Preaching grace

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

In the public square Christians are sadly known as people who specialize in judging others - who is moral and immoral, who is saved and who is damned. To a certain extent we do need to be able to evaluate our world, and to recognize things that are messed around us. Everyone does in fact do this. It's impossible not to. But the response that should characterize us as Christians is that of grace not condemnation. Grace recognizes that there is real wrong and hurt, real sin and evil in us and in our world, but instead of responding with condemnation, grace responds by "always hoping, always believing, always trusting". Grace does not deny or ignore the reality of brokenness in our lives, it does not pretend that we are not screwed up. Instead Grace defiantly loves and hopes in the face of our failure and stupidness. Grace counterintuitively seeks to redeem the lost causes. It looks at the reality of our world filled with suffering and injustice and insists that despite all this, we choose to believe that God's grace will still win the day.

Grace is what we should be known for as followers of Christ, but sadly we Christians are largely known for what Phillip Yancy has called 'ungrace'. Ungrace is "that state of being in which self-righteousness and pride are a result of thinking that we have somehow earned God's approval and may now stand in judgment in his behalf." In a rather amusing passage from Church Dogmatics Karl Barth sums up how ridiculous we look when we try and take on God's roll in judging,
"Man thinks he sits on a high thrown, but in reality he sits only on a child's stool, blowing his little trumpet, cracking his little whip, pointing with frightful seriousness his little finger, while all the time nothing happens that really matters. He can only play the judge." (CD IV/2 60.2, p.446)
We may think we are battling for God in our outspoken condemnation of wrong around us, but if we are not doing this in a radical spirit of grace, then we are simply not representing Christ and God. If there is one single sin in the New Testament that is seen as the most severe, the most harmful, it is the loveless judgmentalism exhibited by the religious leaders. The harshest words of Jesus are reserved for condemning exatly this sin, and Paul in Galatians has a cow when that church begins to buy into this way, asking them incredulously if they have completely lost their minds and telling them that in following this way of judgment and law they have "fallen away from grace". He means that quite literally because the way of judgmentalism exhibited by the religious leaders of our day is the opposite of grace. It is, Paul says, and 'ungospel'.

From a biblical perspective, and in particular from a New Testament perspective this is the most serious of all sins. No other sin is so harshly condemned. Yet when do you hear pastors from the pulpit confronting these religious leaders, calling them on their sin as Jesus does? Instead they manage to hide in a mantle of religious self-righteousness. As if we had never read the New Testament. The problem is not so much that there are some obnoxious people who use religion and a cover for their hate. The problem is that the church does not vocally speak out against it as clearly being the deadly sin that it is. The problem is that the way of grace is rarely ever preached.

This way of grace is not self-evident. It goes against the grain our natural (read: carnal) inclinations. So we need to hear grace preached to us so it saturates our thinking and becomes second nature to us. Christians are not those who do not judge, we are those who love, hope, and forgive in spite of seeing our own failings and the failings around us. We are not those who have it all figured out, who are upstanding and flawless. We are, as a Switchfoot song goes, "the church of the dropouts and losers and sinners and failures and the fools". We are those who love because we have been loved when we were unlovable.

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At 8:09 AM, Blogger Sue said...

Derek, thanks so much for preaching grace in this post. You're right, we need to keep reminding ourselves, over and over.

What amazes me the most is that when we remind each other, we are reminding ourselves at the same time, and the blessing we give out to others when speaking of grace we give in to ourselves at the same time. It's an amazing thing.

This was a lovely post to read before going to bed :)

At 12:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very true, it's a message I constantly need to remind myself of, and that steps on my toes!

At 11:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you and grace and peace be unto you. Do you know of any grace based pastors,teachers or churches in Omaha, Nebraska ? Tony- a blood bought soul saved by grace through faith............

At 9:04 AM, Anonymous Derek said...


No sorry I don't know much about Omaha at all :^) But I do know that you can listen to podcast sermons every week from Revolution Church in NYC which is the most grace based church I know.


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