Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Implications of Grace

At the heart of the Christian gospel is grace. And yet no other word has been so bandied about and so misunderstood than grace, and in fact, to completely understand God's grace is to misunderstand it. The boundaries of God’s redemptive grace can never be fully defined or understood, and to experience that grace only allows another incomplete level of understanding. The fallen comprehension of grace is so often tethered to some form of work, either before or after saving faith. It seems almost impossible for humans to believe completely in the unvarnished and raw definition of grace that stands forever quarantined from any hint of works. And yet grace and works are revelations of life and death, each abiding at opposite ends of redemption, and each mutually exclusive.

And so we come to an understanding of grace. Not just a simplistic definition that satisfies a Bible college theology test, and not just a pragmatic explanation that transforms grace into a wieldier doctrinal instrument among the ecclesiastical proletariat. Grace, God’s redemptive grace, is the longest journey and the priceless treasure to any seeking soul. How expansive is grace? How deep are the foundations of this grace? How inclusive is this grace? To whom is this grace given and from whom is it withheld?

We who have received of God’s infinite grace are often those who restrict and confine the grace that was bestowed upon us so freely. Our fallen natures refuse to allow a more expansive view of God’s grace built upon the definition of grace itself. We seem so incapable of seeing grace apart from human works of righteousness, either before or after a sinner’s profession of faith. We continue to cling to a ministry of evaluation and inspection that can only come through a prism of subjectivity and self righteousness. Blind to the depths of our own sin, even the damnable accumulation of one day’s transgressions, we suggest we are able to see the sins of others with spiritual clarity and even aided by the discerning ministry of the Paraclete Himself.

It has become fashionable to teach that a sinner cannot be saved and still commit certain sins. One of the most pronounced issues is that of gay sinners who profess Christ. The orthodox suggestion is that if a gay person believes on Christ and becomes born again he or she will most definitely be awakened to their sin and leave their gay lifestyle behind. Many gay people have indeed followed that pattern. But millions of sinners have received Christ, entered a local church, become active in their fellowship, and yet continue to practice their sinful lifestyles.

Some come in with a hatred toward a family member or some other person, and they will live their entire lives practicing that inward hatred. Some have become believers having been consumed with success and wealth, and they will to one degree or another continue in that vein. Millions of professing Christians now follow a sinful theology and lifestyle that suggests that God desires everyone to be rich. Is it possible for a person to be truly saved and continue in that hedonistic lifestyle? Millions of believers overeat and are overweight, is it possible to be saved and continue in that temple destroying lifestyle?

How can we confidently pass such judgments when almost all believers in America live a culturally compromised lifestyle in one way or another? We have projected to the world an “arrived” status, and we collectively pronounce moral judgments and condemnations upon a myriad of sinners from all corners of the sin committing world. But the church, the true spiritual church, must be the living, breathing redemptive life of Jesus Christ. To preach the message of redemption without a living expression of that gospel is hollow. The Chinese language comes forth from a Chinese man, and the gospel should come forth from a living gospel dressed in human flesh. Like touching the hem of His garment to be healed, so should sinners experience the divine healing and forgiveness of Jesus Christ when they are in our presence.

Too often we have touted a message of redemption that is incongruous with our lives, and in so doing we have made the gospel nothing more than religious rhetoric. The influx of morality into the church’s message has been both counterproductive as well as heretical. Grace with a caveat is not grace. The disarming and dangerous message of the gospel is that purely by faith any sinner can have eternal life. For instance, in the abstract no gay man has to relinquish his lifestyle in order for grace to be effective in the same way no sinner has to give up anything to be saved.

And this inspection process by other believers renders them blind to their own predicament of grace. It is necessary to surround yourself with a compliment of human targets so as to insulate yourself from any introspection concerning the depth of your own sin. The same believer who energetically quotes Corinthians concerning homosexuality will explain away the command of Jesus concerning saving up retirement treasures. In the end, much of the church has become a source for self gratification concerning a list of stances against sin and a list of orthodox tenants that we espouse to buoy our self righteousness.

A man rapes and murders your two year old little girl. As you sit in the courtroom waiting to hear the sentence of death on this monster, a man walks forward and tells the judge he will die for him. You are outraged since you demand that this murderer gets what HE DESERVES. You will not agree to any deal that lets the man off the hook.

The greatest compromise in history was the cross. It provides a way for every sinner to “get off the hook”, including you and me. It completely compromises God’s justice and without any restitution it eradicates your guilt. It is called grace, and we have yet to plumb the depths of its power. And yet why can that man, guilty before all, receive that grace and leave a free man, only to use his freedom to castigate other guilty men? Why does that free man of grace find a ministry in reading the indictment of others instead of singing the praises of the One who took his place?

