The Scandalous Heart of Devotion You Need This Advent

Today we’re featuring the next post in our Advent series based on the seven themes from Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s Advent devotional Born a Child and Yet a King: The Gospel in the Carols. “Devotion” is the theme of today’s post by Leslie Bennett. 

When Jesus found me, I wasn’t a drug addict or a convicted felon. I wasn’t a prostitute or an adulterous wife. Sometimes I wish I was. (Keep reading and you’ll understand why.) When Jesus found me, I was a poster child for the “good girls club.” Yet hidden behind my halo were scars of rejection, violation, and secrets I couldn’t tell a soul. Then God’s perfect love wooed this woman who tried and failed for years to save herself. As the radiant light of Christ penetrated the darkness, gripping me with its tentacles, my soul was rescued and submerged in His limitless love. 

I loved Him back. 

The good girl inside me never liked to ponder the bad in me. It was years later that I was confronted with the truth that it was my sin (and mine alone) that nailed Jesus to a tree. I wasn’t there in person, but when Jesus was crucified I might as well have been the one holding the hammer and the nails. My love for Christ up to that point, while genuine and sincere, lacked (as it still does) a full understanding of the depth of God’s mercy. My devotion to Him was real but meager at best until I began to understand how love intersected with mercy at Calvary's cross.

The unabashed devotion of the prostitute in Luke 7:36–50 moves me every time I ponder it—and it stirs up a longing to be more like her. I hope it stirs you too.

A Sinner with Scandalous Devotion

We meet the “woman in the town who was a sinner” (v. 37) while Jesus was dining in the home of a Pharisee named Simon. When Jesus arrived at Simon’s home, the host denied Him measures of common hospitality. Simon reckoned Jesus undeserving of the customary kiss of peace, anointing with oil, and cleansing of feet.

The woman of the city, who had heard Jesus was there, came with an alabaster flask to observe from the shadows. She couldn’t bear to watch her Savior reclining at the table with his feet caked with dirt. Something compelled her to move toward Him. In His presence, she was overcome by the Son of God who didn’t treat her with disgust and condemnation as others did, but rather loved her enough to know all of her sins and forgive each one. It was impossible to hide her emotions from a holy man like that. Tears spilled onto her cheeks and then dropped softly onto the Messiah’s feet. 

She hadn’t come prepared to wipe away the grime from Jesus’ feet so she used the only thing she had. She let down her long hair and began to pour out her passionate devotion. Tears mingled with the oil from her alabaster flask as she wept at and kissed the feet of Christ. 

It was scandalous for a Jewish woman to act this way. But in reality, her humility and lack of proper protocol was entirely appropriate for someone who was once hopelessly crushed by the weight of her guilt and shame. No one else’s opinion mattered to her because the scarlet-stained filth of her heart was wiped clean and made forever pure by the Savior. She was a living exclamation point on Isaiah 1:18 (ESV),

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD
though your sins are like scarlet, 
they shall be as white as snow; 
though they are red like crimson, 
they shall become like wool.”

A Religious Man without Devotion

In sharp contrast, Simon the Pharisee couldn’t see his own depravity. He was blind to his sin—a debt that no amount of good works could erase. Pharisees wouldn’t tolerate Jesus getting in the way while they crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s of their religious traditions. Simon’s thoughts exposed his self-righteous heart: “Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner’” (Luke 7:39).

Stepping out of a dinner party into a classroom, Jesus told a parable of two debtors. One owed 500 denarii (equal to 500 day’s wages) and the other owed fifty. Both debts were forgiven by the moneylender because the debtors couldn’t pay the money back. Jesus asked the religious leader which one of them would love him more. He answered correctly, “I suppose the one he forgave more” (v. 43). 

How does their devotion stack up? Each man wore a label. One was labeled a sinner and the other was labeled righteous, but they have this in common: prostitutes and religious people desperately need a Savior. They both needed forgiveness of their sins. They both needed cleansing, for “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10). Jesus summarized it in verse 47, “the one who is forgiven little, loves little.” The converse is true as well: the one who is forgiven much, loves much. 

Has Jesus forgiven you little or much?

Gauge Your Devotion

The gauges on my car tell me when there’s a problem that needs attention. When the tank runs low on gas or when the tires lose air pressure, I don’t ignore it because it means something is wrong. There are gauges for the heart too. If, like me, you long to have ever-increasing devotion to Christ, perhaps Advent is the right time for a heart check: 

  • Is your devotion to Christ tempered by your good works? In other words, are your hands busy serving while your heart sits idle? Is your service an avenue of adoration?
  • Have your spiritual habits such as daily devotions, corporate worship, and attending Bible study become dutiful acts of the flesh?
  • Like Simon the Pharisee, is your self-righteousness blinding you to your sin? 
  • Has your salvation become old headline news? Have you forgotten the enormous cost of God’s mercy that rescued and redeemed your life? 
  • Are you more devoted to a hobby, a fitness program, a sports team, a nutrition regimen, a ministry, or to your family than you are devoted to Christ? 
  • We talk about what we adore. How much do you speak of Jesus and what He has done for you to family, friends, and neighbors?

Does your heart gauge show your devotion to Christ has room to grow? Mine does. How can we set ablaze the flames of our devotion this Christmas? Turn up the heat. 

Kindle Your Heart Through God’s Word

I know of no better way to turn up the heat on your devotion than to meditate on the living Word. Picture how a propane burner lifts a hot air balloon into the sky. As the burner generates a hot flame to heat the air inside the balloon, it soars. Our Bibles are like a burner that ignites hot, fiery flames, taking us into the presence of Immanuel, the Word made flesh.

Do you need firepower this holiday season? Personalize and meditate on His Word so it becomes part of your DNA. Search for gospel-rich verses and write them on sticky notes or create a note to collect them on your phone. Return to them throughout the day and pray, as I am, for God to turn up the temperature of your devotion.Here are a few to get you started: Luke 2:10–13; Philippians 2:5–8; Romans 8:6–8; Ephesians 2:4–7; Rev. 5:9–10, 12.

These words, penned by Elisabeth Elliot on May 24, 1948, challenged me to make her prayer of devotion my own, 

All the desires of my heart are toward Him. All the dreams of my younger days—let them be fulfilled in a life lost in the love of Jesus. In the power of the Cross be my dynamic, in the glory of God my sole motivation.1

An original poem followed Elisabeth’s journal entry. Its last line reads,

Use me, and all I have, for Thee—
And draw me so close to Thee 
that I feel the throb 
of the great heart of God 
until I burn out for Thee.2

Sisters, don’t get lost in things that steal your devotion from its rightful place. Chase the dream of getting lost in the love of Jesus then love Him back. May we live so close to Christ that our hearts burn with scandalous devotion for the One who forgave much to welcome addicts, felons, prostitutes, adulterers, and “good girls” like me into His loving arms. 

Today is the last day of our Celebrate the Season Sale! Shop now to save on meaningful gifts to help everyone on your list thrive in Christ in the new year. 

Valerie Elliot Shepard, Devotedly, the Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2019), 12.

Valerie Elliot Shepard, Devotedly, 13.

About the Author

Leslie Bennett

Leslie Bennett

Leslie Bennett has led Women’s Ministry in two local churches, and serves on the Revive Our Hearts ministry team. She connects with women’s leaders around the world in the Revive Our Hearts Leader Facebook Group and as host of online … read more …

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