21 Jun 2022

Doctrinal Truth: Grace is Greater than Sin (A Note on Fellowship from the Psalms)

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, Alexander Campbell, Church, Forgiveness, Grace, Hebrew Bible, Martin Luther, Precision Obedience, Psalms, Restoration History, Sectarianism, Unity
“But where sin increased, grace increased all the more …” (Romans 5)

Reading and Praying the Psalms lectio continua will change your world. Not magically, not overnight. But daily reading and praying through the Psalter as a discipline beginning to end every month, in order, does things to us. Five Psalms a day, everyday, every month. Let me share one example.

Celebrating grace is not endorsing, much less condoning, error. On the contrary, celebrating grace is holy acknowledgment of the doctrinal truth that grace is greater than our error (or sin).

Some do not believe, it seems, this truth.

So I was reading in God’s word and I have, once again, been struck by two significant facts that seemingly smack us, or at least me, up side the head.

First Truth

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts …
Remember the wonders he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced
…” (105.1-3, 5)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures forever …
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his steadfast love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind …
Let the one who is wise heed these things
and ponder the steadfast love of the Lord
.” (107.1, 8, 43, Hesed dominates Psalm 107)

First Truth comes from two lengthy Psalms that close Book IV and begin Book V, these are Psalms 105 and Psalms 107. In these Psalms, God’s People are led by the Holy Spirit to confess and sing with unabashed abandon the truth that Yahweh is incredibly, unbelievably, amazingly, long-suffering, gracious, and merciful. Repeated oral reading of these Psalms will carve Hesed rivers into our communal consciousness. Often, when the Bible speaks of the uniqueness of God it does squarely in terms of Hesed and grace (we Gentiles miss this many times).

Who is a God LIKE YOU?

The prophet places the question squarely in the context of the character of the God of Israel,

who is a God like you,
and passing over transgression …
because he delights in showing mercy …
you will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea”
(Micah 7.18-19).

Many Christians certainly believe in God. But it is not merely the existence of God that Micah is concerned with. Rather it is the character of God. What kind of God do we worship?

Second Truth

Second Truth comes from Psalm 106. It is equally significant that the editors of the Psalter framed Psalm 106 with Psalm 105 before and Psalm 107 following it. It is only after celebrating the infinite Hesed of Yahweh in Psalm 105 that we encounter the darkness of Psalm 106. And immediately following encounter the blazing brightness of Hesed, a greatness that is only magnified by the stark black contrast of Psalm 106 with 105 and 107.

In Psalm 106, we confess with all God’s People we are the polar opposite of Yahweh. We and our ancestors are incredibly rebellious, we are blind, we are disobedient, we are selfish, we are greedy, we are self-righteous. Our story can reach incredible depths of ugliness. It is hard to conceive of a lower point than in parts of the book of Judges. It is painful, I confess, to read Judges 17-19. Yet we are driven to confess that this is our story.

Shocking Truth

Just as Psalm 105 and 107 are even brighter in contrast with Psalm 106; so the opposite is true. Psalm 106 is even sadder in the light of glory of Hesed that surrounds it in Psalm 105 and Psalm 107. This is by design dear reader.

Here is the shocking truth of Hesed from these Psalms. Though full of sin and abounding in apostasy they remain God’s People.


Because of the First Truth!


Because of the First Truth!

Surely if that which was written before was for our learning, and is good for doctrine, and equips the people of God for every good work (2 Timothy 3.14-17), then we can learn something about the way God relates to his people. In fact it is in precisely a context of telling largely Gentile disciples of Jesus that the scripture was written for our learning. Learning how to graciously treat one another (cf. Romans 15.4).

Our Lord calls them (us) to a very high ideal and deals with them (us) with incredible long suffering and mercy. Perhaps we should also take to heart what Paul says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and LIVE IN LOVE, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5.1-2). Clearly, Psalm 106, and Judges, teaches us the depth of God’s long suffering Hesed for the most desperately out of whack people, US! If we are imitators of God would that not mean we are just as long suffering, merciful and full of Hesed with each other regarding the foibles we have, which are a cake walk by comparison to Judges and Psalm 106!

