“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.” In What's So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey asks, if grace is God's love for the undeserving, then what does it look like in action? And if Christians are its sole dispensers, then how are we doing at lavishing grace on a world that knows far more of cruelty and unforgiveness than it does of mercy? The future for Christians depends on how we master the art of giving grace.
The concept of earning is built into every human system. We work obsessively to please both other people and God. Many of us formed an image of a mathematical God: a great judge who weighs our good and evil deeds on a set of scales. We miss the God of mercy and generosity who always find ways to extend love and give us grace.
Forgiveness isn’t easy and rarely is it completely satisfying. Nagging injustices remain, and the wounds still cause pain. We have to yield again and again the residue of what we thought we had already surrendered long ago. Only by living in God’s grace will we find the strength to respond with grace toward others.
When Jesus said, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” he meant all of those who had not repented: the Roman soldiers, the religious leaders, his disciples who had fled in darkness, you, me. Jesus forgave us in advance, in order to set us free to forgive those who wrong us. The more we love our enemies, the more we resemble God the Father.
We are living in a very divided time, which makes grace all the more difficult to give yet all the more powerful. Justice must start with truth, acknowledging the sins of our past, and then work toward reconciliation. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Forgiveness is not just an occasional act: it is a permanent attitude.”
At first glance legalism seems hard, but in fact freedom in Christ is harder. It is relatively easy not to murder, hard to reach out in love; easy to avoid a neighbor’s bed, hard to keep a marriage alive; easy to pay taxes, hard to serve the poor. When living in freedom, I must remain open to the Spirit for guidance.
Perhaps Christians should work harder toward cultivating little establishments of the kingdom that point to our true home. If the world despises a notorious sinner, the church will instead love her. If the world cuts off aid to the poor and the suffering, the church will offer food and healing. That at least is the vision of the church in the New Testament: a colony of heaven in a hostile word.