I was just kind of ruminating while writing this, not sure I actually had a specific point to make. I thought maybe I would figure that out as I was writing. Hopefully I found a message worth sharing.
This verse seems a fan favorite among followers of Jesus – For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:17 ESV. This is an interesting verse for us, because as Christians, no matter the denomination or background, you can bet that one thing we are all interested is our truth claims. We know that Jesus was, is, and will be “….the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 ESV. Jesus in himself is the truth of God the Father, this we vigorously proclaim to the world around us, and rightly so. In fact, the last thing Jesus said to his disciples was “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Matthew 28:18-19 ESV. So, yes, we are commanded to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ into the world and make disciples of all the nations, and this does make it a worthwhile effort to be able to know and speak truth to those around us.
But then we all have our own various, in house truth claims. By in house, I am referring to those particular truth claims that might make one a Roman Catholic, a Southern Baptist, an Eastern Orthodox, a Lutheran, a Presbyterian, an evangelical, a Protestant. Through the centuries we Christians have spent enormous time and energy debating and decreeing our truths into the world and to one another, every church and every denomination defending its particular brand.
But what about the “other” part of this particular favorite verse. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. We will spend untold hours and even invest our own treasure to defend particular versions of the truth of Jesus Christ. But what about grace?
Yes, what about grace? I suppose I have a point today after all. What about grace? Churches will argue amongst themselves that they have the best, most true version of the truth of Jesus Christ. But why aren’t we competing with one another to see who can pour the most grace into this world we all agree is broken and in need of that grace? Seems to me that the grace of Jesus Christ is a large part of his truth as well…
In the words of author Philip Yancey, “Grace is Christianity’s best gift to the world.” In the words of our most favorite hymn, “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved; How precious did that grace appear, The hour I first believed.” In a world dominated by the 24 hour news cycle, if it bleeds it leads journalism, in a world built on merit and earning your way, pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and self made men, what do Christians have to offer that is more significant than the unearned, undeserved, unending grace of Jesus Christ?
Where else are we to turn for grace? The world is full of un-grace, so much so that we just don’t even notice, we just accept that this is the way it has to be. Our culture tells us we must look good, do good, and be good. We have all sorts of rules for what can and can not even be said. We try to earn favor with one group of people, only to lose favor with another.
We start early setting up systems of acceptance for our own children. We test our children in preschool and slot them as “advanced”, “normal”, or “slow”. Then we set up grading systems, test every skill, measure their performance in math, reading, writing, even their social skills and outlook. We highlight and spotlight every wrong answer given, not the correct answers given. All this we do in order to prepare our children for the graceless “real world”, the world we have set up, the world we have created. The world as we would have it, a world of relentless ranking, a world where we fight as hard as we can to climb higher on the ladder, never mind those lost souls we knock down in our mad scramble to the top.
The military has practices un-grace in its purest form. Assigned a title, uniform, salary, and code of conduct, every soldier knows precisely where they stand in relation to every other soldier. You salute and obey those who outrank you; you bark orders to those you outrank.
Corporations do the same, if just more subtly. Corner offices or cubicles, private bathrooms or not so private stalls, special parking or commuter lots, it all depends on where you rank in the organization. And we are always waiting for someone above us to fall so we might have the chance at what they have. Meanwhile, someone else awaits our fall.
Our world runs gracelessly, insisting we must earn our way. Fortune magazine even runs its annual list of the 500 richest people in the world, and this we are fascinated by. It usually even makes the evening news. And what are the names of the 500 poorest? I mean, who cares, right?
Think about the disease of anorexia. This is a direct product of the graceless world we have created for ourselves. We hold up our image of the beautiful, skinny models, and wonder why our teenage girls will starve themselves trying to fit into that image. This is a phenomenon unique to our western civilization, it is a disease with no known history, which is almost non existent in places which have not taken to our western materialism and consumerism.
All these things take place right here in the USA, a supposedly enlightened, egalitarian society. We all have our rights, and don’t mind standing up for those rights. Even if it means stepping on someone else’s rights in the process.
Unfortunately, the church itself has become known as a haven for un-grace. The very sinners who once came running to Jesus now run away from his church just as fast as they can go. If they have any interest in the church at all, they may feel they need to get their act together before they walk through those church doors. After all, that holy water might just melt them if it were to land upon them. And if anyone in that building actually knew our stories, we’d be the talk of the town.
Gordon MacDonald once said “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.” So, yes, what about grace. What about the grace of a father who upon seeing his long lost prodigal son trudging home in the distance, could not wait but with glee sprinted out to meet him, clothed him again with his finest, killed the fattest calf, and had a party we still talk about two thousand years later? What about the grace of a man shown to a woman by a well who was so ashamed of herself that she would only come to the well in midday when she was sure no one else would be around? What about the grace of a good shepherd who, though he has ninety-nine other sheep, will leave them in the open country to go and search for the one who is lost? Search, yes, and not stop searching until he has found it that one lost sheep…
Yes church, what about grace?
“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
John 1:16-17 ESV