Chapter 13: Jesus’ Grace–Am I Accepted?
In many ways this chapter reads like a recap of John’s sermon yesterday. Many of us feel that we’re unloveable for some reason or another. Many more of us feel we have to earn love, or worse–that we have earned love and others haven’t.
This is the beauty of grace.
Are you accepted? Yes. God loves you exactly as you are. 1 John 4.16 says that God IS love–the very nature of God is love. It is not possible for God not to love.
But what is grace? It’s unconditional, for one thing. It’s freely given. It’s abundant–more abundant than anything we can imagine. It’s love and forgiveness and hope and healing and wholeness all wrapped up into one word. We can’t make it for ourselves, we can’t earn it, and we can’t ration it.
Sometimes in the Inquirer’s Class I talk about the Reformed Christian understanding of grace as being a little like a ball or something made out of the soft side of velcro. We are made out of the scratchy side of velcro. God tosses grace out and it sticks to us, whether we want it or not. (I love the playfulness of this image, too–I think it’s very God-esque!)
There’s always a but, isn’t there?
Grace is not cheap (to use Bonhoeffer’s word). God loves us as we are, but will not leave us as we are. Romans 3 says that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…and Romans 8 says that NOTHING, in life or in death, can separate us from the love of God. And everything else, everything in the gospels, the epistles, the prophets, etc, is about how we are to live. We’ve all received grace upon grace. Rain falls on the just and the unjust. The question is what we do with that grace.
As Reformed Christians, we say that our task is to LIVE as people of grace. The author (who’s Methodist) uses the language of justifying and sanctifying grace–we are justified by God’s grace, made right with God. Sanctifying grace is how we live into that grace and grow into spiritual maturity. Presbyterian language is slightly different but has the same idea. Basically: God calls us to live grace-filled (which can also be written Grateful!) lives, because of what we have received. Sort of a pay-it-forward idea. We don’t do good things, we don’t believe, we don’t act a certain way IN ORDER TO EARN grace. We do good things, we believe, we act a certain way BECAUSE we have grace.
There’s a great story in Luke 7 about this very idea. Jesus is confronted with a sinful woman who has served him and a righteous Pharisee who has spent his time judging the woman instead. Jesus tells a story in which the moral is that those who are forgiven much THEREFORE show great love. We don’t show great love in order to earn the forgiveness–instead it’s the other way around. The “hence” or “therefore” in the story is one of the best words in all of scripture.
I’m reminded of Papa in The Shack, who says about every single person “I’m especially fond of him.” When asked who’s her favorite, she says “I don’t have favorites–but I’m especially fond of everyone.”