If you have been in Christian circles as long as I have, there is a tendency for many leaders to talk about the whole concept of grace as if applying too much of it is a bad thing. And so because too much grace is a bad thing, we wax eloquently about making room for “truth” as if truth is a polar opposite to grace when in fact, truth reveals grace and true grace reveals truth. In a previous post about the practical implications of grace mercy and love, I tried to make the case for the fact that grace is not as scandalous as we might think because grace and truth are really good dance partners in their mutual revelation. And yet experience has shown me that Christians – yes, especially Christians – violently push back where the concept of grace applied liberally is concerned.
I know where this push back comes from. I deal with it every day. It comes from my heart and my litigious perspective on life. Surely there have to be limits to grace… surely! Surely! If we just keep applying grace to even the most egregious wrongs, the lesson that we are teaching is that there is no consequence for wrongdoing. When do we bring the hammer? When do we speak truth? When do we mete out justice?
This kind of thinking basically sets me up as a moral authority over the recipients of my limited edition grace completely disregarding one huge glaring issue. While I may be stingy with grace towards other people, I have been on the receiving end of a disproportionately large amount of grace and my wrongdoing is not yet done. I will screw up in future and WILL need grace in future again. So what I perceive to be scandalous when it concerns another person, is not so scandalous after all where I am concerned.
This is a double-standard to say the least.
The unfortunate reality is that I am not alone in this. Human beings are TERRIBLE at extending grace to one another. When we are wronged we want justice and we want the most serious punishment for crimes committed against us. We are exacting in our standards, unforgiving with each other and with ourselves. Just look at the way people speak to each other online. Just look at the way we judge each other for being overweight. Just look at the way we treat people facing financial trouble like they are cancerous. Just look at the way we place impossible standards on each other for parenting and family responsibilities.
In counseling recently – yes, I go to counselling regularly – my counsellor said something to me that really affected me deeply. She was trying to get me to understand how much it hurts my wife when people hurt me. The question she asked to illustrate her point was whether I would prefer it if somebody hurt my little daughter, my wife or hurt me. It’s obvious… a hurt to me would not be as devastating as if somebody hurt my little girl. It is gut wrenching to watch people mistreat my wife and it would wreck me if anybody were to hurt her. I’m tough and I can take a lot, but if you want to see me go nuclear, just do something to my daughter or my wife. I bring the hammer EVERY TIME. She helped me understand that when people hurt me, while it sucks being me, it really, REALLY sucks being somebody that loves and cares for me.
On the drive home from that counselling session as I was trying to figure out a way to talk to my wife about it all, I was suddenly hit with a HUGE realization. When we hurt one another, it hurts God even more than it hurts us because God is our father. Just like it is devastating for me to see my daughter get hurt, it is even more devastating for God to look down and see his children hurt. I think that this is why the bible says that when we sin against each other, we sin against God. When you hurt one of his precious people, you do not simply hurt the child… you hurt HIM, our father. And yet in spite of this grief that he is caused seeing his children hurt one another, God does something SCANDALOUS. He does not bring the hammer as we naturally would if we were in his situation. He does something counter-intuitive and explodes with grace, mercy and love. The kind of grace that you cannot outrun.
Understand this. God’s reaction to sin, brokenness, wrong, and hurt in the world is NOT hell. In the church, we’ve done a great job of illuminating hell and making it seem that God created hell in his anger against the sin of humanity. And the more we’ve shouted about hell, it becomes so easy to assimilate a narrative that God is a celestial, angry guy when in fact the truth could not be more opposite. He is a father deeply hurting because of the pain and suffering of his children, but instead of going nuclear on those that would hurt his children, he flips the script!!
God’s reaction to sin is extravagant grace.
God’s reaction to the hurt of his children is love.
God’s reaction to wrong is mercy.
Romans 5: 1 – 8
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 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. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
“God demonstrates his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”
While we were still sinners, christ died for us.
When a sin is committed us, we demand justice. Similarly, when a sin is committed against us, our heavenly father demands justice on our behalf. But we who demand justice are equally guilty because we too sin against those around us. But God flips the script! Instead of annihilating humanity because of our sins against one another, he takes the sins of the world upon himself and dies in our place.
The writer of this particular passage helps you to see how scandalous it is that WE are the recipients of such unmerited favour when he speaks frankly about the fact that even in the case of really good people, very few would sign up to take their place when life is on the line. I dont know about you, but I am not a very good person. I am not the kind of person that people would stand in line to die for. I’m kind of a screw up. And I believe that the writer of this passage feels the same way which is why it is so important to him to point out this incredible scandal.
What we neglect to say about the writer of this passage every time we quote it in our christian circles is that Paul, who wrote it, was a killer. Paul is not writing this passage with squeaky clean hands. He has blood on his hands. The fact of the matter is that he used to hunt down and kill christians. This was his past. So for him to write a statements about forgiveness of sins is HUGE. Paul is painting a picture of a God of love whose grace knows no bounds. Even killers are not too far that his love cannot reach them. Even killers and murderers cannot outrun his grace!!
If this is true, then it goes without saying that God’s great love towards us is mind-boggling. God’s forgiveness of our atrocities is shocking.
Ladies and gentlemen, this IS the scandal of grace.
What is our response to be in the face of such scandalous grace? I am persuaded that for the people that are following christ and for those that are not sure about him yet, our response is to be one and the same.
Accept it today!