The cross has done away with the law, and let this good news be spread, by faith and faith alone Jesus Christ will save the vilest among us with no past, present, or future strings attached. And if the body of Christ was living and breathing that in everything we do, sinners would run to us, as they did Christ Himself.

I am presently juggling many “what ifs” in my pursuit of redemptive truth. If a sinner cannot believe on Jesus Christ and receive eternal forgiveness by grace alone without producing a certain set of works to crystallize that grace, then it is not grace. What sins and how many sins result in either the forfeiture of grace or the revelation of the absence of grace?

Millions upon millions of professing Christians throughout the centuries have practiced sin and taught others to do likewise. Martin Luther was a rabid anti- Semite and actually taught that hating Jews was from God. Was he saved? Most southern believers before the Civil War practiced racism and taught others that it was God’s will for the white man to be superior. Were they saved?

Many if not most American believers save up thousands upon thousands of dollars for their own consumption and use and they teach others that this is God’s will for everyone’s finances. Are they saved? Many if not most American believers attend motion pictures with nudity and vulgarity and watch questionable television and they teach others that God approves. Are they saved?

My point is that many, if not most, believers are blind to some of their sin, even teaching others that the sin they commit is not sin, and they live their entire Christian life deceived about their particular sin. Are they saved? Many believers teach that baptism saves, are they saved? My point is this: If no one can be deceived about some sin in their lives for the duration of their Christian experience then no one will be saved. And if grace cannot cover that deception then it is no longer grace.

Grace is not defined by compliance, it is magnified by disobedience, regardless of what kind of disobedience is approved or disapproved. A practicing gay believer cannot be welcomed forever in a local fellowship, at some point he must be confronted in love. However, a practicing gay man can still be saved. It is curious though that in most American congregation’s believers are practicing hedonists and are actively teaching others to be greedy and pleasure oriented. In fact, many are leaders and preachers.

How many orthodox preachers lead and profit by “Christian cruises” and teach others to spend thousands of dollars on such frivolity while millions starve? Are they saved? They even teach that spending God’s money on such hedonism and overeating is God’s will. Have you any idea how much food is wasted and thrown out on these gigantic cruises that are called “Christian”? Are they saved? I refuse to let homosexuality be the justifying piƱata that soothes the conscience of orthodox sinning believers.

If we are going to set man made guidelines based upon the Scriptures then that judgmental net will capture all of us. Without sin grace is meaningless. Without disobedience grace is invisible. Without transgressions grace is without purpose. And grace is not just activated because of our sincere attempt to refrain from sin, for that in itself would be a reward for works and at odds with the essence of grace.

The greatest sin the church has continued to commit is its projection of a grace that is conditioned on anything other than faith. Broken down to its final residue, that is the sin of self righteousness. The fruit inspectors are legion; the fruit bearers are few. Even the most orthodox believers among us would have been considered as compromising and even false brethren by our Puritan forefathers, and yet we quote them and assume they speak to others. In every generation there those believers who stake out the moral and theological higher ground, and from that vantage point they live in a land with many telescopes and no mirrors.

No one can be saved without faith in Jesus Christ. If the New Testament teaches anything it teaches the exclusivity of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins through faith in the cross and resurrection. We are saved by grace through faith. But just how deep and how comprehensive is this grace? Is this grace powerful enough to account for every sin? Is this grace strong enough to withstand the open expressions of a deceptive lifestyle by some who claim Christ as their Savior? The issue of open participation in local assemblies is another issue, but the salvation of sinners who struggle with truth about their own sin must be addressed within the glories of God’s infinite grace. Sin, including our own, cannot be taught as divinely approved, however sinners inside the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ have already been accepted in the beloved, even if they are rebellious children.

And so the implications of grace in Christ Jesus are unsettling to our self righteous natures. But if we are linguistically and theologically honest, and if we are transparent concerning our own experience, we will find that God’s grace remains resistant to our attempts to restrict its power and relentlessly elusive to being captured by our limited earthly perspectives. One day, on a hill outside of Jerusalem, grace was released upon the earth. Religion has tried to arrest it; good works have attempted to replace it; denominations have tried to own it; systematic theology has sought to define it; and believers have attempted to dispense it.
But the grace of God will never allow itself to be captured by the will of men. Its implications are profound and its expanse is beyond our intellectual horizons. In the light of God’s grace, should we not be people of grace?

1 comment:

Nathanael said...

Amen, brother, amen.