Further, when we look at the leaders of God’s People from Joshua to Samson the quality seems fairly low (Joshua clearly being the best of the bunch but then there was the Gibeonite episode). I confess, if Samson showed up on my door step to ask my daughter out, I’d call the cops!!! Yet the Lord of Hesed did in fact use him, and them, and blessed the feeble efforts.

Now when we move from the history of God’s people within Scripture to that of “profane” history what do we see? We see men like Martin Luther (or John Calvin, Martin Luther King Jr, C. S. Lewis, Alexander Campbell, etc). We should ask ourselves how he would compare to Jepthah, Samson, Solomon, Hezekiah, or Jacob? Clearly he (Luther) was mistaken (like Joshua whose mistake cost the entire people!) on stuff. Even important stuff.

Yet, I wonder if God changed how he dealt with human beings from the time of Psalms 105-107 and Samson to Martin Luther? One wonders if Luther would have been satisfied with just one night of dew on the ground and a dry cloth? Or if Luther would have visited prostitutes before bringing a visitation on the Philistines? I am just wondering “out loud?” Are Luther’s sins greater than those recorded in Judges when “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” I wonder if the grace Samson found from Micah’s God was denied to Luther?

So many times we act like God has ceased to be the God of Psalm 105, Psalm 106 and Psalm 107. Hesed celebrates, in these Psalms, the doctrinal truth that Yahweh delights to forgive “wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34.6).

Interestingly enough it is only in fairly recent times that restoration Christians decided that Luther was not much better than a pagan. Alexander Campbell could chastise those who claimed the epitaph “Protestant” as traitors to Luther. He could say:

O for another Luther, to lash the popery of false Protestants, who prefer implicit surrender of their own judgment to the decision of … pretenders to divine wisdom …”

In his debate with N. L. Rice, Campbell extolled his gratitude and respect not only on Martin Luther and John Calvin but on their predecessors. Specifically of Luther and Calvin he says these astonishing words. They,

were God’s chosen vessels to accomplish at the proper time a mighty moral revolution, whose might, sway and extended empire over the human mind and destinies of the world, have not yet been fully appreciated.” (Campbell-Rice Debate, p. 587).

“God’s chosen vessels.” Those are fascinating words. Now Campbell, someone will say, was uninspired. I agree. His opinion matters for nothing, right!

However, I think Campbell recognized something quite significant and true. Something we need to accept as biblical truth precisely because it is TRUTH …

Perfection of either understanding or Precision Obedience in practice is not what makes one a part of the family of God nor makes a people the People of God. The Hebrew Bible as a whole, but the Psalms especially teach the doctrine that Yahweh’s grace is greater than our error.

Could it be that Luther was in fact truly a disciple? Surely he was. That term is used to describe the “Way,” that is the people of Jesus in the NT, more than any other term (by a long way). The word “disciple” implies neither “arrivedness” nor “perfection.” Rather the term actually implies the people of God are sophomoric, imperfect, always learning and growing.

Thus I think Luther was in fact a disciple of Christ. How Luther’s errors are worse than Israel’s I fail to be able to discern … but that is just me.

Lord, we pray thee, to have mercy on our arrogance and our inability to even perceive YOUR work in the cracked pot Martin Luther.

Martin Luther is just an illustration. The truth of grace is actually applied to everyone, including ourselves. We, as Psalm 106 makes abundantly clear, are in error and God’s people have always been in error. Error that is surrounded by and enveloped in God’s Hesed just as Psalm 106 is swallowed in the brilliance of Psalms 105 and Psalm 107. Celebrating grace is not an endorsement of error. Celebrating grace is simply the acknowledgment of the “doctrinal” truth that grace is greater than our sin.

Be blessed.
Go Read Psalm 105, Psalm 106 and Psalm 107, out loud.

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