Here’s a little excerpt from the ending of my upcoming book, “The Romance of Grace”:
Once upon a time there was a wealthy young man that was looking for love. He could never trust that any woman he dated truly loved him, because of his wealth. So he moved into a small run down apartment and took a part-time job as a waiter, and pretended to be poor and normal. He dated a number of women, and finally he hit it off with a beautiful, witty, and hopelessly optimistic girl. She stole his heart completely! He began to call her all the time and they would talk for hours. Soon enough they declared their love for each other. He secretly planned everything – he bought a mansion for them, and chose a beautiful ring that he thought she would like, and planned a honeymoon in Europe. He reserved a table at a fancy restaurant, and made sure his people were ready to whisk them off in his limo. At the right point, he nervously got on his knees, opened the box with the ring, and asked, “Will you marry me?” A hush fell over the place as she put her hand to her mouth in excitement, and with tears in her eyes, she said “Yes! Yes I will marry you!” Applause erupted in the restaurant, and as soon as she had said this, an army of hired hands behind the scenes went into motion while they ate, moving all of her clothes and personal items into her new mansion, and setting appointments for choosing wedding cakes and dresses and such. That night she slept in her new home, and soon they had a huge fairy-tale wedding and lived mostly happily ever after.
I am often asked when I speak on radical grace and the true good-news gospel, “What is the take-away? What is the application? What exactly are you asking us to do? We need to be told how to apply this in a practical way in our day-to-day life.”
How do you think the young woman’s life was impacted after the events in this story? Do you suppose she had a good chance of remaining faithful to her husband? Do you think she would go on to a life of robbery and drug-abuse and wild orgies? It wouldn’t be a proper fairy-tale if things turned out that way, and it just isn’t the way this story goes. We are the young woman from this little story. Jesus came to earth and masqueraded as a humble and somewhat obscure healer, while in fact he was God incarnate. As soon as we say yes to Him, things are set into motion on our behalf that we can’t even imagine, and we suddenly become wealthy and important beyond our wildest dreams. Our main prerogative is to actually believe it and live like it. Before Christ, it didn’t matter what we did, God seemed always against us. In Christ, it doesn’t matter what we do, God is for us. In Christ, all of our works and virtue are no longer obligations, but gifts. We are suddenly invited into a place above the angels in a privileged place of fellowship with God that no other creature possesses. This transition to life under grace is the all-important touchstone of lasting transformation.
On airplanes before take-off the flight attendant intones the usage of the safety devices on the plane, and he or she always says to put the oxygen mask on yourself so that way you will be conscious to help your child. If you want to help your child, you have to have oxygen first; if you pass out you’re no help to anyone. Many times in talking about mercy and grace, it is pressed upon us as something we ought to extend towards others. There is nothing wrong with this, of course we need to show grace and mercy to others! However, if I am to be equipped to do this, I must first believe that grace is for me.
When we read the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), the conclusion we are tempted to come to is that we ought not to judge, we ought not to throw stones. Of course we ought not throw stones — everyone knows this in the abstract, and yet we all love to throw stones and gossip (Pr 18:8) when it comes down to it. However, there is something far more profound here.
We are not asked primarily to identify with the stone throwers. We are the woman who was caught. Jesus defended her even though she was wrong. Jesus defended her in the face of true guilt. When Jesus drew a line in the sand, He stood on her side, not theirs. If we imagine ourselves as the stone throwers, we imagine ourselves as righteous with Jesus standing against us. If we imagine ourselves as the woman, we imagine ourselves as guilty with Jesus standing in our defense when we are at our worst. When we are accused, even when we are actually guilty, Jesus still stands on our side. He still defends us. His love for us persists even when we have blown it and don’t deserve it at all. Our job is believing that and living as if we believed it:
They said therefore to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28, 29, NASB).
Grace is from God for me, not from me to everyone else around me. I’m not supposed to be the source of grace, I’m supposed to be the recipient of it. In this way it is not something I do, but something I believe and receive. If I can’t appropriate the love and mercy of God for myself in a deeply personal and individual way, what use am I to anyone else? We can’t minister from a place of guilt, from a feeling that if the world knew our secrets, they would stone us. We have to know that even though the whole world rightly wants to judge us, and we truly have no defense, Jesus still stands on our side and defends us. His defense is effectual. Only He loves us. Only He knows how to truly defend us. Only He has the power to wash our conscience clean. He is rich in mercy and lavishes us with grace.
Stop worrying about whether or not you are exhibiting grace or rightly serving others. I can tell you right now, you are terrible at it. Your grace and your mercy are weak and misinformed and inadequate. Your version of mercy is that you are holding a stone, and you have been shamed into dropping it. Your life as a Christian will roll along much easier if you will let Jesus stand with you, if you will realize that He loves you, that He defends you, that He knows you are in the wrong and He still persists with your defense. Then you will know the release of having the defender and lover of your soul give you the life-giving freedom to go your way and sin no more. When you have tasted the incredible rush of having the One who is just and the justifier of your soul stand with you in your defense, when you realize that He will persist in loving you forever, you will rush to bring others in your excitement and freedom to drink the rich nectar of His perfect love. This is the true Christian life, full of freedom and assurance and grace.