This morning we looked at the name many Christians shy away from —the name of Jesus. Now I want to look at the scariest word to many who claim to be followers of Jesus. I wrote on this word a few weeks back and took shots upside the head in the comments for days afterward. Chaplain Mike tried to help out with a beautiful story of grace by Shel Silverstein, and was pelted himself. I expect no less here today. Grab a handful of rocks on your way in. You will want to cast them at me before this is over.
The very thought of God totally forgiving us all, and then turning us loose to live in freedom, frightens most Christians more than the thought of Bill Clinton returning for an encore presidency.
Grace. The complete power of the omnipotent God released to us in our weaknesses without our earning one ounce of it.
Grace. It is the essence of the Gospel. It is composed of, as Robert Capon says, Jesus Jesus Jesus.
And it is the scariest word most Christians are ever forced to hear.
We are a self-reliant people through and through. “If it is to be, it’s up to me” is our banner. Give us a task to do and we are as happy as clams to bend our backs and go at it. Your local bookstore has shelves lined with stories of those who faced insurmountable odds and yet surmounted anyway. By comparison, there are very few books telling the story of those who sat by and let someone else do all the heavy lifting. How is that inspiring? Give me the tale of hard work and perseverance, please. Sunrise to sunset we are to toil and sweat if we are to get ahead.
And then comes Jesus to tell us of a group of workers—the faithful workers, those of whom books will be written—who agree to labor in the fields for a certain day-rate of pay. They toil away, no doubt helping to bring in a great harvest. Then Jesus sets against these faithful servants a group of layabouts who don’t even show up until it is just about quitting time. And when the pay is handed out, guess what? Everyone gets paid the same. As Michael Spencer said, if this doesn’t make you mad, then you aren’t really reading this story.
Grace makes us angry, for God’s grace has nothing—absolutely nothing—to do with us and our efforts. We play no part in grace any more than Lazarus did in his resurrection: All we are is dead. And thus another problem we have with grace. We fight death with everything in us. That’s our nature. A drowning man flails and thrashes with all of his might to stay above water. So when we are told we need to sink beneath the waves and die, we fight this notion mightily.
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
How He Loves by John Mark McMillan
We see an area of life that needs attention, roll up our sleeves and work to make it better. That’s our nature. Then along comes Jesus and says, “I don’t need your help. Tell you what. Let me take care of it all, and you just come in and have a drink on the house. As a matter of fact, drink all you want. It is my blood, and it is given freely for you.”
So why does this bother us so much? Is it because getting something for free goes against all we learned from parents and employers and, yes, pastors? St. Paul ran into this very thing with the church in Galatia. Ken Blue and Alden Swan look at how Paul dealt with this situation in their book The Gospel Uncensored: How only grace leads to freedom. I highly recommend this book as a primer on grace.
After Paul had appointed elders and left Galatia, some people came and began teaching that belief in Jesus was not enough. These likely were some converted Jews from Jerusalem who had received Jesus as Lord and Savior, but who felt that they had to hang on to the law and Judaism. Four thousand years of Jewish traditions were hard for some to give up. They thought that Christianity ought to be an updated version of Judaism and couldn’t accept that Gentiles could be included into the Church, much less allowed to remain as Gentiles.
These teachers came to the Galatians and said something like, “Listen, we’re here to follow up and improve on Paul’s ministry to you. He was absolutely right in saying that you need to have faith in Jesus—that’s how you get started in the Christian life. What he failed to tell you, and what he would have told you if he had time, is that in addition to Jesus you need to follow certain religious laws and rules.”
Can we still hear the echo of these words in many of our churches and religious circles today? We want to add to what Jesus said was enough because we are uncomfortable with getting something for nothing. The authors continue:
The religious formula these teachers were using was … “Jesus plus something.” Paul was livid about this because he knew and was convinced that the true equation isJesus plus nothing equals salvation. He also recognized that any time someone teaches “Jesus plus something,” even if it is just a little something, they are not improving on the Gospel, or even distracting from the Gospel. Teaching Jesus plus something is the utter destruction of the Gospel.
We feel so much more comfortable working than we do receiving. I often tell people that when Jesus says, “It is better to give than receive,” it really should be read, “It is easier to give than to receive.” I have no problem working hard to help a friend in need, but when I am the friend who is need, I struggle to graciously accept help offered to me. And that carries through in our view of grace. Because we continue to insist on doing our part, the world is not seeing the fullness of the great gift of Jesus in his church. Dwight Moody illustrated this very well.
Suppose some one had paid a million dollars into the bank in your name, and had given you a check-book so that you could draw out just as you wanted: would you go to work and try to live on ten dollars a month? Yet that is exactly what many of us are doing as Christians. I believe this low standard of Christian life in the Church is doing more to manufacture infidels than all the skeptical books that were ever written.
Strong words indeed. Too strong? Then you won’t like what Robert Capon has to say. He is discussing Jesus call for his disciples to be the salt of the earth.
But if the salt of the earth becomes insipid—if a disciple of Jesus forgets that only losing wins, and a fortiori, if the apostolic church forgets it—where in the wide world of winners drowning in the syrup of their own success will either the disciple or the church be able to recapture the saltiness of victory out of loss? The answer is nowhere. And the sad fact is that the church, both now and at far too many times in its history, has found it easier to act as if it were selling the sugar of moral and spiritual achievement rather than the salt of Jesus’ passion and death.
Grace is salt for a world built on the tasteless accomplishments of mens’ efforts. So why are we so afraid to season our lives with grace? What drives us to want to do do do?
I already know the comments that are coming my way. “Yes, grace is fine for entering in through the door. But once we are in we must (fill in the blank with your favorite religious works).” My answer: No we don’t. Period.
“So are you saying we can accept God’s grace and then live any way we like?” My answer: Yes, that is what I’m saying. But once you have drowned in the sea of God’s grace, how could you want to live anything but the resurrected life of Jesus?
I will let Father Capon have the last word. Then you may cast your stones. Remember to follow through with your shoulder pointing to the mitt.
There is therefore no condemnation for two reasons: you are dead now, and God, as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, has been dead all along. The blame game was over before it started. It really was. All Jesus did was announce the truth and tell you it would make you free. It was admittedly a dangerous thing to do. You are a menace. But he did it; and therefore, menace or not, here you stand: uncondemned, forever, now. What are you going to do with your freedom?
Robert Capon quotes taked from The Parables of Grace and Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace.