no math to it. I wanted people to feel free to get free again and to be wading into the glorious liberations of the gospel.
Dave: Well, so much of what I remember growing up in church—and I didn't really grow up in church, but my mom/single mom sort of dragged me there—but what I remember about elementary school, middle school, high school—and maybe this is why the second I got to college, never going back, I did not hear that. I heard law. I think there's even some churches hear you say, “I want people to experience freedom” would go, “Whoa, wait dude, slow down a little bit.”
Dane: Slippery slope.
Dave: Yes, so what do you say to that?
Ann: I would say/I'd add on to this, Dave, is Dave used to describe God as the whack a mole. If you have any fun, if you do anything wrong, God is just waiting to whack you.
Dave: Well, that's what I thought I heard.
Dane: Yes, that's what the world believes actually is that's what we at reflex level believe the Lord Jesus is like and what God is like. No wonder people hate going to church.
Dane: No wonder people walk away. Here's the deal. No one walks away when they see Jesus for what He's really like; He is irresistible. You can't turn and walk away from what He's really like. If He is a list of rules, if He is about religion, “No way, I'm out.” But if He is—actually, if He didn't come to start a new religion, but to end all religion—to say “This is not about what you bring to the table. I am going to drag you by the scruff of the neck into paradise and it is all going to be because of what I have done and am doing in you, and you are along for the ride.” That's actually fun Christianity. That's doable, and that's the only kind that will change us way down deep. It's not morally lax.
Ann: Which makes sense when you look at the people who followed Him. If they had to be religious, or if they had to look a certain way or act a certain way, He's not going to meet, in John 4, the Samaritan woman at the well.
Dane: No. No, it's those who had just given up any ability/wherewithal to “Okay, I'm amassing a moral resume here, and I'm going to somehow leverage my way into God's good graces.” It's those who have thrown in the towel and said “Forget it. It's either grace or nothing.”—who like that woman in John four or the disciples, tax collectors, fishermen—I mean these guys were screw ups and therefore I can relate to them. And they were the ones whom He called.
Dave: I want to read a quote from your book, and I want to hear you just elaborate. You're such a good writer, even this quote, just the way you write. It says, “This book is a call to embrace the flooding liberations of the gospel all the way down — not the decaffeinated grace that pats us on the hand, ignores our deepest rebellions, and doesn't change us, but the high-octane grace that takes our conscience by the scruff of the neck and breathes new life into us with a pardon so scandalous that we cannot help but be changed.”
Dane: In other words, what does God do with all of us? Up and down, fickle, not doing very well, bad Christians—or Christians; we’re His, and we're just not doing very well, which all of us feel that way all the time.
Ann: All the time.
Dane: What does God do with those who squander his grace? The answer is James 4, “But he gives more grace.” That's what grace is. there's no leveraging here. One of the things I want to get across in the book, guys, is Jesus proved—in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—He proved in flesh and blood that grace is not one color in a rainbow of God's attributes.
That's true in one sense. But if you read a systematic theology text, you might not feel the grace of God in Christ, proven in flesh and blood in the four gospels; grace is who God is. It's not morally lax. There is law. We can talk about that. But what God is, the Puritans would say God is a fountain of love and grace, a stream like coming out of the top of Mountain, river runs down, and it never runs dry. It's flooding our realities as we stumble our way through life.
Dane, as you talked about that, I'm picturing you as a husband, as a dad. You have five kids, who are tearing up your house right now probably. [Laughter] Right?
Dane: Thank you, Dave. Yes.
Dave: I mean, you just left them alone maybe the first time without a sitter. Is this true?
Ann: His oldest is 16; that's doable.
Dave: You got it.
Dane: Dave, I told you grace is wild and chaotic. That is actually what's going on at home right now, no doubt. [Laughter]
Dave: But my thought is, you know, as you talk about this grace, do you live that as a dad? —as a husband? If Stacey walked in right now, she'd say, “That's my husband. That's who he is. He's a grace filled, grace giving man.”
Dane: Well, those are two different questions. [Laughter] If Stacy walked in here right now, she'd be far too generous because she's a gracious woman. Do I live that? No. Nope. I am as much in need—I believe I was born again when I was six years old, thirty-seven years ago, lying in my bed and my dad tucked me in, in Des Moines, IA—I am as much in need of grace today more as ever.
We become believers and that we're going through life and we're getting better. I mean, in some way that is true. We are growing in godliness. We want to grow in godliness. Absolutely, but I feel more acutely my selfishness and pride and sin and wretchedness now than ever, so I feel my need for the grace of God more than ever. I really want to embody the grace of God in my home, Dave. I want to/I long to but the very fact that I don't means I need his grace to help me to do that and forgive me for the many ways that I don't.
Ann: Let's define grace; what is it?
