These next two posts are the result of some reflection on why there is so much resistance to the concept of grace, and why Christians, though they speak of it often, seldom understand it.
It concerns me that today many people are singing Amazing Grace with a yawn. What staggered so many desperate souls has become a by-word in our “Christianese”. Our language and verbiage so well learned, the meaning so far distanced, we repeat our lingo and sing our jingles often without serious thought or examination as to what meaning there is in what we say.
How did we get to this apathy (or so it seems) towards grace? What is so amazing about grace (as Phillip Yancy puts it)? One of the reasons why I believe there is so much resistance and barriers to appreciating grace is because of our performance-driven culture we live in. From childhood, when you are in Kindergarten, we strive to tie our shoes well, say our ABC’s, and not eat glue. But why? So that we get an “S” for satisfactory rather than an “U” for unsatisfactory on our report cards. Throughout grade school until the day we walk across the stage and receive our diploma, we are graded on our performance at least every six weeks. When we did not perform well as a student, our grades going home held us accountable, especially when dad saw them (can I get a witness?). We were motivated to perform well, to get the awards on award’s day, to receive those scholarships, all to give evidence on the value of a good performance. Even when my dog goes out and does her business well, her performance is met with a treat.
The same is true in the workplace. If you perform well as an employee, well, you are most likely to get better pay or maybe a promotion. At least, you will receive the good favor of your boss when you need a day off or make certain requests. How about sports? Growing up I was a jock with a capital “J”. I was, and still am, and avid competitor. I so wanted to perform well so that our team could win the game, and maybe I could get the game-ball or be called the MVP. The write-ups in the local paper would be cut out and held as proof as a great performance. In the grander scale, you see the national championships, the Olympic medals, the world records being broken, all as evidence of exceedingly great performances . . .
But is this how we are to “grade” the Christian life? Can we rightly take this performance-driven mentality and place it on our personal walks with the Lord? To the success of our church? I heard of churches that are “results-driven” which clearly show that they are “performance-oriented.” Yet there is nothing that can validate that this is how one is to grade their spirituality.
From salvation, you see that it is not as a result of works whereby one is saved. Clearly, salvation is the Lord’s doing, not ours. We can’t perform well enough to merit God’s favor, to be acceptable in His sight. Yea, our “exceedingly great performances” are but filthy rags in the sight of God (Isaiah 64:6). Verily, it is our performance that hinders us from salvation. We think we can be good enough, can do enough, to “beat the odds” against eternity and God’s verdict on our lives. There is one who worked, whose performance was perfect, whose life was totally acceptable. Paul mentioned: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18-19). Whoever works gets the glory, has the reason for boasting, can rightfully receive the praise due to their performance.
God never intended me or you to live the Christian life. It is simply impossible. I know that it is common that many view God’s relatedness on the basis of our performance. If we perform well (pray, study, and so on), then God accepts us, but if we perform poorly, then we feel unacceptable to God. Yet the Christian life is the life of Christ in us. This life is lived, not by our working, but from our abiding in God through utter dependence and reliance upon the Holy Spirit to work in us. Our acceptance to God is not based on our doing, but on what Christ has done, and His work stands once and for all on our behalf, speaking perfection over us, a performance that the Father is well-pleased. We, as recipients of God’s grace and God’s Son, are called to be conformed to the image of Jesus as a result.
Clearly, there is a “Suit and Tie” Christianity today. We feel it necessary to cover up our nakedness. We don’t want to be exposed – for people to see our sin, our pride, lust, gossiping, lying, immorality, jealousy, bitterness, and so on. We are doing well in our “sin management”, trading sins for others that are easier to hide (Webb’s lyrics). If but our lives were on the movie screen for all the world to see that we can be desperately desiring God’s grace. Before God we are naked and exposed (Hebrews 4:13), and only those who have been clothed in the righteous garments of Christ can have their sin covered, their needs met, their lives acceptable to God. So when you see me in church, look not for my suit and tie. Don’t be fooled. I am a saint and a sinner. I am nothing without God’s grace. Don’t let my “good” performances (Lord willing)deceive you into thinking that there is anything good in me. It can only be said in the striking statement made by Paul that “by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
To be this type of Christian not only cuts across the grain in our culture, but also against much of Christianity today. Our “spiritual resumes” rival the grace of God, and Paul who probably is the greatest missionary who ever lived stated that he would not venture to speak of anything except what Christ had accomplished through him (Romans 15:18). Any self-independence, any self-engineered religion, any manufactured spirituality is abhorrent and disgraceful to God’s grace. Until we realize that our lives are entirely indebted to the grace of God, we will continue to swagger in our prideful performances and yawn at the grace that used to be so amazing.