Read Psalm 143.
“Heck yeah!” came from one of the pews up front—though what was actually said wasn’t quite so polite. My pastor friend paused from his sermon, initially from surprise but then to keep from laughing. When he had composed himself, he continued on about the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ—how no matter what we’ve done, Jesus meets us in our brokenness and makes us children of God and joint heirs with Him, if we come to Him in faith.
With that sentiment came a “Darn straight!” and the loud clap of a man’s hands, once again from one of the seats front and center, and once again the sentiment was rated PG-13 rather than G. The rest of the room was silent, and all eyes turned toward a weathered man with a shaggy beard, long hair, and a leather vest that left the green and black tattoos on his arms visible to the world. My friend just smiled. He later told me he wanted to echo the biker’s colorful comment word for word, but instead he settled for, “That’s right. God is so good.”
The biker in the church service that night had been a follower of Jesus Christ for only a few short days, and so no one had ever told him that his language was inappropriate, especially at Sunday evening church. He was simply expressing his joy with the words that came naturally to him. There was no pretense, no faking it. He wore his heart on his sleeve (or he would have if he had had sleeves). In relaying this story to me, my friend told me he wished the rest of his church had the same unbridled enthusiasm for the gospel. He’d even ignore the cuss words if it meant they’d have the passion of this former motorcycle-gang member.
I imagine that biker’s bursts of praise, expletive-laced though they were, brought a big smile to God’s face. More than most, he recognized that his invitation to the throne of grace came free of charge. He brought nothing with him except his need for forgiveness.
In this world, our hearts seem programmed to size others up, to assess and evaluate the people we meet and then categorize them for comparison’s sake. We tend to be jealous of those who have more money, stay in better shape, and appear to have the inside track to happiness, but we look down on anyone who can’t seem to get their act together. At least I’m not like so-and-so, we tell ourselves.
But there should be no comparison game when it comes to our standing before the Lord. None of us stands in our own strength. If the grace of God left us for a moment, we’d buckle and crumble into the dirt below. As David says to the Lord, “no one living is righteous before you” (Psalm 143:2). It’s a truth repeated throughout Scripture (see Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16). That newly saved biker with the potty mouth can stand next to Billy Graham and be on equal footing before God. Neither man could do a thing to save himself, and both are loved dearly.
Our salvation is a work of God through and through. Jesus told us, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:44). In our sin, we don’t seek God; we don’t look for Him (see Psalms 14:2; 53:2; Romans 3:11). Those who do chase after the Lord only do so because the Lord first chased after them. There is something about the kindness of God that can melt the hardest of hearts.
Take, for example, the chief tax collector Zacchaeus. His story is found in Luke 19:1–10. He was hated and despised by everyone in Jericho—and for good reason. He had amassed great wealth on the backs of his neighbors by colluding with the Romans, and it seems he had cheated people in the process (see v. 8). He wasn’t about to change his ways on his own, to start reflecting the image of God as he went about his days just because. He had no plans to do the right thing until Jesus showed up.
Jesus didn’t lecture Zacchaeus or strong-arm him. He didn’t lay out a list of his sins and remind him of God’s commandments. He didn’t issue a decree of judgment. He simply invited Himself over to Zacchaeus’s house for a meal.
That was it. Lunch.
Zacchaeus got the message though. He recognized the honor Jesus had bestowed upon him by coming to his home. He felt the love of God, and it was enough to change his heart: “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (v. 8).
In Psalm 43, David is once again in need of help. He prays, “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,” and then he gives God a reason to rescue him: “for I have put my trust in you” (Psalm 143:8). On Calvary, God declared His unfailing love to the world, but there was nothing within humanity that compelled Him to act. He didn’t give His Son in response to humanity’s faithfulness. On the contrary, Jesus died for sinners so that sinners might put their trust in Him and be saved.
The order is important. The love of God always comes first. It has to.