Dane: Grace is being called into the principal's office and we'll say your dad is the principal and you know he's at his wits end with you. And you actually did throw that rotten tomato at the lunch lady. You did it. This is not like you're being framed. You walk in with your drooped shoulders, full of shame and guilt and he walks over to you, lifts your chin up and looks you in the eye and sweeps you up in his arms and he says, “I just want you to know nothing will ever change how I feel about you because you're my child. You just screwed up big time. We're going to talk about that. But the wrap around category for our relationship, the big—what is most true of your life and reality is you are safe. You're safe. You're invincible.
Grace means that because Jesus Christ lived the life I should live, but don't, and died the death I deserve to die, but now don't have to. Therefore, God is not meeting us halfway. He's not saying when you begin to get your act together, when you have a good week, then let's talk. Grace is because his son plunged down into death and rose triumphant into resurrection life, and I'm united to him, and therefore that fate becomes mine. I am totally free. I can hold my head high and walk through this life forgiven, safe—I like to say—invincibelized. Nothing can touch me if I'm in Christ.
Dave: When you hear that, I smile because I think, “Why do we struggle so much to understand that and receive that?”
Dane: We do. Oh my. You know, there's a little phrase in Galatians 3 where Paul says all those who are of works are under a curse. Not all those who rely on works, do works, who are of works. It's what's in your spiritual DNA. Guys, what the fall did in Genesis 3 is it twists, it hardwired us to be moving through the universe with a law mindset. We know we should measure up. We know we don't. And if we can just keep sort of doing better, then that will improve how we are doing in God's site. We are spring loaded to think that God assesses us, His smile grows based on, tied to, tethered to how we are doing. We are wired.
When you said you, Dave, you grew up and what you heard was law. Sure. Unless we are scandalized, unless we are defied, those natural intuitions are defied, a pastor/a preacher will preach law. He might use words like Jesus and Christ and cross and grace but the tone, what we're smelling when we're sitting in a pew listening, is “I better do better this week.”
Ann: It’s fear.
Dane: Yes, fear; that becomes the motivation—fear and guilt.
Ann: Well, as you were talking, when I think about the grace and I think I went into that principal's office after throwing that tomato the first time, I would think, “Wow, that's beautiful grace.”
Ann: If I've done that 20 times, then it feels like I shouldn't be forgiven. And that's what I think a lot of us think. The first time we can understand it, but when it's over and over, we think “I don't deserve it. Surely, He will not continue to smile upon me because my sin is so great.”
Dane: Yes, and that's because you and I naturally, Ann, think that grace is actually niceness and leniency, not grace. If end of Romans 5/end of Romans 6 is true—if that's really in my Bible, where sin abounded, grace hyper abounded, you could translate the Greek, sin abounded all the more, so sin was running really fast. Grace kept outpacing it. Grace isn't like a mountain, like a reservoir of cash and every time I sin, a few dollars get pulled out, and I better hope I make it to death before that thing runs dry. Rather, every time I sin, the logic of grace is that mountain of cash grows. It gets bigger. I'm that safe because Christ took care of it all.
So again, there's no leveraging and I'm not meeting God halfway. I'm receiving. He's not negotiating with me. I am receiving. I'm letting my defenses down. It's incredibly hard to do, to let my defenses down and let God love me. That takes a lifetime to begin to learn that.
Dave: Well, I mean it leads me to ask the same question Paul asked in Romans 6, is okay if that's grace lavishes upon us and isn't it a license to sin? I mean, what is it that keeps us or doesn't keep us from thinking “I have freedom now. I'm just going to take this baby to the hilt”?
Dane: Yes, a couple of things. One is if I am enslaved, like I'm in a Mediterranean slave market, and a rich merchant comes along and sees me in my abject misery and captivity, and he purchases my freedom. He takes me with him, and we walk a little, you know, around a bend in the road. The slave market is no longer in our sight, and he says, “Okay, you're free to go.” What I will say to him is, “I can go anywhere?” He'll say “Yes.” I'll say, “Then I want to go with you.” because I've been touched by love. I've had the kiss of grace, and I want more of that.
That's the logic of how the New Testament coaches us into transformation. It's you are that free—you're that free. We're melted, not crowbarred in a change.
And then the other thing I would say, brothers, what's Paul's answer in Roman 6? His answer is How could you go on living in sin? You're now one with Christ. You've been united to him. This is not a cool and cold and calculating transaction. He didn't write me a check. He's made me one with him so what could I do but be changed and transformed. There’re many biblical answers to be given. The main thing I would want to say is we are not transformed by trying harder effort. We're transformed when we realize just how safe we are, even when we are not trying harder, and we feel like we're not getting transformed.
Ann: It reminds me of Paul saying he's a bond slave to Christ. I remember Bill Bright—do you remember he always said that? “I am a bond slave of Christ.” And then I remember reading or maybe hearing of what a bond slave was; that they would free, as you said, Dane, like say, and they would have an anvil—do you know what that is?
Dane: Yes, through the ear, right.
Ann: Their ear was pierced with basically a nail. They would say, “I will follow my master for the rest of my life.” I remember getting on my knees saying to Jesus, like, “I want to be your bond slave. I will follow you the rest of my life.” Because when you understand the greatness, the goodness of His grace, where else could you go to receive that?
