I’ve been thinking, (yes, the conventional, religious term is ‘meditating’) about grace this morning. Specifically, I’ve been focused on the whole reality that life in Jesus, as forgiven, redeemed, born again people, is not as sterile and ‘clean’ and simplistic and as cut and dried as modern evangelicalism wants to – needs to make it.
“Stuff” happens to believers just like “stuff” happens to non-believers. Good “stuff” and bad “stuff” touches all our lives. God’s sun rises on the evil and on the good, He sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt. 5:45).
There is an inherent need within many Jesus followers to make the whole concept of living for Jesus so attractive, so unbelievably perfect, that we run past truth and we bait our candidates for salvation with false hope and with undeliverable promises.
The oft-repeated assurance, “Come to Jesus and you will never have another problem or shed another tear or be tempted to perpetrate another sin, or suffer a loss or experience a failure” is neither realistic or true.
People come to Jesus and live the remainder of their lives found and flawed, both perfect (in God’s sight) and imperfect (in practice). We are all “unfinished furniture” until the Carpenter finishes the final edge and buffs out the last blemish on the table of our hearts. Paul’s testimony echoes through time, “Not as though I had already attained , either were already perfect” (Phil. 3:12).
Remember the old bumper sticker: “Please Be Patient, God’s Not Finished With Me Yet?” Well, it was true. It is true.
Here are but a few verities I have observed over time with regard to the reality of life in Christ:
– “Born again” people sin.
The best among us stumble. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Ro. 3:23) even after we come to Jesus and give Him our “all.”
– Children of “born again” people sin.
– Husbands cannot force their wives to fit the mold fashioned in Proverbs 31.
Among a host of qualities, the “virtuous wife” seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She brings her food from afar. She rises in the night to ready her man’s breakfast. She is a real estate magnate and a farmer and an entrepreneur. She must spend time daily doing push ups since Scripture says “she strengthens her arms.” She is a seamstress and a sage and I have yet, in more than sixty years to meet one woman who meets all the standards of this “virtuous wife.”
– Wives cannot force their husbands to serve Jesus.
No amount of praying, fasting, hoping, trusting, calling prayer chains, pushing, shoving, preaching, deal-making with God will bring a husband to the place that only the Spirit of God can draw him. It’s not our suffering that God looks for, it’s our sincerity. It’s not our sacrifice that prompts God to act, it’s the substance of our faith and the grace of a caring God.
– Nobody is immune to sin.
Preachers, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, disciples, elders, bishops, even the Pope is vulnerable to the suggestions, the lusts of the flesh.
We “come to Jesus” and soon discover that we are in many respects, the same people we were before we came to Him. The huge and critical difference is that we have been forgiven, we have been made righteous in God’s sight. We are made whole, cleansed by the blood of Christ and we now experience and enjoy a living relationship with and by a living Savior. But the experiential reality within that relationship we call “salvation” is that we still trip, stumble, fall, fail. We are potentially and positionally perfected but we are not practically perfect.
And that’s why we need, and the reason He gives “more grace” (James 4:6).
The human penchant for presenting only a perfect, uncomplicated, unchallenged, “holy and “righteous” public persona is in fact, sinful. We do not live lives that are without mistake or fault or blemish or imperfection. We are, indeed, all of us, “sinners, saved by grace” (Eph. 2:8).
Paul displays frankness and candor in Romans 7, but we want to skip that chapter and focus on the 8th. We discourage new believers, we frustrate those who are struggling with our less than honest testimonies that “since I came to Jesus, I never am even tempted to sin. My kids are all perfect. We never question God. We are never sick. Life is perfect.”
Before we allow guests to cross the threshold of our homes, we first must vacuum, dust, pick up, make the beds. At all cost we must make our friends believe that we live magical lives. Our dishes never get dirty, our garbage cans stand clean and empty and we have no need of washing machines, because our clothing is never soiled. We send our friends home in despair, because their kitchens and bathrooms and bedrooms aren’t picture-perfect candidates for the cover of Better Homes and Gardens.
I don’t think we should purposely invite friends into a rubbish heap, but only the exceptionally meticulous among us never have a molecule of dust adorning their bookcases or leave a magazine (horror of horrors!) on top of a coffee table.
I read an article today about Amy Grant’s 1999 divorce. Several denominational churches held CD-burning parties to destroy Amy’s “sinful” music – the music everyone raved about before hearing of her divorce, and to vent their anger and wrath that they had been seduced into listening to a sinner sing. Burning her CDs? As if her formerly sweet and spiritual songs were suddenly satanically-inspired?
Could it be that Amy Grant, with her failure was just a more public and obvious personification of some of our lives? Of some of us who have begged God to be gracious to us in our failures and collapses?
God hates divorce. As His people, we ought to hate what God hates. God loves sinners. We should, too. God forgives. So should we. God embraces, we too often reject. God gives more grace, and expects us to be like Him.
God’s grace is amazing. It held Amy Grant when the church would not. God’s grace knows no boundary, it expands even to where you and I live today.
“ And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Do you notice that “grace” precedes “truth” in John’s lexicon? Do you know that either commodity, grace or truth without the other is incomplete and even potentially deadly?
It is true that Amy Grant’s marriage failed. But it’s grace that caught her when she fell. It is true that you have, I have, we all have sinned, but the glory of God is that His grace is always sufficient for us all.
The church has too often majored on truth and minored on grace. We have too frequently butchered wounded souls with the “truth” of the matter while withholding the very essence of the character of Jesus and of the Father, unmerited favor from heaven’s deep well of living water.
These two, “grace and truth” always travel together. Perhaps we should invite these as our own traveling companions on the road we’re called to travel.
Tony Vincent sings,
“You can’t have one without the other
Green and blue need earth and sky
They cannot separate us if they try.”
I would add,
“Grace and Truth need one another,
Green and blue need earth and sky.
They cannot separate us if they try.”
Grace and truth, in that divine order
Grace and truth, in heaven’s measure
Grace and truth, in every action, thought and word.
Grace and Truth will transform a wounded people, church and earth.