Grace, which is described as God’s unconditional and unmerited pardon, is the first word in the name of our denomination.
God’s grace, in the person of Jesus Christ, is for all humanity without distinction to race, status, gender or sinfulness. And that is why the vision of Grace Communion International South Africa is Living and sharing life-changing Hope, with all kinds of people in all kinds of places.
Most of us have a notion of fairness. Usually, by the time we start school we have a pretty good notion that life is not fair. Even so, we want, and we even expect life to be fair. When it isn’t some of us can get pretty upset. But mankind’s view of fairness and the Godly concept of grace are worlds apart!
In the parable of workers being called to labour throughout the day, Jesus gave us a lesson in fairness (Matthew 20:1-12). In verses 13-15 He explains: “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’”
A denarius was about the same as the pay of a Roman soldier - really good money for a day’s work. So the workers eagerly accepted the job. But they were not happy that others got the same pay for far less work.
Jesus wasn’t giving us a lesson on workplace ethics. He was explaining to us how grace works. It doesn’t matter how good or sinful we have been, or for how long. Salvation simply isn’t tied to anything but the richness of God’s love and grace.
Ephesians 2:8-9 tell us “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.”
As with any good gift we should trust the Giver and accept and embrace the gift.
What a blessing it is that with God we don’t get what we deserve. We get everything we don’t deserve—his unfailing love and a new life in Jesus Christ.
But What About the Condemnation of the Law?
Jesus teaches us that true righteousness involves much more than the law. It involves not just our behavior, but also our minds—our thoughts, our attitudes, our whole being. In Jesus, we can see that we fall short all the time. But in Jesus, we trust in God’s love and mercy for us. Even though we still wrestle with sin in this life and often fail, because of Jesus we are not condemned. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death”(Romans 81-2).
Our good works should then be a response to God’s grace. Knowing that God will never forsake us nor leave us, we continue to fight against our sinful nature, trusting Christ to stand with us and strengthen us. In Jesus Christ, God does for us what we could never do for ourselves. Just as we could never create ourselves, so we could never redeem ourselves. We were in a deep, bottomless, miry pit of sin. There was no escape from the condemnation under which we all fall, unless God himself, the Creator and Redeemer, provided that escape. That is exactly what He has done.
It is a constant wonder to me, how we guardians of the true faith can become so skilled at complicating the greatest news in the world. We hold in trust the Good News of all good news — God gives free grace to sinners for Christ’s sake — and then we break our necks to hide it behind great walls of rules, regulations and laws.
Jesus did not bring some “new and better” brand of religion. He brought the gospel, which is good news for sinners, which includes each one of us. For the sake of Christ, God has thrown away all the report cards, test results and detention notes and given everybody an A+ as well as a gold-plated invitation to eternal life.
The only problem is that a lot of us feel that we “don’t want no charity.” We’d rather feel like we have been — or through discipline and devotion have become — the right and proper sort of person upon whom God could appropriately bestow eternal life. We have been good Christians, and we don’t want to be lumped in with a bunch of immoral losers who do nothing more than put their trust in Christ, while we have worked so hard and so long to imitate and obey Him. (We thank you, O God, that we are not like the rest of people — greedy, dishonest, adulterous or, for that matter, like this embezzler...)
Suppose we take up a challenge: give up the charade. Drop the legalism and the fear tactics. Quit pretending to be worthy and righteous, admit we are hopeless sinners without anything to our credit, and put our trust in Jesus Christ, for whose sake God justifies the ungodly. I’m reminded that my own righteousness, Tim at his very best, is as filthy rags to God. “However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:5).
Does That Leave Us With a License to Sin?
“You must not take grace too far or you will turn it into license to sin!” some would be inclined to admonish. As though lack of license has ever stopped anybody from sinning.
Hasn’t anyone noticed that we are all sinners, even all us religious, God-fearing, church-going Christians? We always have been, always will be, in this life. It is only by God’s pure and unfettered grace, as demonstrated once for all through Jesus Christ, that we are made something else — righteous — and not by avoiding sin, but by trusting Him.
It seems that our vigilant efforts to prevent anyone from “turning grace into license to sin” has resulted, ironically, in our managing to turn sin into a barrier to accepting grace. The church promises grace, then delivers condemnation. The church announces the gospel, then preaches hellfire. “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father-Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John2:1-2).
Nobody who trusts God wants to sin. When you trust God to love you and forgive you, you want to be like Jesus; you don’t want to sin. But when we do sin, in spite of the fact that we don’t want to, we have an advocate with the Father. Paul told Titus that it is grace that teaches us to say no to sin. “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:11-14).
It is grace that teaches us to say no to ungodliness. It’s grace that makes us eager to do what is good. Knowing that we are already forgiven and accepted does not lead us into the devil’s workshop, but into a deeper and more personal relationship with our Lord and Saviour. The gospel really is that simple. It really is good news.
It is usually people who see God as their judge, not their father, who try to take advantage of grace. When it comes to a lawful or judicial relationship, people ask themselves, “How close can I get to this line without getting in trouble?”, but rarely does someone ask that question when it comes to an intimate relationship.
How stupid would we look if we asked, “How close can I get to not loving my spouse without them divorcing me?”
I fully believe that as a Christian you cannot take advantage of grace, for when you’ve truly tasted it, you will never want to. When we’ve experienced the joy and life of Christ in us, then none of our sinful desires are satisfying anymore, and when we do sin we are left feeling hollow and empty. There is something about that kind of grace, though, that just rubs some religious people the wrong way. True grace can’t be controlled. It can’t be tamed. It can’t be used by the leadership as a social construction to manipulate the people. It’s wild. And you have to trust it will do its job.
Response to Grace
The best part about true grace is that it changes people. Real grace loves us right where we are, but it loves us too much to keep us there. We know we’ve accepted God’s transforming grace if we begin to look different.
Now that we understand grace, how should we respond? With grace, of course. We should be merciful, even as God is full of mercy. We are to forgive others, just as we have been forgiven. We are to serve others, just as we have been served. We are to show extravagant, underserved grace toward others, just as God has showered us with His amazing unconditional and unmerited pardon.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.