Dane: That's right; that’s right. And we're going to be slaves to something. I mean we can—let's say I want to pursue career, wealth, money, and extravagant weekends. I'm a slave to that; that's not freedom. But that will never fulfill me if I get it, or forgive me if I fail it. Jesus Christ does both. This is the best of all possible masters. He will forgive me when I fail, grace, and he will fulfill me when I get Him. It's a win-win with Him. We can't lose with Him. [Laughter]
Ann: That’s so good.
Dave: How do we go from that understanding, and you mentioned in your book, to becoming a Pharisee. And you say it isn't that we have to recover; we are Pharisees, and we judge Pharisees. I guess that's proves we’re Pharisees, but how do we get there?
Dane: Oh my. If a preacher gets up and says to you, “I'm going to give you five ways to avoid becoming a Pharisee,” run! [Laughter] The question is not “How do you avoid becoming a Pharisee?” but as you've just said, Dave, “How do we grow out of the Pharisee we all from the womb are?” It's just, it's this addiction to law that we are, in a twisted way, hardwired toward, and the only way out is what we're talking about right now.
Here’s the challenge we have right now with our listeners. Dave and Ann are talking with Dane about the grace of God. I already know that. Click; go on to the next thing.
If they were talking about Supralapsarianism versus infralapsarianism, well, maybe I'd like to learn something about it. Or maybe not. [Laughter] Grace of God, I got that down. Hang on a second. If we are thinking to ourselves, “I know the grace of God, let me move on to the next thing,” that's proof we don't know it.
Actually, that's Pharisaism at root. We need to understand that our life is the engine. The power to our life as a Christian disciple is surprise, not mainly gratitude, in my opinion, not mainly effort, not mainly just feelings, but it's actually surprise—being startled afresh 10,000 times in the Christian life; that is what changes us, and that is what helps us to step out of this Pharisaism that we are born in and have such a hard time seeing in ourselves.
Dave: It's interesting as I hear you say that Dane, I think that mom of mine that dragged me to church, that as a young boy and even as a teenager, just resented her rules—and you know I didn't have a dad, but she was—I look back now and you know, Ann, she was a grace giver to me.
Ann: Oh, absolutely.
Dave: I think one of the big motivations for me to turn to the God that she wanted me to follow—
Ann: —to the gospel.
Dave: —was her grace.
Dave: I mean, I messed up so many times in high school and there was law. I mean there were rules, and they were good ones, but overwhelmingly I felt her love and grace like I—nothing you can do will ever change.
Dane: Amazing. So, Dave, did that create a category in your heart then—that horizontal grace—for maybe there is vertical grace. I mean, maybe this is a little glimpse of what God is like.
Ann: You know what he was? You were invincible because your mom made you feel like that.
Ann: I was like, “Hey dude, you're not that amazing,” but you felt confident because of your mom's love and grace in your life. And what would it look like for us to feel that confidence? That word invincible; that's a weighty word.
Shelby: You're listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Dane Ortlund on FamilyLife Today. Dane’s going to explore more about that word invincible in just a minute.
But first, his book is called Surprised by Jesus: Subversive Grace in the Four Gospels. We’ll send you two copies, as our thanks, when you partner financially with us at FamilyLifeToday.com; that's one copy for you and one to give away. You can get your copies when you give at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, if you enjoyed Dane today, you won't want to miss the 2024 Love Like You Mean It® Marriage Cruise, where he will be one of our speakers. I know that seems like it's far away, but it'll be here before you know it. Our biggest sale is happening right now. Join us next February in the Caribbean with many of your favorite Christian speakers and artists for a romantic week you won't forget. You can learn more at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Alright, so what's all this talk about being invincible? Well, let's get back to Ann and Dave's conversation with Dane Ortlund.
Ann: When you use the word invincible, that's calculated. You're using it purposely.
Dane: Absolutely. We're all going through life feeling so frail. We are feeling vulnerable, looking over our shoulder, wondering what's going to happen next. Am I about to have online fraud drain all my funds? Am I going to lose my reputation? Am I going to torpedo my life through some really stupid sin of which I am totally capable? What is going to happen? Oh, hang on a minute. If I'm in Christ and it's all on terms of grace and it's not at all about a little bit of contribution from me on the table, this has to end well. God has to use whatever is going to unfold in my life for my good and radiance, ultimately.
I want to live my life that way. I want to be that kind of dad. I want my five kids to leave the house at age 18 and whatever else they have picked up from me. And I'm screwing up left and right, as I already said to you Dave. Whatever else. They're like “You know what? If I walk with God, if I hand myself over to Him, this has to end well. This is a life of blessing. This is an invincibleized existence.” That's what I want them to experience. Not go through life, as you said earlier, in fear. We are terrified. We are terrified creatures, us human beings, and the grace of God is a mutually exclusive with living, operating by fear.
Shelby: Okay, how do you take what you learned and start showing grace practically? Well, join us tomorrow as Dave, Ann, and Dane Ortlund tell stories of how Jesus did it and how we could do it too. That's tomorrow. We hope you'll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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