One day, I stopped apologizing for my boring salvation story. While it’s true that “I once was lost but now am found,” there was no dramatic Damascus Road turnaround for me, no potty mouth to disinfect or cigarettes to snuff out. The real miracle, though, was that God landed with grace in the unseen muck and mire of my heart.
He went right to work on my impatience and continues to pour out his love to dilute my self-centeredness. With my sharp tongue and tendency to self-righteousness, I’m certain there have been days when God has had to work harder at keeping me saved than some of his more colorful converts.
A careful reading of the New Testament bears faithful witness to the blurred lines between the saints and the scoundrels–and who gets to be remembered in which category. With head-spinning frequency, the biblical narrative boldly portrays disciples who become betrayers alongside victorious conversions in which taxpayers become philanthropists and murderers become apostles.
Nancy Guthrie is one of my favorite Bible teachers, and in Saints and Scoundrels in the Story of Jesus, she challenges readers’ two dimensional reading of scripture by bringing depth to the characters who interacted with Jesus. As the fears, failures, and desires of these real-life human beings show up in the context of story, I see the heart of Jesus more clearly as he held out hope to saints and scoundrels alike.
We’re All Adopted
The stories of Peter, Stephen, and Paul conjure sunny Sunday school images of faithful following, while simply the names of Judas and Caiaphas suggest “bad guy” vibes. Zacchaeus broke the mold, though, when he left behind his dishonest pursuit of riches and began to follow Jesus. Even the thief on the cross found welcome and transformation. This is good news, for the truth is that we’re all adopted, and fit right into the family of God.
God bent over backwards to make this clear even in the family he chose for Jesus’s earthly pedigree:
The family of Jesus is made up of people who come from less-than-respectable backgrounds and have less-than-perfect records.”Kindle Loc 554
Jesus Rewrites All the Stories
Peter, Jesus’s most outspoken disciple, derived all his solid Rock-like qualities from his relationship with Jesus. The man we find leading the fledgling church in Acts is truly a new creation.
Paul went from devoted Christian-killer to devoted Christian, and his story bears out the truth that the difference between a saint and a scoundrel is an encounter with the risen Christ. Guthrie (and the Bible!) make it clear that it’s not the presence of sin in a life that condemns us, but, rather, the refusal of God’s grace and forgiveness for that sin.
The only hope for saints and scoundrels alike is the mercy of God, available because of the blood of Christ. It is only by grace that any of us is empowered to become “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.“
Many thanks to Crossway for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.
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