After last week’s update for Christian Community Church of Clarksville, I was hit with quite a few irritated emails. Yes, it was expected. Quite frankly, I was hoping to get a few people riled up. After all, if we’re so comfortable in our Christian recliners while we watch our Christian TV and read our Christian magazines as we send our children to Christian schools, then I question whether we’re being the salt of the earth that Jesus called us to be. Clearly, we find it far easier to be salt in someone’s wound than anything else.
I believe God is stirring our collective nests, and that He is bringing us out of our complacency to reach a world that is sick of religious tripe. They’ve seen the big churches, the polished pews, and the fancy preachers, and they are not impressed. Christian TV is as hokey as it is self-centered in its presentation of the Gospel: “Give money to us and God will bless you!”
Most of us are far more comfortable in crowds than in small groups. After all, we can hide in a crowd. We can be lost in the masses. We have become, as one pastor I know said, “a bunch of porcupines trying to live close to each other.” We barely know our neighbors. In truth, we really don’t WANT to know our neighbors. They’ll probably move away soon, anyway.
And it is out of that nest that God is calling us. He’s calling us out of our comfort zone, out of our recliners, and, in many cases, out of our religious traditions. He’s calling us out of the mindset that we must follow a certain set of rules to be “Christian.” After all, what’s the point of fulfilling one law if we’re going to just replace it with another?
In a word, He’s calling us into GRACE. It’s a word that instantly invokes the classic John Newton hymn, “Amazing Grace.” We were indeed all once blind, and we now see… that Jesus Christ is Lord. Grace will lead us home, and grace will bring us to eternity with the Father where time is without meaning.
Strangely, grace goes out the window when we deal with our fellow man. Far too often, we replace grace with judgment, mercy with wrath, and love with hate. After all, some say, grace isn’t a license to sin. This is a line that is often used against those who are eventually kicked out of churches for whatever reason. Maybe a pregnant girl is kicked out because she chose to have her baby instead of an abortion. Or a divorcee is shunned because they wouldn’t stay with an abusive spouse. Perhaps a gay teenager is ostracized because of who they are.
But what is grace? For this teaching, I’ll stick to the common evangelical definition: unmerited favor. It is literally a divine overlook of all of our faults, weaknesses, and sins. He looks past all of that to give us the free gift of eternal life. It is the kind of grace that we’re all quick to embrace for ourselves. Sadly, we’re also quick to deny it to others. After all, it’s not a “license to sin.”
Dietrich Bonheoffer once coined the phrase “cheap grace.” In his mind, grace could easily be abused and reduced to being nothing more than an excuse for sinful behavior. He thought that the liberty that we have in Christ should never be spat on by someone who just flat-out refuses to repent of habitual sin, which would do nothing more than “cheapen grace.”
Bonheoffer understood what it was like to suffer. He understood the high price of discipleship, and was eventually killed in a Nazi death camp for his “crimes” of preaching against the evils of Hitler’s regime.
There’s another word that must come into this discussion of grace. There is also “love.” Love is tightly woven into the cord that binds all of us into the covenant which God made for us. Neither can exist without the other. Grace without love becomes a wall of separation between people, and between men and God. Love without grace becomes a recipe for disaster, where we can cut too close to a person’s soft spot, only to set off wrath.
But when grace and love are truly operating in a person’s life, they create an entirely new way of life. If a person who has been given much grace, and has been given much love, then their response is both grace and love to the One who gave it in the first place. Okay, I’ve lost you. Let me clarify a little bit.
God has given each of us an eternal amount of grace. Through the cross of Christ, all of our sin is forgiven. It is forgotten. Since Scripture teaches that sin is as much a state of being as it is an act, His great sacrifice has revealed this eternal grace for all of us. But wait, there’s more. There’s His love.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, for a man to lay down his life for his friends.” He also said that we are His friends if we follow his commandment: “love one another.” The message that Christ gave to all of us was a simple dual commandment: Love God, love people.”
Now, what would happen if we were to realize this level of love and grace that God has given to us? The cross wasn’t so that we could get into heaven by the skin of our teeth. Just because our lives were steeped in sin doesn’t mean that we are wretched. In fact, God was so crazy about us, loved us SO much that he gave His very best.
Jesus didn’t die on that cross so that we could be saved from hell, my friends. He went to the cross because of God’s passionate and complete love for all of us. And that means you, too. He valued us so greatly, loved us so completely, and desires us so passionately, that He planned to have Christ crucified from the very beginning of time!
When we start to realize this, even just a little bit, then I believe that we’ll begin to take on an entirely new paradigm in our faith. We don’t serve Christ because we want to get into heaven. In fact, Ephesians 2:5-6 seems to indicate that we’re already there:
…made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus… (Ephesians 5-6, NIV)
As Christians, we don’t serve Christ because we want to gain His favor. We already have it. We have His completely and totally undeserved favor. We have His love. He can never love us more or less than He already does.
He’s never shocked by our actions, never disappointed, and he’s never surprised. Scripture says that nothing will separate us from the love of God. His love is complete, whole, and without limit. It has never changed, and it never will. Grace isn’t a license to sin. It’s simply a message that our sin will not stand in the way of His love.
But, you might be thinking, “You don’t know what I’ve done! There’s no way that God could love me, or forgive me.”
Do you think that your sin is greater than God’s love? Is that it? Or do you think His love isn’t good enough for you? My dear friend, it is good enough. It’s good enough for you and over six billion others just like you. We can’t let a false sense of humility stand in the way of the ultimate grace: God’s eternal, complete love.
I believe that God is calling us to stop looking out our own faults and look to His perfection. When we go from naval-gazing to gazing at the beauty of God Himself, suddenly, we’re exposed to the clear reality that His love, His glory, and His grace surpass everything. It surpasses our sin, it surpasses our confusion, and it surpasses our own utter lack of grace and love.
Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus as it says in Hebrews 12:2. When we do, we’ll begin to be consumed by His love rather than by our own sin, or the sins of others. Instead of pointing fingers in judgment, we’re lifting hands in worship. And better yet, we’re encouraging each other in their walk, rather than pointing out each others’ faults.
When we walk in grace, and walk in love, we begin to adopt a new way of living. I don’t choose to remain faithful to my partner because of legalism. I made that choice because I love him. I made that choice because I know how much he loves me. There’s great grace in that simply because we know it’s not a matter of not cheating. I just couldn’t imagine breaking his heart like that.
With grace, it’s not the law that keeps us from sin, it’s love. If we truly love God, then our desire is to show our love for Him in all ways. If we truly love Him, then we love those whom he loves. Grace then takes its full effect. Liberty then takes root. Yes, we have complete freedom in Christ. But when our hearts are so captured by grace and love, then our desire is God Himself.
When we begin to walk in this level of grace, my friends, I believe that we’ll finally start to see just exactly how much He is really crazy about us. We can explore grace in every way; and we can explore the passion of God for His people.
As we enter into this Easter season, let’s meditate on this powerful message of grace and love for all of His people. It is truly amazing grace, in every way imaginable.
We invite you to join us every Sunday afternoon at 4PM at Christian Community Church of Clarksville as we continue to explore this critical message of Grace and all of its applications to our lives. Won’t you join us?
See you there!