I was watching a documentary on Substance abuse last night and the people were advocating for help rather than punishment for drug users. It got me thinking about grace, and wondering what it would look like if the world (or even just the Church) lived with radical grace. Radical grace is the kind we read about in the Bible. It’s the kind of grace that would cause God to come among us and die on a cross for us, “even while we were still his enemies”. It’s the kind of grace that says “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. It is this kind of grace which is behind Jesus’ words “I came to save sinners not the righteous”.
What happens, today, in our graceless world is that those who do sin feel that they have no place to turn, no where to find grace. They go further into sin, covering up one sin with another for fear of being exposed. Most of the people I’ve worked with who have been caught up in deep sin desperately want help but they fear punishment, so they don’t seek that help. This is not an unwarranted fear. Our culture is saturated in a lack of grace. Our news is often nothing more than glorified gossip. Our television shows overwhelmingly have as their core story line the bad guy getting what they deserve. Our most outspoken political heroes promote themselves as “shoot first and ask questions later” cowboys. Even our more liberal sides of culture and politics are wrapped up in the false doctrine of Karma. This world becomes a difficult place for the imperfect.
This shouldn’t be news to us and this is not something new, as this is what the early Church faced 2000 years ago. This has been the earthly fallen culture since the fall of Adam. The problem lies not within culture but within the Church. When sinners look for a place where they can find grace and forgiveness, do they look to the Church? Are we any different than the world? Jesus tells a parable about a rich land owner. He calls in one of his servants who owes him money, and he asks for the servant to pay. Now the servant begs and pleads the master to have mercy on him as he doesn’t have the money to pay. The master forgives the man’s debts. Then the servant goes out and finds another servant who owes him money, this other servant begs and pleads, but his creditor has him beaten. Now the master calls the servant back in and says “I forgave you your debts but you went out and showed no forgiveness to the servant who owed you money?” The master then had the servant thrown in jail. This is us, when we refuse to show grace. A church with grace is a Church with out Gossip. It is a Church where there is no competition between the Church that meets in one building or another. The Church would see people outside the Church as those who need the gospel of Jesus Christ rather than potential Church members of pew sitters. There would be no divisions among the people of the Church. There would be no power and control issues and preachers would freely and simply preach the Good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. We would not have the cover up of sins and power struggles.
James 5 says that we should confess our sins to one another. This is actually a rare thing in the Church today. Our sins are between us and God. The systems that were once in place to allow for free and open confession to one another are mostly done away with in the modern Church. In fact, in many Churches talk of sin, judgement, correction, and restoration are almost done away with. So sin gets buried and the second part of James 5, which is to pray for one another in relation to those confessions, doesn’t happen. Sin doesn’t get dealt with. Sometimes it gets buried deep within institutions and other times it just get’s pushed down deeper into individuals who will hide their sins without dealing with them, without confession.
So if we are to show grace, I mean, radically show grace, this world would look totally different. Crime rates would go down as restoration would be possible as we would work to save the souls of those who commit crimes and “turn them from their sins”. Acts of violence and lust would become rare as those with violent or lustful thoughts would feel free to confess their feelings, and if they were able to confess those feelings before they acted, they could get the help they need before their thoughts turn to action. Social isolation would become less of an issue as the kind of closeness that allows us to confess our sins to one another is genuine friendship and caring.
So how can we become people of radical grace?
Listen. A lot of Christians have opinions on homosexuals, muslims, atheists, or liberals, but when is the last time you listened to someone of the above populations. It doesn’t mean we agree with them, but what listening will do is allow you to hear them and their struggles and know how to pray and how to restore them.
Empathize. The number one statement about Christians from non Christians is that Christians are hypocritical. This stems from a misunderstanding the world has about Christians which is that Christians are perfect because they go to Church and look the part. It is so important that we communicate that we are sinners saved by grace not perfect people saved by Church. Paul did this in Romans 7 and in other places, making sure that those who were hearing him knew that he could empathize with their temptations.
Pray with people/pray for people. The second part of James’ statement in James 5 is that we should pray for one another. This should be our first reaction when hearing someone confess sin to us. In this way we avoid making our first reaction judgment or anger. We go to God and ask him to guide our conversation and emotions.
Go to them. The response I get when I say that people are looking for the grace of Jesus is, often, “Well they can come any Sunday, our doors are open”. This isn’t the model set by Jesus or the early Church. They went out to where the people were, they didn’t wait for lost to come to them, because those who are lost often don’t know they are lost until someone shows them a new path. This doesn’t happen from inside the walls of a Church.
Keep your thoughts on grace rather than sin. When we go to a doctor with an illness the doctor acknowledges the illness but his first priority is to think about a cure. If people confess their sins to us we need to be ready to look towards restoration right away. If we focus too much on the sin and how awful it is, then we entertain thoughts of bitterness and anger, when our thoughts should be focused on how can this person be restored through the grace of Jesus Christ.
Keep your thoughts on Jesus rather than the world. Often a lack of grace stems from a distrust of people around us. We can get to a place where we think that everyone we give grace to is just using us or just going to go back and sin again. Well maybe they are or maybe they aren’t, but our focus is on Christ, not the failings of men.
Treat people with love rather than an agenda. When you visit an emergency room with a life threatening injury, the doctor doesn’t try to get you to join their club or sign up to their denomination. When we are sharing the grace of Jesus Christ with someone we should be free of alterior motives like wanting to get them to come to our Church, because having alterior motives means that it’s not actually grace. If we say I will show you love so that you come to my Church, we put a requirement of works in the mix, it’s not grace anymore.
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