Grace isn’t a word we hear much in our culture. I think America is more about “get him!” than it is about grace. I don’t know—maybe I read the wrong magazines or watch the wrong TV shows, but despite all the good in our country, it can be a very negative place. You can have the best economy, the best standard of living, the most beautiful places, stunning talents, payloads full of money, and all the intelligence in the world assembled in one place, but without grace, it’s like a kitchen without food in it.
I praise God that Christianity isn’t at all like America. For that matter, I’m so glad our God isn’t like all the fake gods out there. Do you realize that Christianity is the only religion in the whole world with the idea of grace? You study them, and you’ll see.
In Islam, God is a judge, and you have to earn your way to him.
In Hinduism you always get what you deserve, and you have to earn your way to a place of peace.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught they have to earn their way.
Mormons are taught they have to earn their way.
Catholics are taught they have to earn their way.
Christ said, “Free gifts for one and all.”
First, let’s talk about God’s grace to us. The root of the word is that of joy, or pleasure. Grace. It’s the Greek word for gift. Charis. Do you recognize charismata: spiritual gifts? Happy birthday. Merry Christmas. What it means is that when God looks at you, he wants to shower you with the best of everything. Christmas every day. Win the lottery. What other images can I call forth? You win the drawing, over and over. There are common graces—things that everyone gets to enjoy: sunshine, smiles, successes, food. There are special graces—the uncommon gifts of God. But these are the easy images. Let’s look at some harder ones.
Let’s say you are happily married and falling more and more in love every day. Then one dreadful day you find out that your spouse has been cheating on you, and you find indisputable evidence that they are giving their love to another at your expense. The picture of the grace of God in the parables, and in the book of Hosea, is that God will take you back in his arms, and love you with an even greater love. It’s grace. Your love is a free gift, with no strings attached.
Suppose you are a compulsive gambler, and you waste all your and your family’s money on the pursuit of the wind. You lose your job, you gamble away your car and your house. Your family loses everything. The picture of the grace of God in Luke 15 is that when you get home, your wife takes you in her arms and holds you as if nothing had ever happened.
I think we usually picture grace as something we haven’t earned, but it’s only given to us as long as we act in ways that mean we at least deserve it. That’s not the picture of Scripture. In Scripture grace is a radical, outlandish travesty of reason.
The roots of grace are love. When you love someone, you make all kinds of allowances. You know, your husband or wife can get away with things that nobody else ever could, because you love them so much. Grace is God’s active love. Suppose you were the king of the world, and you were going to give an award to the best leaf on the tree. That’s right, what I just said is ridiculous. Now understand that God is in heaven looking for a person who is exactly like Jesus, perfect in every way. Just as ridiculous. “Grace” is that God says, “Oh, come on in anyway. I love you so much.” What’s hard to believe is that people walk away.
I said the roots of grace are love, but the branches are freedom. What does it do to you when you know God isn’t watching to see how creatively he can punish you? What does it do to you to know that God is saying, “Love me, and do whatever you want!” There’s no debt to pay, no rules to follow, and nothing to earn. Just go and live.
Do you hear the POWER in that kind of love? Do you hear the JOY in that kind of love?
Grace is at the heart of the gospel, and it proves the other religions to be fakes. I know that deep down we all want to earn God’s approval, and so every other religion has been designed to let us do that. It makes us feel so … worthy to have had a hand in our own godliness. But deeper down we know we’re not worthy, and we’re tricking the management with our little games. Christianity overturns the tables and tells the truth: You can’t reach up and grab him. The good news of the gospel, and of grace, is that He reaches down to grab you.
Now let’s talk about our grace to each other. Read the Parable of the unforgiving servant (Mt. 18.23-35). When somebody has treated you with the kind of love and grace that God has, aren’t I being a little stinker to not turn around and pay that forward to other people? Well, you may protest, you don’t know what that person has done to me, or how they’ve treated me, or how they’ve hurt me over and over. You don’t know that that person is a liar, and a cheat, and a thief. You don’t seem to understand that person is not a good person.
Have you just drawn a picture of your sinful self, or what? And God showed grace to you.
I’ll tell you what I want, and especially from the church: Where I don’t get attacked every time I turn around. Where people are willing to forgive, and give me the benefit of the doubt, instead of assuming the worst. Where you let things go, and just wash away. Yes, a washing away. A washing away. I like the image already. The freedom to be and to let others be. The wonder that I’m not rebuked and corrected for every flaw and error. There’s just a washing away—it doesn’t matter. I’ll let it go. Why’s that so hard?