Grace from A-Z

Susan and I were at a function a few months ago and introductions were happening around the table. Getting asked what I do for a living is always an interesting conversation starter.

So when the question came to me, I told everyone I was a presbyterian minister and the guy sitting next to me got really excited. He said, “Oh good!” and then he proceeded to share, with refreshing honesty, his disgust and frustrations with the church.

It was really interesting to hear his thoughts and the experiences he had that caused him to arrive at them. As I considered how to respond to the issues he put forward, Susan made a statement that got right to the heart of the matter.

She said, ‘I think a real problem is that in many cases, people think the message of Christian faith is: ‘Behave.’ The entire table, none of whom were Christians, looked at us and nodded in agreement.

Isn’t that what church is for? A weekly lecture telling Christians how to behave?

Having been raised in church, this gentleman could plainly see that the church didn’t have the market on morality, so he bailed. He hadn’t cheated on his wife, he worked hard for his company, he loved his kids and he volunteered in the city. If going to church was nothing more than learning and applying morals and ethics, then he had no use for it. As far as he could tell, he was just as moral and ethical as everyone else – even more so based on some of the experiences he shared.

Susan went on to share the gospel. Straight-up grace through faith in Christ alone. Life, death, resurrection. Grace for sinners. She then explained that corporate worship is a weekly celebration of God’s incredible grace.

The table was intrigued by a faith that was not founded on the premise of our work, but on the work of Another. We trust that God orchestrated for those folks to sit at our table to hear the gospel. We pray that God will continue to draw them to respond to His saving grace.

The message of God’s grace is not the ABC’s of Christian faith – it’s A-Z.

Like those folks at that dinner, many Christians think that the purpose of corporate worship is to be told how to behave. I meet in coffee shops regularly with young people who no longer go to church for exactly the same reason. Not too long ago one of them said to me, “I stopped going to church because while they had some good things to say about how to live, I can watch a TedTalk whenever I want.”

Before you sound the antinomian alarm, stay with me here.

I’m not suggesting that by preaching God’s grace we neglect teaching God’s law. I’m suggesting that the constant preaching of God’s grace is what engenders our desire to keep God’s law.

Neither am I suggesting that Christian ethics should not be taught to the church or passed down to our children. I’m suggesting that the Christ of the Christian ethic must first and foremost be preached to our church and to our children. As our hearts are increasingly gripped by God’s grace, they will increasingly desire to live to the glory of His grace.

When Christ instituted the Lord’s supper, He was giving us the sole reason for our gathering: to remember and be refreshed by His grace. Just as wine and bread nourishes your body, the grace of Christ nourishes your soul. We live to glorify and enjoy God forever from the grace that nourishes our souls.

Consider for a moment that for more than 40 generations since Abraham, God moved through human history toward you, in grace.

God chose Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob, then Joseph then Moses …. until He chose a young teenager named Mary … and then eventually He chose you. You love Him, because He first loved you. [1]

The pattern of Abraham’s life is the pattern of your life: recipients of undeserved grace.

God instructed Abraham to make a covenant with him. It took the form of an ancient vassal treaty. [2] In the ancient world, kings would split animals in half and make an agreement. Each party walked through the pieces and made a commitment that basically said, “If I don’t keep my commitment, let my blood be shed like the blood of these animals.”

Pretty gory.

What does it mean?

Amazingly, Abraham did not participate in a two way contract with God, any more than you or I did. He was the recipient of a gracious one way covenant just as you and I are. God caused Abraham to take a nap while He passed through the pieces Himself.

Abraham contributed nothing to God’s grace.
You and I contribute nothing to God’s grace.
He’s that good.

God didn’t allow Abraham to participate because the best Abraham could offer was progress. The best you and I can offer is progress. God is perfect and doesn’t accept progress, therefore in His great grace, He provided the perfection He required.

God fulfilled the gory scene with Abraham in a gory scene on the cross. He shed His own blood. Though God’s people were notoriously unfaithful throughout history, God remained faithful. Grace. On. Display.

Why does it matter?

It matters because by continually recalibrating the church towards God’s grace, we receive a divine, reassuring context for the joy and pain in all our lives.

The bible begins with a conclusion: God said that everything was “very good.”

The mandate of mankind before sin came into the picture was to use our intellect, gifts, creativity, imaginations and the resources of the earth to create things and enjoy rich relationships in a world with no evil, suffering, violence, disease or death.

We don’t live in that world and we can’t really even grasp it – but God can. That’s the world He created – and that’s the world He’s restoring.

We gather Sunday after Sunday to remember.

As we celebrate the grace of Christ, the truth of the gospel goes deeper and deeper into our souls. The objective truth of God’s promise in Christ becomes an experiential truth that strengthens our hearts when all hell is breaking loose.

As Christ is preached from every text, the gospel yanks our eyes off of the frustration, the pain and the anxiety we have over our vocations, our relationships, our bodies and our newsfeeds and plants them on squarely the greatness of our God. Our God who is giving everything back to His children in a way we can’t fully grasp.

I am finding more and more, this is a restful place to live.

United to Christ, we are free to rejoice when life is good and weep when life is tragic because we know that through it all, God’s grace is sufficient for us because from the beginning, He pursued us and He fully intends to restore us.

… but He said to me “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
~ II Corinthians 12:9

Whether you are in a season of excitement and joy or a season of frustration and sorrow, God offers the strength of His grace an the comfort of His peace.

The trajectory of God’s grace in your life is full restoration.
The foundation for your hope is Christ alone.

Eat, drink & celebrate church – His grace is restoring us!

Press on,

Paul

[1] 1 John 4:19

[2] Suzerain Treaties, Dr. Meredith Kline, presented at Westminster Theological Seminary

 

 

One Comment on “Grace from A-Z

  1. Pingback: Links I Like, Vol. 15

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