Stereotypes would cast genuine Christians as do-gooders and respectable people. Simply, nice. Other stereotypes would brand us hypocrites of course. But the stereotypes needn't stick.
Teaching Jonah 1v1-16 to the Reading CU Cell Leaders today I was struck again by the boundless reach of God's grace. Jonah is hopeless, disobedient to God in the extreme. God sends him from Israel to Iraq so he takes a cruise to Spain. In the midst of Jonah's extreme rebellion against God he is used, in the middle of the Med, to bring a bunch of rough and ready, pagan sailors to know God personally. These sailor were the bottom of the ladder socially, they were sinners in the extreme. Superstitious guys who would call on any god to serve their purposes. And yet we find them thoroughly committing themselves to knowing God, because he saves them.
Later in the story we find that Jonah's big problem is that deep down he knows that God's great desire is to show mercy to sinful people. He experiences the benefits of this himself in the second episode, but seems not to have got the point. Twice in the fourth episode he declares himself better off dead than seeing people shown mercy by God. And yet God persists with this hapless prophet.
Again and again God shows mercy. The high-point of the book is a declaration by Jonah that: salvation comes from the LORD. It is God's to give. And God decides to give it to pagan sailors, repentant Ninevehites and even disobedient prophets. God shows no partiality for trackrecord or genealogy. He simply shows grace.
No doubt the original audience of Jonah's story would have hit the end of episode one with deep offense. Their hero the prophet is thrown overboard and presumed dead. And the pagans are worshipping the God of Israel. Such is the boundless grace of God to save anyone.
The first stereotype falls down - respectability does not a Christian make. Only God's grace to those who are rebels against him makes a Christian. I have no grounds to boast in myself. Let Christian confidence point away from self and to the one who saves. Let us rejoice in God's boundless grace that saves even someone like me from the judgement I deserve. Boundless grace that welcomes me.
And the second stereotype should also fall. That one falls harder. It requires a good dose of honesty from the people of God. Since God's grace and mercy comes freely to sinners, then Christians must recall they are sinners standing only in God's mercy. Let us be honest and stop trying to save face - the grace of God silences all excuses. Boundless grace now defines me.
Jollyblogger cites C.S.Lewis:
"Though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we will be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him."