On Sunday nights when I (Josh) run the open gym ministry for our church called “Pick-up-Play,” I never allow captains to pick teams. Instead, we all line up at the free-throw line to let the common equalizer called physics + nerves sort out the teams for us. There’s a simple reason for this crude form of grace: Very good players occasionally miss free throws, and very poor players often make them, whereas when captains pick teams, people with less skill inevitably get picked last. The long version of the ‘captain method’ ends up looking like this:
1) The two best players are chosen to be team captains.
2) Based on past experience with individual players, these captains first pick those whom they know to be the ‘most valuable,’ based on skill level, consistency and size.
3) The last players picked are the worst players, and everyone knows it. Or, if there are enough reasonably skilled players present, the worst players don’t play at all, until they need a third team to play the winners of the first game… which, let’s face it, is just plain cruel.
4) The final result under this system of team selection is that it’s better to be an ‘unknown’ player than a weekly regular. Because knowledge is power, and a well-known reputation is often unforgiving.
If limited human, experiential knowledge can affect other human beings to such a marginalizing degree, what about the knowledge of God? “Well do I know how treacherous you are,” God says to each of us—“you were called a rebel from birth” (Isaiah 48:8). God not only knows the ‘real you,’ “God knows instantly and effortlessly all matter and all matters, all mind and every mind, all spirit and all spirits, all being and every being, all creaturehood and all creatures, every plurality and all pluralities, all law and every law, all relations, all causes, all thoughts, all mysteries, all enigmas, all feeling, all desires, every unuttered secret, all thrones and dominions, all personalities, all things visible and invisible in heaven and in earth, motion, space, time, life, death, good, evil, heaven and hell” (Tozer, 56 The Knowledge of The Holy). Proportionally, shouldn’t this kind of divine knowledge promise an even greater sort of marginalization for human beings? If ‘knowledge is power,’ this kind of absolute knowledge = absolute power, and the implications of a God who wields both should be absolutely terrifying for us!
But here’s the funny thing… there’ve been many times in my life I’ve looked at people in the Family of God, contemporaries and historical figures alike, and just known strongly that God hasn’t picked His team based on ‘skillful living.’ Just look at the twelve men hand-picked by Jesus in the gospels!— Just look in the mirror… there’ve been many times I’ve looked and concluded I must have been one of those unknown ‘walk-ons’ who got to play because God just didn’t know any better when He was picking. Because if God really knew me— I’d be permanently benched on the sidelines!
Have you ever felt like that? I know you have because, like me, you’ve habitually tried to hide your dark side from God as long as possible. Like the first 3-6 months of a dating relationship, we’re always working overtime to put the best version of ourselves on display. Have you ever felt like that? I know you have because, just like me, once you’ve realized God knows the real you, you’ve then resorted to bribery in an attempt to convince Him to keep letting you play, you’ve made deals, made promises to work on your will power and do better next time, until in exasperation you accept that God’s not interested in being manipulated. Until in desperation you give up the charade, in exhaustion, give up trying to be good and in defeat take off the perfectionist mask, so that in your heart you finally blurt out— "'God, I just can’t live the way you want me to. I'm sorry I keep letting you down.' So that God can then remind you of something astonishing…
'How could you let me down?’ He says— ‘You were never holding me up! But I will uphold YOU with MY righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10)’”
Somehow, God’s intimate and perfect knowledge of all we are and all we’ve done or will do does not keep Him from ‘picking us’ to be on His team. “He tells Peter of his denial, because He would have him know that all the weakness and the waywardness of that wayward heart were fully known to Him when first He called him from his fishing nets to be His servant” (Marcus Rainsford, 34 Our Lord Prays For His Own). But we forget. A lot. Every day we do. We fail and we beat ourselves up and then pray and then fail again and slowly begin to believe all over that the good first impression we originally conned God into must surely be wearing off by now. We slowly begin to believe the lie that every time we fail, God loses a little more confidence in us. We slowly begin to believe the lie that we’ve sinned so badly or so often that God will finally become so shocked and disillusioned He’ll toss us back into the faceless crowd like some undersized trout.
Someone has said, ‘we need to be reminded more than we need to be taught.’ Allow me to remind you of something fantastic— allow me to remind you of the real way God’s omniscience (absolute knowledge) affects your forgiveness…
“And to us who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope that is set before us in the gospel, how unutterably sweet is the knowledge that our Heavenly Father knows us completely. No talebearer can inform on us, no enemy can make an accusation stick; no forgotten skeleton can come tumbling out of some hidden closet to abash us and expose our past; no unsuspected weakness in our characters can come to light to turn God away from us, since He knew us utterly before we knew Him and called us to Himself in the full knowledge of everything that was against us. ‘For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness (HESED, GRACE!) shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee (Isaiah 54:10).’” (A.W. Tozer, 57 The Pursuit of God)
When you fail, God isn’t shocked. He’s saddened, and there will be natural consequences, but He’s not surprised; He saw that sin coming from eternity past. If you’re a Christian, you’re safely on God’s team, and you’re already forgiven— for every sin— even the ones not yet committed. ‘If I’m already forgiven then why am I told to ask for forgiveness?’ you might wonder. Because though we possess forgiveness objectively and positionally (Once Christians, we’d go to heaven if we died without asking forgiveness), God can withhold the experience of feeling forgiven – until we ask. So ask— prayer is writing the check, it’s the ATM card God has given you to access and experience the joy and peace of your forgiveness account!
God saw all our sins from the vantage point of heaven, gathered them all to the tipping point of Calvary and paid for them all past the breaking point of Christ’s humanity. God’s omniscience means He already knows every wretched secret. His forgiveness means each one was knowingly paid for long ago. Grace means He has lavished goodness on us in light of both.
Surrounded By Grace,