Have you ever wondered if anyone is beyond the reach of God? It’s likely we’ve all thought about this at some point. Some people are just, well, so bad. It seems utterly impossible that they could be changed. That’s where the shocking, scandalous, and mind-blowing grace of God comes into the picture. God’s saving grace means that no one is too far gone for God to be rescued.
Does God save bad people?
One of the most devastating misconceptions of the human race is the fact that we’re supposed to be good in order to be chosen by God, or get into heaven. You may have asked someone about where he or she will spend eternity. If they have a nominal Christian faith, they may say, “I’m going to heaven.” You ask them why they think that. “Well, I’ve lived a pretty good life,” is the response.
But our good life doesn’t cut it with God. Jesus scandalized the religious establishment of his day by telling them, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” When he said these words, Jesus was reclining at a party with tax collectors and sinners. The “good” people of his day — Pharisees and their ilk — were a bit too good for Jesus. They abhorred his association with the dirty, sinful, and disreputable.
Self-righteousness, not badness, is one of the greatest barriers to salvation. That’s why we can rejoice in a God who chooses bad people. He chooses the worst. He chooses the dead. He chooses the dirty. He chooses people who have so grievously sinned that, by all human imagination, they’re way beyond reach.
Jesus reached out to the gutter-dwellers, the down-and-outers, the prostitutes, the rabble, the angry, the disaffected. Such people have no doubts about their standing with God. They know they’re sunk. They can’t clean themselves up. They don’t need to. They need a savior to rescue them.
Does God save good people?
A bigger barrier to salvation is one’s self-perceived righteousness. When a person thinks of himself as “good” apart from God, he sees no need for salvation. When God regenerates someone, one of the first realizations that a person has is how sinful they are. Otherwise, how can one turn to Jesus for forgiveness of sins if he doesn’t have any sins that need to be forgiven?
Churches spend vast amounts of resources helping and restoring the most troubled of society — the homeless, the substance abusers, the alcoholics, the felons — and rightly so. But there are millions more people who are good and safe, but lost. They live in spacious well-maintained homes. They drive their kids to soccer practice with you. They shop at the mall with you. They don’t cuss. They don’t throw empty beer cans out their car windows. They don’t sleep on park benches. They don’t get arrested. They are upstanding, moral, kind, neighborly, well-groomed, polite…and lost without Jesus.
These kind and sweet people need Christ just as desperately as a violent, intoxicated, substance-abusing, carousing, hateful, angry, smelly man on the street.
Look at what Christ did for these righteous people. He spoke to them in no uncertain terms about their sin (Matthew 23). But he also spent hours carefully explaining salvation (John 3). And he turns one of them into the greatest missionary the world has ever known — the Apostle Paul.
The Radicalism of Grace
God’s grace is a radical force. It shatters our misconceptions. It bursts into sin-drenched lives. It breaks through the impenetrable shield of self-righteous sinners. It is a power to be reckoned with, but a power that is impossible to deny. God’s grace is truly amazing.
Can you think of anyone who is “too far gone?” Bear this in mind: You’re never too far gone for grace. God can save the most self-righteous Pharisee, most violent persecutor, most deluded fanatic, and the most hypocritical sinner, and turn them into the most passionate ambassador for Him.