As far back as I can remember, I’ve always had a very particular perception of Jesus. I don’t think my version of Jesus was shaped by any particular person or event more than any other. Just years and years of filtering and layering and processing that have all worked together to create a finished product that fits my mold.

My version of Jesus was a white guy. I don’t mean that to be racist in any way. That’s just how I grew up picturing Him in my mind. Maybe you did too. Probably had something to do with all the Bible bookstore paintings that hang on walls of churches and homes of people who like Bible bookstore paintings.

My version of Jesus is pretty clean-cut. I mean, He’s got to be, right? I guess that I grew up thinking that if I was supposed to wear really nice clothes to church, that must mean Jesus had some fashion sense. My Jesus kept his beard trimmed neatly, never had dirt under his fingernails, that sort of thing. He generally presented Himself well.

The Jesus I’ve always imagined is friendly. But distant…He’s distant too. A good comparison might be a politician. Kissing babies, smiling for the crowd, shaking hands, keeping up appearances, but never really letting His guard down. Never truly letting His personality show. Always reserved.

My Jesus used a lot of words like “thee” and “thou” and “thine.” And He spoke with a British accent.

My version of Jesus, the one I’ve grew up with, liked to help people. And he spent time with people that made the religious people uncomfortable. But my Jesus kept a safe distance. He might have stood outside the bar, but He never went in and sat down with the drunks. That sort of thing.

I could go on, but you get the point. Maybe your Jesus is similar to mine.

Lately, I’ve run into a problem. I’ve realized that the Jesus I’ve created to fit my mold is all but fictional.

I’ve found that the real Jesus was messy. The Jesus I’ve come to know spent more time with dirt under His fingernails than not. I mean that literally and figuratively.

Like the time they brought the woman who had been caught in adultery and threw her at Jesus’ feet. I write and speak about this story a lot because it resonates with all of us in some way. The horror of our most shameful moment being exposed…we’ve all had that fear at one time or another.

They tossed her in the dirt before Jesus and asked Him what they should do with her. The Law of Moses, they explained, said she should die. That’s the Old Testament law that the Jewish people were subject to. Specifically, the 7th commandment of 10: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

The 10 Commandments were written on two stone tablets. Exodus 31:18 says, “When the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.”

That law, the Old Testament law, stated that a woman caught in the act of adultery should be killed. So the religious leaders standing before Jesus already have stones in their hands. They’re locked and loaded.

But then Jesus, the real, messy Jesus that bothers religious people, kneels down and writes in the dust. There’s the dirt under the fingernails thing. Jesus told the religious leaders to let her go. “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.” Even though the religious law clearly stated what her fate should be, Jesus spared her life.

People love to speculate about what Jesus wrote in the dirt. Some people think he wrote the sins of the woman’s accusers. I heard a guy one time say that he thought Jesus wrote the names of the woman’s lovers. That seems pretty farfetched, cruel even, based on what happens next. As for me, I don’t even have a guess what Jesus was writing.

This is what I never noticed before, but can’t get over now: this is the finger of Jesus vs. the finger of God.

This is Jesus saying, “I have come to replace the law. It’s about grace now. The old is gone, this is all new. I’m making everything new.”

Whether He was knelt down drawing in the dirt, washing the mud and grime from peoples’ feet, or touching lepers, Jesus made one point loud and clear: grace is messy. Forgiveness is messy. I’d even say it’s impossible to truly give grace to people without getting a little dirty.

Trying to wrap my head around a Jesus who would walk into the bar and sit down with the drunks messes with my perception of Jesus. But I like the real Jesus better the more I get to know Him.

See, I’m the dirtiest of the dirty. I can relate to Paul’s word when he called himself the “chief of sinners” because I feel that way often. And the more I get to know the real Jesus, the more I realize that He’d sit down with me too. Even if my most shameful moments were exposed for everyone to see, Jesus wouldn’t be scared away. Even if everyone else turned their backs, Jesus wouldn’t walk out on me.

11152331_529510705280_4375711457551785474_nI grew up in church singing “Jesus loves me.” I’m starting to understand what it means to know that Jesus likes me. Jesus knows me, knows all about my dirt, and He likes me anyway.

When we have that thought stored away in our heads, it’s just information. When we get that in our hearts, that’s transformation. That’s life-changing.

My safe, clean, sterile version of Jesus makes me feel good.

The real Jesus, who is dangerous and messy and politically incorrect, bothers me. Or bothers the religious part of me, anyway.

But that’s the Jesus I desperately want to know. That’s the Jesus I want to follow. That’s the Jesus I want to be like.

Because that Jesus touches the untouchables, loves the unlovely, advocates for the weak, cares for the neglected. That Jesus gives grace to sinners, heals the broken, and redeems the condemned. People like me.

And that’s the Jesus who replaced the law with grace. Who wasn’t afraid to get down in the dirt along with the rest of us. Who doesn’t condemn or send away sinners, but calls us closer.

I’m glad I was wrong about Jesus because the Jesus I used to imagine was made in my image, and sadly, he wouldn’t even have liked me.

I’m glad I was wrong about Jesus. And I’m glad He’s not too worried about staying clean, because He looks past my dirt and allows me to get close enough to see Him for who He really is.