The term is thrown around a lot in the church but exactly what is GRACE?
We say grace. We know people named Grace. We call certain clerics “Your Grace.” My sisters were always trying to be graceful. What is grace? We are talking about unmerited love from God that motivates Him to forgive us and reestablish our broken relationship.
Grace shows us that God is NOT fair. Grace is not about getting what we deserve. It is about getting what we don’t deserve. We with children have often heard the cry, “That’s not fair.” The Bible speaks clearly and powerfully about God’s unfairness. Thank God He is not fair.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
The story is told that during a British conference on comparative religions, experts from all over the world debated on what is unique about Christianity? The story goes that C.S. Lewis wandered into the room and asked what the rumpus was about. When told, he said, “That’s easy. Grace.” The notion of God’s love coming free of charge, no strings attached is uniquely Christian. A widespread misconception is that all religions are all the same which is simply untrue.
Sad to say, the church of Jesus Christ is not known for being Grace-Filled. We tend to be graceless; especially when it comes to how we view and treat those outside of the church. What a terrible condemnation of the church. But it is true that grace is difficult to practice because in practice, it is hard enough to understand grace when it applies to me, but it becomes impossible to grasp when applied to others. I can understand and give a rationalization for my sins, but not yours. We all tend to see ourselves better than others do. I saw this dynamic practiced to perfection by the inmates I talked to while working a prison.
Jesus knew people did and would STRUGGLE with this concept. So, he told some stories to make it understandable. He told the story we call: The story of the Prodigal Son and the Loving Father.
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate’”. (Luke 15:11-24)
This story is lived out every day around the world. I read this story several years ago. A girl from Traverse City, Michigan, became disillusioned by the restrictive life at home and ran away to Detroit to seek the good life. Soon she met an older man with big car, lots of money and pills living in Penthouse. She moved in with him and soon found herself hooked on drugs and working as a prostitute. It wasn’t long before he looks changed. She became a blonde, lost weight, became sick and soon lost her good looks. Within a year she was on street, sleeping under newspapers on metal grates and getting sicker every day. She was lost, cold, hungry, afraid and needed a fix. Waking up one cold morning under a pile of newspapers, she came to herself. “My dog eats better than I do,” she thought.
Out of desperation she calls home leaves a message. She tells her parents she is taking the bus to Canada and will be coming through her hometown about midnight. If no one is there to see her, she will go on to Canada. With 7 hours on bus she had lots of time to think. Perhaps no one had picked up her message. Perhaps no one cared. She practiced her speech: “Dad, I’m sorry, I was wrong.” The closer she came the more frightened she became. It was only a 15-minute stop. When the bus pulled in what she saw was not what she expected. There was much more than concrete walls and plastic chairs. There was a crowd of over 40 people – brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, great aunts and great uncles, cousins, a grandmother and a great grandmother in party hats and horns. The banner on wall proclaimed, WELCOME HOME. Her Dad stepped out of the crowd and she began her speech: “Dad, I’m sorry…” “No time for that,” he said, “We have a party to go to.”
To further make His point about grace, Jesus told the The Story of the HIRED Workers
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. “He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ (Matthew 20:1-15)
The question must be asked, “Doesn’t God REQUIRE anything of us?”
Of course… God requires you and me to be honest and real… to come to myself and face the truth about me. He said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Make you free. Make you. That is the truth you must start with before you can come to God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”
Coming to God is a MARVELOUS thing. In God’s presence we experience: Absolute Love; Freeing Forgiveness; Complete Healing; Amazing Grace
But coming to YOURSELF is no fun at all. Before you can come to God you must come to yourself. Finding the way to God requires knowing where you are – it is the starting point. One must face reality and most of us avoid reality like the plague. When faced with reality one suddenly realizes that one looks bad, is acting badly and may even smell badly.
No wonder so few people can do it.
In his wonderful book, THE GREAT DIVORCE, C. S. Lewis tells the story of a group of people, who he calls Ghosts, on an excursion from Hell to Heaven. Residents of heaven, called the Solid People, who knew the Ghosts when they were on earth, come out from Heaven and try to lure them in. None of them decide to stay. Here is his description of one woman who had not yet come to herself: “I think the most pitiable was a female Ghost… This one seemed quite unaware of her phantasmal appearance. More than one of the Solid People tried to talk to her, and at first I was quite at a loss to understand her behavior to them. She appeared to be contorting her all but invisible face and writhing her smoke-like body in a quite meaningless fashion. At last I came to the conclusion – incredible as it seemed – that she supposed herself still capable of attracting them and was trying to do so… If a corpse already liquid with decay had arisen from the coffin, smeared its gums with lipstick, and attempted a flirtation, the result could not have been more appalling. In the end she muttered, “Stupid creatures,” and turned back to the bus.”
This “coming to ourselves” is so unappealing that often we attempt to bypass it. This is what I call FAKE GRACE. Fake grace is all about attempting to embrace God’s grace, His unmerited favor, without facing our sinfulness… without confessing our sins… without repenting… without seeking forgiveness and turning away from sin and facing God. It is about believing God trashes His standards (holiness and righteousness) to accept us as we are. What we fail to understand is that God accepts us as we are but loves us much too much to leave us like that. The way this covenant works is: We repent (Come to ourselves) and God forgives us. Leave out our part, as uncomfortable as it might be, and all we have is fake grace.
What’s so amazing about Grace? God offers it to people like you and me. Will you accept it? Do you have the courage to come to yourself? Do you have the good sense to come to God?
Copyright © 2017, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved
Bill McConnell is the Interim Minister at Norwood Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.