Christianity 201

May 31, 2013

When Grace is Given Selectively

To paraphrase a popular saying, “All people in the church are given grace equally, but some grace is more equal than others.” Do you ever feel that way? That certain issues are elevated while discussion of others is suppressed? Mark at the blog Attempts at Honesty deals with this in a blog post titled Selective grace in the church

Grace is a word that Christians frequently use, too often glibly and without proper thought. For example, I have been in several churches with Grace in their titles who offered very little of it to the people who attend.

We all want grace, but sometimes struggle to give it when it is most needed. Perhaps this is why Jesus placed such an emphasis upon forgiveness, going so far as to say that He will not forgive those who refuse to forgive others (Matthew 6:15). Offering grace must be intentional and is sometimes difficult because it goes against our natural inclination.

What is even more bothersome to me is that in some churches, selective grace is offered. Selective grace is in operation when some people receive grace and others do not. Often this is due to the background of the person who needs grace.

In a denomination that I formerly attended many of the pastors would often refer to their drug abuse in their “B.C.” days. They would use their former behavior as an illustration of God’s grace, and rightly so. They did indeed receive grace and despite their past failures God uses them in ministry.

The problem comes in when some other sins are less likely to receive grace. In some churches, those who have experienced divorce, those who struggle with same sex attraction, those with mental illness and those who might disagree on minor points of doctrine receive anything but grace. Even in that denomination with the formerly drug addled pastors, selective grace was a struggle and some people were treated in a manner inconsistent with grace.

Let’s be honest and admit that sometimes we encounter Christians who make us uncomfortable. If we do not make a conscious effort to build bridges with those who make us feel uncomfortable, then we are likely to withhold grace from them.

Some make us uncomfortable because of their background or lifestyle. It is as if we want everyone cleaned up completely after becoming a believer. The problem is that we are all in the process of being cleaned up, yet sometimes we hold others to a standard we can not meet.

I have been in churches where those who came out of a “sinful” lifestyle continued to be suspect, no matter how they progressed in their relationship with Jesus or their understanding of Scripture. Sexual sins in particular seem to put people on the suspect list. I have also known of churches where divorce was treated as if it was the unpardonable sin.

Perhaps even worse than this is to withhold grace over a difference in belief or practice. Examples of some issues over which we might withhold grace are these:

  • How the gifts of the spirit are manifested
  • How prophetic portions of Scripture are to be interpreted
  • Whether a person is liberal or conservative in their politics
  • The preference or abhorrence of liturgy in the worship service

This is not an exhaustive list, we could find many more issues over which Christians have divided.

We cannot be selective in how we demonstrate the grace of God in our lives. We need to follow the example of Jesus in the way he was gracious to everyone, including the Pharisees. Ephesians 2:8-9 is often quoted as indicating that we are saved by grace, yet the verses preceding verse 8 set the correct context.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:1–9, ESV)

Apart from Christ, we were dead in our trespasses and sins. In other words, we crossed boundaries that should not be crossed and we fell short of the standard we know was in place. Yet, God gave us grace, the very grace that saves us.

How can we do anything less than offer that same grace to others? We must put an end to selective grace.

Read more at Attempts at Honesty: What Nehemiah Can Teach Us About Apologetics.

February 21, 2013

In The Hands of One Who Cares for You

Today we’re featuring Timothy Foster who is a brand new member of Faithful Bloggers and whose Bible study and devotional blog is titled Worship Forward+.  As always, we encourage you to click through to read at source.  (With a limited number of posts to date, you can read everything he’s written!) I think many of you will like Timothy’s writing style in this piece, which appeared at his blog as He Likes Me, He Really Likes Me. (You can encourage new bloggers with a comment on their page.)

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said,  “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.  If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.” (Mark 8:1-3 NIV84)

Poor Sally Field, our blog post title today comes from that memorable speech she made at the Oscars in 1984 where she said, “… The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it, and I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me.”  Whatever that speech really meant, I think among other things, it sort of hits on an emotional challenge many have, and that is that we really crave to be truly, deeply, cared for, “liked”, and loved.  We don’t want lip service, we don’t want to be “stroked”, we want to know and feel that someone out there really and truly cares.

I was moved in the Mark passage by Jesus’ loving reaction to the physical condition of the people to whom He had been ministering so fervently.  Mark explains that He had compassion for the people.  Here Jesus, teaching for 3 days, probably exhausted and hungry himself, has the magnitude and fortitude to feel compassion for a people so hungry for a Savior, they are willing to ignore their own hunger; even to the point of possible collapse during their journey home.  As only a parent would know, Jesus recognizes their state and wants to feed them.

In Luke 15:20 we see this word compassion used again in yet another familiar story, the Prodigals Son:

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”  

The story did not say that his Father saw him and waited for him to come to him, it said that he ran to him and threw his arms around him.  That’s not just a feeling, that’s a passion.  That’s a loving parent who truly deeply cares for the well-being of His son.

We again see this property shown in possibly its purest form when Jesus actually weeps for His friend Lazarus who has recently died.  John 11:33-36:

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.  Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

This English word compassion comes from the Greek word Splagchnizomai (Strong’s 4697) and the definition is “to be moved as to one’s bowels, hence to moved with compassion”.  OK.  I’ll say it.  Gross.  I know your saying, wow, this Greek thing is really helpful :)  Fact is that the Strong’s definition goes on to explain that “the bowels were regarded as the seat of the more violent passions, such as anger and love; but by the Hebrews as the seat of the tenderer affections, esp. kindness, benevolence, compassion; hence our heart”.

So, if we put this in our bowl and stir it all together we see a compassion that is a very deeply felt.  This is not just a feeling but a passionate reaction to the physical condition of His people, to the sheep of His flock.  Like our Father in heaven, like a loving parent, Jesus looks to us in a way only a parent can.  As when our own children are running out the door without a coat or when we send our kids off to school, we love them deeply enough to put that coat on them or to give them their bag lunch.

The Psalmist says it well, when he says,

“For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” (Psalms 36:9 NIV84)

I am personally comforted by all this, as I want to follow a Savior who I know cares about me; who feels deeply for me.  I may not know what’s around the corner in life, but this I know.  That I am following a loving Savior, who cares not only for my soul, but also for my sanity.  A parent who loves me and cares for me deeply.  A friend who weeps for me.  I am in good hands.  I am in His hands.

He loves me, He really Loves Me!