Paradise by the Dashboard Lights


If you seek God, and desire to please him, the Bible can make you dizzy. It comes at you with what seems like two antithetical messages, both equally imperative for the earnest disciple. From one side, the Bible hits you with harsh, unbending expectations. It demands obedience, with Jesus even telling his disciples to be as perfect as God (Matthew 5:48)! Then Jesus goes and hardens the Old Testament law, telling his followers that not only is adultery wrong, but merely lusting is just as deplorable (Matthew 5:28), and anger can be as disobedient as murder (Matthew 5:21–22).

While all this is coming at you, the Bible hits you with softness and tolerance. Jesus tells Peter to forgive others endlessly (Matthew 18:21–22), and since we are to love others as ourselves, it follows that we should forgive ourselves endlessly, too. He tells his followers to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). James says wisdom from above is full of mercy (James 3:17), and Paul says God is the father of mercies and comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).

Sometimes the Bible hits you with the harsh and the soft in the same text. James tells us we must be perfect at everything and that if we even mess up just one thing, we are no different than someone who fails at everything (James 2:8–11). This makes it sound like what we do is of utmost importance. But then in the very next paragraph he says that mercy is more important than everything (James 2:12–13). Now it seems like what we do is no big deal.

Jesus hits us with both in John 8:7–11. The crowd is about to stone an adulterous woman. Jesus steps in to argue for mercy, saying “let anyone without sin be the first to throw a stone.” The crowd disperses at this, and the reader feels warm tingles. But then Jesus kills the buzz, telling the woman, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Should I rigorously pursue obedience, or should I relax into a lifestyle of mercy?

Dan shows us how to understand these extreme forces in a way that compels spiritual excellence while also opening up space for effective self-forgiveness. For a jolt to your spiritual life, invite Dan today!

Length: 1 hour

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