Stop Faking Grace

T. S . Eliot once wrote, ‘humankind/Cannot bear very much reality.’  Not that people hate or despise reality, or that people constantly pursue reality, but that, in the end, too much reality, about ourselves, the world, God, is all just a bit too much.

It is especially the Ultimate that is a problem for people:  God.  Prayer.  Mercy.  Judgement.  Christ.

Hence much of church life, in typical human fashion, tends towards a moralism cloaked in religious language, with a ready arsenal of verses and well worn phrases designed to justify ourselves at the expense of others.

The Ultimate Reality though, God, is what almost every person who has ever lived is hiding from.  We are in a precarious state of existence living daily between the ever present deservedness of judgment and the ever present gift of grace.  Or to put it another way, we live suspended on the possibility of utter annihilation and the infinitude of divine care.

That’s why Martin Luther wrote in his commentary on Psalm 130: ‘Whoever, therefore, does not consider the judgment of God, does not fear; and whoever does not fear, does not cry out, and whoever does not cry out, finds no grace.’

Part of our ability to avoid the Ultimate is by pretending we no longer need to cry out, so we pretend therefore, we fear when we don’t which means we also fake how we have even considered the judgement of God.  We simply can’t bear too much reality, so we fake it, and this of course means, we fake grace.  A gross mistake.  Why don’t we just paint a great big clown smile on God’s face?

Scripture must be our guide here.  Not pithy devotional aids, but Scripture, the Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels, the Letters and everything in between.  It is the Bible that offers us a way out of our religious banality; it offers us a much more dramatic and interesting narrative, whereby prayer, worship and the presence of God leads us ever onwards into an awareness of our sins and the gift of repentance.

Brian Brock writes, ‘Without God’s constant forgiveness, we do not see our own sin; and without the exposure of our sins and our repenting of them, we remain in the deadening byways down which other gods have enticed us.’

So without grace we become Christianised Pharisees: blind to the mercies of God, paraders of our own righteousness and thus trapped in a pathetic world of our own making, pathetic yes; mediocre certainly.  Grey, flat, one dimensional, airless, lifeless, godless.

Yet as Jesus repeatedly taught, it is the repentant sinner that goes away justified:  ‘God have mercy on me a sinner!’   The true mark of Christian spiritual vitality is not the absence of struggle, a settled smugness about our superiority, but the exact opposite:  the present reality and immediacy of prayer where we confess that if it were not for the mercies of God we would be dust and ashes.

A poem by William Countryman says just as much with much fewer words:

“Your choice of friends is broad

And (may we say?) unpredictable.

What did you see in Jacob?

Esau was bluff, hearty,

a man’s man – overconfident,

to be sure – even a minute

or two of seniority can grant

a certain status.  Jacob’s

only accomplishments were to cheat

his brother (with Esau’s rash

cooperation yes) and deceive

his father.  Piety suggests

you should have judged the scamp

and left him to stew in his guilt

till he repented.  Instead,

you showed him by night the ladder

to your throne.”

 

I love God’s grace!

Preach the Word

BIBLE PIC

 

What a joy it is to be a preacher!!

When the couple started crying half way through the sermon, I thought it was a) a bad joke gone wrong b) the realisation that the sermon was longer than 15 minutes or c) they had heard that we’d ran out of biscuits to go with the coffee after the service.

I never bargained for the glorious fact that the Holy Spirit was doing a deep work in their hearts.  A deep, deep work of repentance that leads to life.  They shared with me afterwards what God was doing:

After years of hardening the heart, and learning various strategies that helped them get by in church life, they were at a point in their lives where several strands of their lives came together and the walls came crashing down.  The resistance they were used to putting up was utterly futile against the tidal wave of God’s exquisite love.

What I love about their story, is that it happened to both of them as they sat there together, and that they recognised what was going on.  In her own words:  “I cried tears of repentance for the first time – and meant it, truly, for the first time.  I can’t believe how wonderful and kind God is towards me!”

Friends, if you have the honour to preach God’s Word, I urge and encourage you to press on, in season and out of season.  Not being afraid of what people may think, or doubting what God is doing, but in faith, with diligence and prayer, preach the Gospel with boldness, it is the power of God for salvation.

This couple’s story reminded me of that great Puritan prayer in Arthur Bennett’s Valley of Vision:

“Melt my heart, heal my backslidings, and open an intercourse of love.   When the fire of thy compassion warms my inward man, and the outpourings of thy Holy Spirit fill my soul, then I feelingly wonder at my own depravity, and deeply abhor myself; then thy grace is a powerful incentive to repentance, and an irresistible motive to inward holiness. 

May I never forget that thou hast my heart in thy hands.  Apply to it the merits of Christ’s atoning blood whenever I sin.   Let thy mercies draw me to thyself.  Wean me from all evil, mortify me to the world, and make me ready for my departure hence animated by the humiliations of penitential love. 

My soul is a chariot without wheels, clogged and hindered in sin’s miry clay; Mount it on eagle’s wings and cause it to soar upward to thyself.”

Remember:  There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents……

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