Do you remember this discussion from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?
Clark: Since this is Aunt Bethany’s 80th Christmas, I think she should lead us in the saying of Grace.
Aunt Bethany: [turns to Lewis] What, dear?
Nora Griswold: Grace!
Aunt Bethany: Grace? She passed away thirty years ago.
Uncle Lewis: They want you to say Grace.
[Bethany shakes her head in confusion]
Uncle Lewis: The BLESSING!
Aunt Bethany: [they all pose for prayer] I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands/ One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
In my opinion, grace is one of the most fascinating aspects of the kingdom of God. It is pretty clear that Paul held it in high regard, starting his letters with “grace and peace” (also known as the greeting on Steve Puckett’s blog). This was Paul’s unique twist and word play on the typical Greek introduction to letters “Greeting” (chairein) changed to “Grace” (charis). You can find the traditional Greek greeting in two letters recorded in Acts ( Acts 15:23 and Acts 23:26).
If there was anyone who understood grace it was Saul. In his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus he came face to face with the one he had persecuted for so long. He stood in the presence of the one who had the power to bring an end to his reign of terror by ending his life just as had been done earlier to Ananias and Sapphira. And Christ did just that. He ended Saul’s life as he knew it. Christ brought an end to the persecution through grace. Saul didn’t get what he deserved. He was spared and reconciled with Christ. After that Saul, now named Paul, preached a message of reconciliation through grace. [By the way, some think his name may have been Saul Paul – first name, last name because “Paul” was always used as a last name at this time and never a first name.]
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again…All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Cor 5:14-15, 18-21.
While the word “grace” is not present, the concept is. For several generations we have been afraid to talk about grace because we were afraid someone may rationalize sin more easily, after all, God is just going to forgive it anyway. Yet we have not strayed from preaching and teaching reconciliation. If you remove grace from the picture but still teach reconciliation, the question is “reconciled by what?” Are we reconciled by our good works? Is everyone reconciled no matter what? Are we reconciled if our good outweighs our bad? When grace is removed we have an empty and powerless picture of reconciliation that puts all the burden on us and creates a guilt-ridden people who are unable to be sure of their salvation because they might slip up at the last minute and die before they can ask for forgiveness.
Grace. We cannot fear its misuse. It is a greater injustice to remove it from our teaching, preaching, and theology than it is to risk that someone might misuse it as a rationale for sin. When people have the proper understanding of grace, it should compell us to live more holy lives and not the other way around. This is not a new problem. Paul addresses this in Romans 6, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (6:1-2). Paul goes on to say, “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (6:13-14).
Paul’s point is, the very reason Christians avoid sin is because of grace! This is essential to having a healthy relationship with God. Yet many have tried to remove it because they have feared the opposite would happen. They feared greater grace would lead to greater sin. Paul says that grace is the very reason we are no longer mastered by sin. That is good news. I am fascinated by grace because it flies in the face of everything the world has to offer and even the order that this world operates by. Why? Because we are “longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called [our] God, for he has prepared a city for [us] – Heb 11:16. Let the grace of God compell us all to live more holy lives in response to all that he has done for us!