Stop Looking for a Squeaky Clean Alternative to the Messiness of Grace
Today began as a wreck. I got to the office an hour later than I wanted to. Michaelene wasn’t feeling well (it happens in the mornings, sometimes), one of the boys is sick, and the other three boys were needing to be guided, because they were fighting and weren’t making the right decisions. I admit: I may have lost my cool a bit, but I decided to stay home and make sure everything was done, and saw the boys off to school. It got me thinking: my life is not perfect, by any means. Some people look to me, the elders of the church, and the deacons to have everything together, they expect us to have full attentiveness to them and their situations, and expect us to be something other than human. Yet I’m comforted that Paul calls himself a wretch, a murderer, the least of the Apostles, because He wasn’t any of those things either!
Too many church goers want a sterile worship experience: I wear a shirt that says “blessed,” listen to Christian music on the radio, don’t curse, don’t smoke, can quote some Bible verses and old hymns, show up to church once a week (most of the time), and am better than most people, so I am living the Christian life. The fact is, though, grace is messy. It’s messy because it began with rebellion in a garden, and God had to sacrifice something that He called good to atone for it. God’s history with man is one of constant bickering and rebellion from those He chose, and His discipline was severe, because His Holiness demands justice for sin. It all culminated at a blood soaked cross, presented by the already mangled body of Jesus Christ, and it was his pierced hands, feet, and side that paid the debt for the sin (mine and yours) that put him there.
The fact is, life does not become easier when we come to Christ. It’s not a hallmark movie or a “faith-based” film where everything ends up okay in the end. For some, the ending (or beginning) comes when militants raid your village and murder you and your family for believing in Christ, or when the secret police take you without your family’s knowledge to an unknown prison, and torture you to get information on the rest of your underground church. For some, it means your spouse leaves because this Jesus thing is too much to handle, or your family doesn’t understand why you’re leaving to go do ministry in another state our foreign (and often hostile) country. It’s giving more than you have to give to missions and ministries while trying to pay your bills and debts on time because you know it’s what would honor God, even if it means you eat less this month (while making sure your kids don’t), and wearing shabby clothes every day to the church office because you save your good clothes for Sundays, because serving God means more to you than the money you could be making elsewhere. It’s tending to your first ministry (your family), knowing it’ll make you late, but you know this is the first ministry God gave you, so you sacrifice.
Grace is often messy, and it is not free and cheap. It was bought with the blood of Jesus Christ, and continually demonstrated by the blood and sacrifices of the saints. We don’t need to paint a clean picture for the outside world, we have to live for Christ in the circumstances we’re presented with, whatever those may be, and do so in a way that honors and glorifies Him always.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.