Whenever I talk about grace, or unconditional love, I always hear a “Yes but…” in the back of my head. In fact, sometimes it’s so strong it’s almost like I hear someone saying it.
- Yes, but… someone else will relate to that person better… they’re more her age… they have similar interests…
- Yes, but… what message will that send other people?
- Yes, but… how’s that going to impact the church? We’ve attracted a few people like that recently…
- Yes, but… what’s to stop them doing it again?
- Yes, but… we don’t want the church to be corrupted by the world…
- Yes, but… they still have to accept the consequences for their sins…
I can’t avoid it, the “Yes, but…” is always there.
The sad truth is that although these concerns may be valid, when they’re expressed in the presence of grace, they turn the speaker into the bitter brother at the prodigal son’s celebration. (Luke 15:11-32) When we witness grace and see only the dangers instead of the joy, that’s bitterness.
Grace involves risk. When a church allows a teen caught smoking dope to serve on the communion table, is it glossing over sin and telling teens that it’s okay to take drugs? Or does the church demonstrate forgiveness, and grace? Of course, we don’t want anyone thinking it’s okay to use illicit drugs, but we also don’t want them thinking that unconditional love only exists in theory!
When a church says, “Come as your are”, the church echoes the invitation of God. (See my previous post here.) That’s a risky invitation because it exposes the church to a world in a way that may make us uncomfortable at times. We’ll see and experience things that better fit the fruit of the flesh than the fruit of the spirit, and we have to say, “that’s okay – come anyway”. That’s grace, that’s acceptance, that’s unconditional love… that’s God.
But there is a 2nd half to this invitation. “Don’t stay that way.” To accept people captured by sin, by hurt, by anxiety, without offering them relief would be cruelty, not grace or love. In his book No Perfect People Allowed, John Burke completes the sentence by saying, “But we love you too much to let you stay that way.” Love is our motivation for encouraging people to make life changes. Not an inflated sense of self-righteousness.
Christians attempt to get through life without sinning. Not because we want to win a prize for attaining perfection but because we understand that God is holy and values our holiness. We avoid sin not because God has labeled it as such, but because we believe that God’s way is a better way. We don’t impose our standards upon others because we know best, but we share God’s way of living to share God’s love because we believe it works.
If I was just to hear the instruction, “You need to change” I would probably initially hear criticism. My defenses would go up. I might not hear anything else the other person said. This is a crucial part of the message of Christ. It’s another way of saying “Repent”. But Christ’s message contains mercy not criticism. Change can be good. Change can bring relief. Change can be therapeutic. We need to make every effort to convey this message in a context of grace and acceptance, not criticism.
The video I linked to at the top contains Cardboard Testimonies from the Southwest Church of Christ in Jonesboro, Arkansas. A quick search on YouTube will bring up lots of these testimonies. They all tell the story that change in a context of grace is a wonderful thing. Let’s make the message loud and clear in our lives. Let’s not get caught up in cycle of “yes, but…”.
- Does giving grace scare you? What risks do you see?
- I believe that over time Christians lose sight of who they were without God. How do you remind yourself that you had an urgent need to receive God’s forgiveness?
- What thoughts does the phrase “unconditional love” prompt in your mind?