The Repelling and Compelling Nature of Grace
Grace is not neutral. When we are confronted with the radical nature of the grace of God in the face of our sin, we are immediately met with a crisis. If our encounter with grace does not result in crisis, it is not God’s grace that has confronted us. As crisis, true grace will either engender in us contrition and repentance that sets us free, or it will fuel anger and offense that will shackle us. No one walks away from a genuine encounter with grace unchanged.
We stated in earlier blogs that the nature of grace is to convict us of sin, for without recognition of sin, grace is either nonsensical or offensive. If the former, grace can be shrugged off like the offer of a free ticket to an event that holds no interest. ‘Thanks, but no thanks’. We are told to keep our religion to ourselves. Everyone is free to believe what they want. No religion is better or truer than any other. Be tolerant. Live and let live. You do you (and let me do me). The rise of the ‘nones’ and the increase in the number of people indentifying as atheists bears witness to this apathetic response to the radical grace of God.
In the latter, the sting of grace is better understood and it provokes disdain as a result. ‘Who are you (or who is God) to presume that I need to be forgiven?’ Sin has been discarded by the world and disregarded by the church to such a degree that its mention in mixed company can produce derision and anger. Sin? In 2021? Haven’t we moved beyond such talk? Indeed, we have, and as a result the healing aroma of grace has been turned into a putrid symbol of a close-minded bigotry the world is trying to expel from every part of its life and experience.
Either as inconsequential or intolerable, grace is an unwelcomed gift to the unrepentant heart.
So why should we steward the grace of God when our culture responds to its message with either apathy or apoplexy? Why share it when it is met with such disdain? Why try to live by grace when it seems to make so little impact on our world?
Why? Because God’s grace is compelling. Once we receive it, we can do no other.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul proclaims that, “Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” (2:13) The message of grace – that one died for all – stirs our hearts with such zeal that we cannot help but share its transforming power.
St. Augustine wrote, “The way to open our hearts to others is by receiving afresh the grace of God and appreciating what it means: seeing our own need of Christ; receiving His mercy. For grace is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.”
The season of Lent sets aside 40 days for us to marinade in grace. We deny ourselves in order to connect more intimately with God’s giving of his son because he so loved the world, the Son’s sacrifice on the cross ‘for the joy set before him’, and the Spirit’s bearing of the brokenness of the Triune life in Jesus’ cry of forsakenness from the cross. It was a Triune suffering and sacrifice that won for us the grace that should now compel us.
If this amazing grace does not compel, perhaps we have lost the awesomeness of its power to make all things new, including us. Such power was not lost on Martin Luther who shared this encounter, “Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by his faith’. Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”
Reborn? Going through the gates of paradise? That is a definition of how grace, once encountered, compels us.
How about you? In this Lenten journey, are you overwhelmed by the grace of God? Do you wonder at its majesty and grandeur until you are left dazed, awestruck? Are you overcome by its goodness and astounded at its splendor?
May we pray for such an experience, such an encounter with grace that we are given a new understanding of what it means to be forgiven, washed clean by the blood of Christ and brought near to God. And may that experience compel us. May it be said of us this Lent and beyond, that compelled by grace:
We acted graciously in a world of ungrace.
We were peacemakers in an age of division and hatred.
We loved our enemies in a culture of offense and accusation.
We sacrificed for the good of others in an era of self-protection and suspicion.
We spoke the truth with love in a time of lies and self-deception.
We followed Jesus regardless of the cost.