I guess it’s better to ‘get religion’ than not to believe, but too often the results in real life look about the same. What do I mean? The most callous, self-absorbed characters in the gospels are not the unlearned commoners, but the educated teachers of the Jewish law. They stooped so far as to extort money from emotionally vulnerable widows and families who would otherwise have supported needy parents. They despised the Truth in the flesh when they met Him, the object of their scrupulous studies, just as the heathen official scoffed at the idea that there could even be truth. Interestingly enough, when the object of their scorn – the very One they thought they had eliminated by execution – rose from the dead, He did not justify Himself before them. Dallas Willard remarked that if he were Jesus he would have gone back to Pilate and asked him if he would like to revisit that conversation about truth. Or He might appear at the next Sanhedrin council meeting and challenge them to rethink their interpretation of the Scriptures. Instead, He let them persist in their ignorance. He did not need to be justified by the religious or political elites.
I am entranced by the brilliance and absolute unpredictability of God’s revelation. Our Jesus, so wise and eminently good, appeared instead to women – the cultural ‘nothings’- yet first to see Him. Then He visited a couple of confused disciples walking along wondering what in the world was going on with the disgraceful death of the king who was supposed to politically liberate the Jews. He walked through a wall to reveal Himself to an incomplete gathering of his fearful disciples (who, by the way, had deserted Him in His hour of need), and later came back again to include the rational minded doubting disciple so he too could believe. Think of it! The historical pivot point in all of eternity was witnessed by and explained to a few ordinary, weak, confused and perhaps disillusioned individuals. Let’s be honest. We would be way more likely to have fallen into the camp of the Pharisees or Pilate in evaluating the apparent failure of a Messiah who was predicted to turn wrong into right. Our expectations would probably have been dashed, or we might have even been offended at the disgraceful execution of the One we had followed at significant personal cost. We probably would have questioned our involvement with Him. Maybe we do that even now. Following Jesus is certainly not a safe predictable path.
A casual glance at the predominant reputation of ‘Christianity’ in America places us squarely in the role of the Pharisee as we are seen to condemn, condescend, and contempt the society we were sent to win. Tweets and posts from many ‘Christians’ differ little from the venomous self righteous political morality that permeates the media. It grieves and embarrasses true disciples who are struggling to learn and display grace and mercy like Jesus did. I wonder how Jesus feels? A tree is known by its fruits, and it seems like the system is mostly spitting out little Pharisees. This is probably not the intent, but if the leadership is serious about their responsibility before the head of the church, there would be a serious rethinking of the foundational flaws that encourage church people to behave in such ways. I think this might be happening a bit. Certainly repentance is in order.
What went wrong? Have we forgotten the gospel – the good news about our acceptance and cherishing despite our hurtful, sinful ignorant ways? At some point we were confronted with the choice to live in our own morality or accept His, and if you are a believer you chose the latter. We somehow forget to keep living in the Gospel. God cleans up our lives and we start thinking we are pretty good – to our own peril. We harden in our morality and forget that it was because of our need and not our goodness that we were receptive to God’s offer in the first place. We need to remind ourselves every single day of all the ways we are forgiven, even though our sins and offenses are probably now more attitude than action. They are still there, and perhaps we need grace even more when we feel that we are not that bad. Peter, the impulsive and frequent failure as a follower, left these words to conclude his letters to those he loved in the Lord: ‘…grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.’ (2 Pe 3:18)
Living by grace is a daily choice, a conscious effort, a mindset opposed by the world, our flesh and the devil. We need grace to extend grace. We must practice it every single day with intention, just like we work out at the gym. We keep Him constantly in our thoughts and hearts as we interact with our friends, families, coworkers, neighbors and random strangers we encounter from day to day. This is not something we just ‘do’. It has to be who we are. We must recognize that we need grace every single moment and in that humility share grace in our thoughts, speech and actions. Is this not the gospel? Is this not the kingdom of God? While we wait for revival to reach the superstructure business model of the church, let’s be the heart and hands of God in our own little world. He will be right there with us!! After all WE are the church!!
A little handful on purpose to expand and eloquently persuade us of our high calling, click here to enjoy an episode from Tim Keller called “Sent to Love”. You’re welcome!