The word “scandal” is often found in news headlines. It points to a story about some shocking behavior being revealed and usually stirs our curiosity. We want know all the details and be shocked ourselves. Since talking about a scandal in church would usually not be a good thing, it may make it seem a bit strange that the title of our next new song is “Scandal of Grace” from Hillsong United’s Zion album. However, just as with a news headline, the title draws us to consider the shocking and controversial nature of the message of God’s grace, and if we don’t understand the scandal, we probably don’t understand grace as well as we should.
Perhaps one of the best explanations for how God’s grace is scandalous actually comes from an atheist. In a series of debates answering the question “Is Christianity Good for the World?” the late Christopher Hitchens said, “..I think the teachings of Christianity are immoral. The central one is the most immoral of all, and that is the one of vicarious redemption. You can throw your sins onto somebody else, vulgarly known as scapegoating.” Hitchens correctly understood that the central message of Christianity is that Jesus died for our sins so that those who put their trust in Him don’t have to pay for their sins; however, instead of seeing this grace as good news he went as far as to call it immoral.
This kind of response to the gospel is not unexpected according to the Bible. In Romans 9:30-33 Paul speaks of how the message of Jesus is offensive and a stumbling block due to a desire to be judged morally right because of our good works. Since grace brings rightness through faith rather than works it seems unfair and wrong. However, just as Phil shared recently in the sermon Do Good People Go to Heaven?, there are lots of problems with thinking that you can be considered morally right by your good works. How will you ever know you are good enough?
The good news is that God’s grace is so good it’s scandalous. Jesus lived the perfect, moral life for us and took and paid for our imperfection on the cross. We only need to recognize that we are helpless and in need of a savior, and we get what we don’t deserve, the righteousness of Jesus. So, as we sing this song, hopefully we will clearly see how it is all because of Jesus and not our own goodness that we are considered right before God and grow in resting in this scandal of grace.