My friend Glen approached me before church last Sunday–as always with a smile–and mentioned he’d been reading my weekly columns for “a while now.”
Glen is a trained chaplain (hospitals, etc.), is an astute Bible guy, helps out in seemingly every ministry in our church, and it’s encouraging to know he takes the time to read my weekly heartfelt but un-trained offerings.
Still smiling, he added, “…I think I’ve figured out that you’re a grace guy.”
A “grace guy.” I liked that. But then looking at the expression on his face more closely, I felt compelled to inquire, lightheartedly, “Is that OK?”
“Um, yeah!” he responded, still smiling but with a moment’s hesitation.
Noticing the pause and myself not being one to miss a sardonic opportunity, I asked, “Do you prefer punishment?” He laughed and said, “No!… Well… maybe.”
I responded, with a wink. “Well, it does help to control the flock.” Then it was time to go into the service and that conversation was over. But it got me to thinking…
The Apostle Paul wrote 13 books of the New Testament and in every one he offers the greeting, “Grace and Peace.” Jesus, in the Gospels, is constantly telling us He is the truth, the way to God, the life of God, and in so many words, the face of God. Jesus came to help, not to harm; yes, to set us free from our sin but mysteriously to “enslave” us in His own goodness, protection, and love. Punishment? No.
It is beyond weird that a “slave” in this life who finds Jesus is set free (think of worldly sinners), and a free person who finds Jesus becomes a slave (think of Paul). And I’m not talking about the slave trade; I’m talking about humanity’s spiritual tendency to bind itself to evil because of fear, guilt, greed, pride, and self-righteousness, with a perpetual sense of inadequacy or debt when it comes to an encounter with goodness.
Jesus, you see, is goodness. Jesus knows what is best for us. Jesus, Son of God who is also God–another mystery–models God’s plan of self-sacrificial love that defeats evil. Jesus is our only “way” out. He is the “truth” we can trust. He is the “life” we can live in freedom now and in God’s eternity forever. Jesus didn’t “trade” His life for ours; He showed us perfect love and obedience. His lesson isn’t what we “owe” for our sins; His lesson is what we must do, how we must love, and how we must obey.
My life goes sour when debts overwhelm me. I know what it is to be bankrupt. The parables of Jesus not only teach us about the Kingdom of Heaven but they also instruct us in the impossibility of repaying divine gifts. Think of the overwhelming amounts in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35). The lesson is not the enormous amount; the lesson is the enormous mercy–and justice–of the master.
Praise God for the enormous mercy of our master, Jesus. Praise God that what Jesus desires is not repayment or guilt, but that He blesses our faith in Him and our love, mercy, and compassion for others. Guilt never builds a loving relationship.
In Matthew 11, quoted above, Jesus invites the weary to rest in Him. His well-fitting yoke helps us work together easily and productively. His demands are worthy and uncomplicated: “Follow me.” The greater we trust, the greater we love. Grace abounds.
I would not trade that love–or grace–for anything.
Walters (firstname.lastname@example.org) is thankful, not burdened, by Jesus. It is the world that is a burden, and the world that demands repayment. Grace is divine. For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.