Echoes of Grace

We are so ridiculously attached the law.  I don’t mean the Law as laid down in scripture, but in our own adherence to the law that we establish in our own lives.  It gives us control, or at least, we think it does.  We use our concept of law to set expectations for others to live up to in our eyes.  We all do it, in every aspect of our lives.

We drive with the expectation that other drivers understand the laws of traffic – drive on the right side of the road, stop at a red light, don’t recklessly speed, and yield to traffic when merging or turning.  When someone violates the law, we expect consequences.  Our need for justice demands them – when someone passes us over a double yellow or tailgates us because we’re not going fast enough or runs a red light in front of us, we all look around hoping that a police officer is nearby and noticed so that the person who broke our expectations of adherence to the laws of behavior on the road is caught, made to feel guilty for what they did, and then punished appropriately with a ticket.  Civil society on the road demands adherence to the law because it allows society to function with appropriate actions, reactions, and consequence for failure to behave appropriately.

12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

1 Timothy 1:12-16

God has given me an insight into grace recently, and how to apply grace in my own life.  How can you show someone grace?  How can you help someone understand it when the world at large does not offer grace?  The world offers small-L law and demands adherence so that the world can continue to function smoothly.

Consider Christ’s command to turn the other cheek.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,[a] let him have your cloak as well.

Matthew 5:38-40

Obviously Jesus spoke in multiple layers, like an onion.  Let me peel this back a bit.  Obviously Christ is changing the old law from one of pure, equal justice with appropriate punishment for offense with regard to physical pain and injury caused by one’s action, but he also is changing the old law.  He is providing an insight at grace for us, one more beautiful when you really consider it.

When we sin against God, we slap Christ in the face, because Christ carried our sins to the cross so that we may have reconciliation with God.  God’s justice requires adherence to the Law, which we have failed miserably at keeping, but Christ adhered to perfectly.  When someone sins against us, either violating God’s Law or man’s law (our own expectations whether personal or civil), it is a slap in the face to us.  Our first reaction is to spring to our feet like an NBA player and hold our hands out and look for the ref to call a foul and get awarded our free throws for the perceived wrong.

When we are slapped we have many ways to respond: fight back, demand justice in order to feel whole again, or offer them grace.  We are really really really good at the first two and horribly bad at the latter.

What we have to ask though is cliche.  What would Jesus do?  Would Jesus hold out his hands and demand an apology?  Would Jesus call for a foul?  Or would Jesus turn the other cheek and offer you another chance to get it right?  Isn’t that what grace is?

Somewhat.

Grace isn’t just the opportunity for the offender to try again, but it is a gift from God in another way.  Grace is something that the victim can cling on to in order to feel whole again as well.  By offering grace, turning the cheek, forgiving without apology (a tit for tat exchange – withholding forgiveness isn’t Christlike whatsoever), and providing an alternative to justice for small-L law, we can be relieved of the burdens of justice on the aggrieved.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  We didn’t ask for mercy, grace, and forgiveness, but it was given without precondition.  What better way to demonstrate grace and the gospel, but to turn the other cheek?

This turns our demand for justice and reparations on its head, and isn’t that exactly what Jesus said he would do?

Grace and mercy.

Grace Revisited

I originally wrote this in October 2012.  In light of my last two days’ writings, let’s revisit it.

Have you ever contemplated what grace really is?  Grace is not an abstract concept, but a fundamental reconstruction of mans’ relationship with the Almighty.

Imagine when you die and go to stand in judgment before God.  Your sins and shortcomings will be laid before you, down to very last.  The case against you is ironclad, even if you are a “good” person.

This is the point of the law – the Ten Commandments, the Levitical Law, all of the guidelines for living contained within the Bible – they are an ideal to strive for, but we ultimately will fail because we are human.  We are not holy, nor perfect, and we cannot approach God in any way because of even the tiniest sin.  God’s infinite righteousness and holiness would obliterate our very existence like a candle’s flame being blown out because we have sin in our hearts.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Romans 3:23

Here is where salvation gets interesting.  You and your attorney (the Risen Christ, if you have Him as your Lord and Savior) will not plead for mercy.  Here is how I have heard this characterized.

God: “How do you plead?”

Christ: “The client pleads guilty your Honor.”

God: “The penalty is death then.”

Christ: “Your Honor, Father, the penalty has been paid.  I, Your Beloved Son, have paid it in full.”

God: “The Lord God is Just.  Since the penalty has been paid, no further debt is owed.  Your record is forever sealed and expunged.  Welcome good and faithful servant and enter your rest.”

(I’d like to think that, upon that announcement, the entire heavenly courtroom full of angels erupts into raucous cheers and celebration.)

God loves justice.  He said so directly in Isaiah.

For I, the Lord, love justice.

Isaiah 61:8

There must be justice for the actions you took as an enemy of God, as a sinner.  God will not show mercy at judgment, but rather He will exact full punishment on sin.

The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.

Romans 8:7

If the story stopped here, we’d all be royally screwed. Again, THIS is the point of the law in the first place.  The law shows us how we fall short, it shows us our need for forgiveness, for grace, for mercy, and for resanctification.

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

Galatians 5:4

We thankfully have a Savior.  He came, lived as one of us – fully God and fully human at the same time.  He surrendered His glory, His will, and His preeminence so that He could serve as the payment of debt for all sin.

We do not rely on the mercy of the Court, but on the fact that Christ already paid the debt you owe.  God is just.

What are you going to rely on?  Mercy or grace?

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

Romans 5:1-2

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

1 Timothy 1:13-16

Christ has mercy on you.  He created you.  He came to reconcile His creation to Him.  You might be just a speck in the grand scheme of things, but the Creator of the universe paid your debt.  The payment is grace.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

John 1:1-4

The whole concept of the entire Bible, is to convey to us that we are recipients of grace, not mercy.  There will be justice in the end.  There has to be because God is just.

So what is it for you?  Grace and the chance to hear Christ stand up and say “I have paid his debt in full?” Or throwing yourself on the mercy of the court at the very end?

The reason I have such a problem with people picking and choosing what they want to believe out of the Bible is that they are trying to make themselves more comfortable. They are trying to remove the scary part of the grace equation from their consciousness, because to admit that you are as good as shit in a sewer and unable to emerge from it on your own is a scary, unpleasant place to be, and it is even scarier when you consider that every single person who ever lived, except One, was in the same place as you.  The good news is that the One reached down into that muck and all you have to do is take His hand.

That is grace, because

GOD   IS   JUST.

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