This pastoral passage was first written for LRBC on September 4 2016.
Grace at its best is also grace at its worst. Grace is hard to accept when it does what it does best. Christians typically accept that we are accepted by God on the basis of what Jesus has done rather than because of anything we can do, but this becomes uncomfortable when we push grace to further limits than we normally think about.
Think about it – there are some very bad people in New Zealand who could repent of their sins, believe the gospel and commit themselves to Jesus. Their sin would be forgiven and they would be on an equal footing before God with any other Christian. Some people would baulk at that – such grace is not something they are prepared to swallow.
Let’s make it worse. There are some New Zealanders, alive and deceased, who are universally loved as national icons. Imagine one of these – with all their fame and generosity – standing before God with one of the ‘very bad people’ mentioned above. How things would go with both of them depend on grace – whether they have they received it, or not. The idea that the latter could be welcomed into God’s good presence while the former is excluded and condemned would be a national scandal. If it were possible God himself would be summoned to a Human Rights tribunal! (If you were wondering, I think God would be found guilty under the NZ Human Rights Act 1993 section 21.1.c, d, and j).
When it comes to sin and salvation, we have no rights. From start to finish salvation is all of grace (cf. Acts 15:11; Romans 11:6). It is freely given by God who is under no obligations to us. Grace humbles us all, and grace lifts all its beneficiaries together. It is counter-intuitive and humanly intolerable. Grace at its best is grace at its ‘worst’. We can swallow grace, or spit it out.