Mick’s Memo-The Incongruity of Grace
Last week we examined the incongruity of sacrifice and how it is an unnatural attitude and behavior. This week the topic is grace—unmerited favor or blessing. Grace generated a lot of conflict for Jesus. He spent a lot of time with people who, from outward appearances, didn’t “merit” any favor from God. They were afflicted with diseases, born with disabilities, living with checkered pasts, collected taxes for the Roman oppressors. The religious philosophy of the time was content to fix the label of “sinners” on this segment of society and leave them to their consequences. Those who could keep up the outward appearances and rituals were labeled “righteous” or “acceptable”.
Grace was the reason for the cross. God loved us enough to send Jesus to intercept our rightful consequences for individual and corporate rebellion. His resurrection was proof that grace was victorious over sin and death. Those who witnessed His resurrected body were compelled to tell about that grace to anyone they encountered. It started among His disciples—fellow descendants of Abraham. But Jesus told them they were to bear witness to “the ends of the earth”; taking it to dispersed Jews and Gentiles. God demonstrated that gentiles were acceptable “as is” by the conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10-11). Peter’s “fraternizing” with gentiles was immediately called into question, but after he related God’s miraculous intervention, the controversy was resolved. A few years later, the issue resurfaced after Paul and Barnabas reported God’s work among gentiles in Asia Minor. Some believers from Jerusalem from Pharisaic background took it upon themselves to tell the new gentile believers that they needed to be circumcised and become law-following Jews in order to be authentic followers of Jesus (Acts 15:1-5).
The early church leadership recognized that this confusion over grace and law was critical to the future of the church and met to resolve it. Their conclusions were clear and compelling. Based on the demonstrated works of God through Peter (with Cornelius) and Paul and Barnabas (with gentiles in Asia minor), they concluded that Christians could be either Jew or gentile based on salvation by grace through faith (Acts 15:11). James, presiding over the meeting, cited the prophet Amos as evidence that gentiles would “bear my name” (Acts 15:17). He concluded—“we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19). I believe that principle was critical to the explosive growth of the church for the next 300 years. That same concept can catalyze the spread of the good news of God’s grace in any age.
As we join Jesus as He builds His “prevailing church” (Matt. 16:18), we will have to fight for grace. Like the constant force of gravity, legalism keeps tugging down on grace. Individually we need and embrace grace for ourselves; but something inside us struggles to allow others the grace we receive from God. We are tempted to apply proofs, evidence and externals, just like the Pharisees of the first century. It’s far tidier. It appeals to our pride. It more comfortable to be around those who know our language and acceptable behaviors. Grace is messy with people who are in process. But that messiness is a necessity if we are engaging with people “as is” the way Jesus did.
I want to thank those who attended our meeting last Sunday evening. If you were unable to attend and would like to see a video of it contact Rochelle in the office.
This weekend we will continue our series on “Spiritually Healthy Addictions”.
Looking forward to seeing you!