Les Miserables (the musical based on Victor Hugo’s novel) is now on the movie screen. I’m not particularly interested in the movie or the musical, but the main plotline of Les Miserables. There are two main characters.
The first is Valjean: a convict. He has spent years in prison. Recently released, he seeks shelter at the home of a bishop. During the night, he assaults the bishop and steals his silver. The authorities apprehend him. But the bishop refuses to press charges. Instead, he gives the silver (plus other household items) to Valjean. In so doing, he forgives him. This radical grace conquers and transforms Valjean. In the face of such grace, he realizes he can no longer live for himself. He turns from hate to love, from darkness to light, from self to God.
The second character is Javert: a constable. He’s relentless in his pursuit of Valjean. He’s unfeeling and unflinching. He’s even indirectly responsible for the death of Fantine. At one point, Valjean has the opportunity to kill Javert. But he spares him. In so doing, he forgives him. This radical grace is inconceivable to Javert, who functions on the premise of reward and punishment. He realizes that such grace calls for surrender. Yet he refuses to be conquered and transformed. As a matter of fact, he’s so troubled by it that he commits suicide.
And so, the two main characters represent two polarized responses to radical grace.
The self-righteous individual has no room for radical grace in his worldview. He thinks he must prove himself to God. He thinks God’s favor depends on his performance. He thinks God accepts him because he obeys.
But the good news of the gospel is this: I don’t need to justify myself before God. His favor doesn’t depend on my performance. He doesn’t accept me because I obey. He accepts me because Jesus obeyed. Jesus lived the life I was required to live. Jesus died the death I was condemned to die. I believe in Jesus. God is satisfied with me, because He’s satisfied with Jesus. And that frees me to live.