Six Lessons on Grace – A Lenten Series
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of the 40 days of Lent. I will use the six Tuesdays in this year’s Lenten season to focus us on different aspects of God’s grace.
Why grace? Here’s six reasons (and a preview of this series).
1 – Grace is convicting; without it we are hopeless
2 – Grace is undeserved; without it we are deceived
3 – Grace is unjust; without it we are in bondage
4 – Grace is compelling; without it we are lost
5 – Grace is levelling; without it we are divided
6 – Grace is transforming; without it we are broken
Hopeless, deceived, self-righteous, lost, divided and broken; at their core these are not only forms of sinfulness, but they’re also the rotting fruit of the world’s penchant for ungrace.
Our culture is increasingly at war with grace. Lent 2021 will be observed in a social, political and moral context unknown to most all of us. The journey to the cross by followers of Jesus will need to pick its way through a minefield of political disillusionment, justified immorality and social disintegration. The quiet of Lenten contemplation will need to find its place amidst the cacophony of voices spewing out various versions of the original lie of the enemy that we are lords of our own kingdoms.
How do we make this journey in a way that cleaves us to our Savior? How do we hear his voice in the midst of the clatter? I pray this series is one small part of that answer for you.
Grace is Convicting
Amazing Grace may be the most beloved and oft sung Christian song in history. In addition to church services and Christian gatherings, it is played at secular funerals, sporting events and in a variety of non-faith-based settings. How interesting that a culture that rebels against grace finds grace’s anthem so enticing. I have been at funerals surrounded by decidedly non-religious and even anti-religious people, all vocalizing the lyrics, ‘Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.’
The truth is grace is only amazing if we believe we are truly wretches. And therein lies the problem. Grace exposes our sin, for why else would a sovereign and just God need to be gracious other than to address our guilt, our lostness and our wretchedness? Grace is grace only to the one who desperately needs it.
Every Good Friday Linda and I watch The Passion of the Christ. It is an act of obedience, because it’s a very hard movie to watch. Even after seeing it maybe 15+ times, I recoil at the violence and am nauseated at the level of torture it depicts. The meaning in it all is that this was done for me. Mel Gibson begins the movie by quoting Isaiah 53:5,
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
Imagine standing at the cross as they pounded the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet and thinking, ‘I’m sorry for you, but this has nothing to do with me.’ That is the response of our culture to grace. But it’s far worse.
It is not just the indifference to grace that we are experiencing, as astonishing as that may be, it’s the offense of grace that has us under attack. You see, just as soon as we say, ‘this has nothing to do with me’, Jesus responds with, ‘this has everything to do with you, for whether or not you believe it, I am rescuing you from the power of sin and death.’
God’s grace meted out in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not one option on a spiritual smorgasbord that we are free to choose or leave. It is the defining moment in our human existence. God chose us, loved us, died for us and redeemed us. All we need to do is confess our sin and accept his free gift of grace. “God’s grace is also exhibited when we humbly bow before Christ in repentance and faith, for then we find forgiveness. Thank God for His grace, for without it we would have no hope!” (Billy Graham, Hope for Each Day)
How does that once and for all, finished and completed work of salvation sit with a culture in love with the elevation of self and the worship of worldviews that enthrone every conceivable expression of our pursuit of personal happiness? Well, not very well. In fact, grace is anathema to the self-directed life. Confess sin when we are working so hard to self-justify every behavior? Admit our need for a Savior when we equate happiness with self-sustaining wealth and independent sources of security? Accept the moniker of ‘wretch’ when we try so desperately for the world to see us as successful, smart and at the top of our game?
The Humanist Manifesto II puts it like this, “We can discover no divine purpose or providence for the human species. While there is much that we do not know, humans are responsible for what we are or will become. No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.” In the face of this, Thomas Aquinas writes of the Ash Wednesday liturgy, “Nevertheless, the liturgy of this day is not focused on the sinfulness of the penitent but on the mercy of God. The question of sinfulness is raised precisely because this is a day of mercy, and the just do not need a savior.”
Grace is offensive because it exposes our sin, our brokenness and our need for a Savior. Grace tells us we cannot save ourselves. Grace puts us in peril of losing our soul. It takes us to the edge to the abyss of hell and utter darkness and lets us see it as our rightful future. Grace judges us guilty and bids us to consider the sentence that should be passed on to us. Charles Spurgeon noted, “Grace puts its hand on the boasting mouth, and shuts it once for all.”
Grace does all this, not to terrify or cause us to despair, but to set in the starkest relief the astonishing truth of grace. Against this black sky, the sunshine of grace shines in all its brilliance. That’s why grace is the most cherished teaching in Scripture. That’s why grace is so unique to the Christian faith. That’s why grace is the best news a person will ever hear during their life on earth. And that’s why grace is amazing.
“The world can do almost anything as well as or better than the church. You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do. It cannot offer grace.” (George McDonald in Phillip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?)
On this Ash Wednesday, grace will be as amazing to you only to the extent that your wretchedness is real and confessed. In a world of ungrace, may you experience God’s grace in all its fulness as you bear the ashes of the cross and prepare your hearts for your Lenten journey.