Updated: May 17, 2020
About 10 years ago, I was in a little fender bender that was all my fault. I backed into a parked car in a parking lot. I don’t even know how it happened because the car that I backed into wasn’t behind me – it was next to me. But for some reason, I pulled back at a weird angle and heard the crunch. There was no one around so I could have just driven off and escaped the consequences, but I knew that I had caused the damage so I needed to take responsibility.
I left a note for the owner, went home, and waited for the call. Later that night, he called and told me that he wanted to get a few quotes and then he’d get back to me about how much it would cost. A few days went by and then he sent me the quotes. The price tag on my stupid mistake was going to be about $1,400.
Crap! I didn’t have $1,400. Even with insurance, I was still going to have to pay at least a $1,000 deductible. I was really poor at this point. I was working for a non-profit and wasn’t even making enough money to cover my monthly expenses. I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to eat for the next 3 months.
So I very anxiously waited for the owner to make a decision about which quote he was going to go with and call me back. I waited and waited, but the call never came. I’m not sure if the owner felt bad for me and decided to have some grace for me or if he simply lost my phone number. Either way, I felt that God had saved me from the consequences of my careless mistake. I fully understood that I was to blame for the damage that had been caused and that I should have had to pay for it even though I couldn’t afford it. But I was so grateful that I would live to eat another day.
This is grace – an unmerited gift. It’s the favor or goodness that you receive that you don’t deserve and could never earn. This idea of grace is what the gospel is based on. Growing up in the church, I’ve heard the gospel message over and over again, but my understanding of the gospel, grace, and salvation has evolved through the years. God continues to call me deeper into the significance and implications of grace.
I believe that God created us for the purpose of loving relationship with him and with others. We were made to love and be loved. Unfortunately, we all have a tendency of gratifying our own desires and seeking our own benefit at the expense of others. This tendency breaks relationship and brings destruction to the perfect world that God created.
It’s not hard to look around our world today and see what death or destruction looks like. Right now, children are being held in cages with no access to basic hygiene, nutritious food, or loving care. There are mass murders taking place all the time. There is gang violence, sex trafficking, war. Even the division and name-calling that we see in our country brings about destruction. All of this destruction starts out with the sin inside our hearts and the choice to gratify our own desires at the expense of others, and none of this represents the loving relationship that God designed us for.
Thankfully, God promises us that there is a way to leave this path of destruction behind and experience new life. Jesus came to show us that new way of life, the way of life that he originally intended for us. He showed us what it means to love our neighbors and forgive our enemies. He showed us what it means to lay down our lives for the sake of our brothers and sisters. He entered into our broken world because of his love for us and he died because of our brokenness. He died for all the ways that humans have chosen their own personal benefit at the expense of others and for all the ways that we have brought violence and destruction to God’s perfect world. All of that led to a perfect man, God himself, being crucified. That was the ultimate consequence of our sins – that what we have done to each other we have done to God himself.
We need to feel the weight of that. But we also need to understand that God wants to free us from that. He wants to save us from that way of life – not because of anything that we have done, but simply because of his love for us. Through Christ, we get to experience a new way of life, and all we have to do is humbly accept that we are loved and forgiven. That is grace. And that grace changes us. That grace leads us into the loving relationships that God designed us for.
When we fail to recognize the grace that we have received, it’s easy to default back to earning and proving which leads us right back into death. It leads us to justify the destruction that we inflict on others. Do you see this happening in our world right now? Do you see people in the church who preach grace and then turn around and justify why someone else doesn’t deserve what they have?
I’m afraid that the church has often become known for its judgment and exclusion. Whether it’s intentional or not, the church sometimes spreads the message that “You are sinful. You are depraved. You’re not like us. You don’t belong.” Rather than encouraging people to join us, that pushes people away. That makes people want nothing to do with what they see as an exclusive, judgmental social club. What if we spent more time spreading the message to the world that “You are made in God’s image. You’re created for good works. You’re invited into this family. You’re loved”?
That is the way of being that Jesus came to show us. It is the way of love and grace.
We are not saved simply for our own benefit. We are saved into a family with the responsibility to draw others into that family as well. We are called to lay down our lives for the sake of others even if we don’t think they deserve it because we recognize that Christ laid down his life for us even though we didn’t earn it.
If we can really grasp that, it will compel us to live our lives in love for God and others. And that is God’s purpose for us.
This post is adapted from a sermon I preached this past Sunday. If you’d like to hear the entire sermon, listen here.