Grace, Expectation, and the Dynamics of Cross-Belief Relationships

7 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Matthew 7:1-5

11 While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. 12 So He said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return. 13 And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, ‘Do business with this until I come back.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15 When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him so that he might know what business they had done. 16 The first appeared, saying, ‘Master, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.’ 18 The second came, saying, ‘Your mina, master, has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him also, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He *said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’ 24 Then he said to the bystanders, ‘Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25 And they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas already.’ 26 I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. 27 But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.”
Luke 19:11-27

15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
1 John 4:15-21

Grace in Relationships means Everyone Has to Believe in Grace

A lot of the problem with the dynamics of relationships based on a belief that grace defines us rather than our adherence to some expected standard of behavior is that not everyone believes in or even understands the dynamics of grace. So one party may be trying to interpret the other in terms of the power of the blood of Jesus over the other, but the other party is still all about measuring up to expectations.

This works out in unexpected ways in the real world. Obviously, if someone only has a perfunctory belief in the gospel but holds their neighbors functionally to a standard of law, then when people fail to measure up, they are prone to judge. However, since their only functional paradigm is judgment, if they perceive that they themselves have failed to measure up, then they will read judgment into the mindset of the grace-believer, and it will prove to be impossible for the grace believer to overcome that belief. They simply can’t believe that there is anything but judgment in anyone else’s mind. So the only dynamic by which the relationship can exist at all is a relationship based on judgment, even if the grace-believer fights strongly against this. There is no escape from the assessment that Jesus so astutely makes, that if you judge you will be judged. Living in the universe of judgement, more commonly known as “the kingdom of this world”, nothing besides judgment is possible to communicate.

I think these verses speak to this scenario. If both sides of a relationship believe in lavish grace for each other, that is wonderful! But if one side believes in lavish grace while the other side believes in holding people responsible and somehow making them comply or pay, how does the relationship go forward?

God Himself has this Problem

Amazingly, even God Himself is entangled in this problem. Jesus Christ has died for the sins of the whole world, but not all believe and receive the free gift offer of salvation. Jesus himself says that He has not come to condemn the world, but to save the world (John 3:17), but many refuse to believe this. They think God really is all about making justice stick, and they think there is no way the death of Jesus Christ really has relevance to real-life sticky justice. So they believe that ultimately God is just and merciless and cold, and by rejecting the free gift of Christ, they leave God no choice but to relate to them under that rubric. He does not fundamentally relate to them from that place, but that is the universe they live in and that is all they want to hear. If God wants to relate to them at all, it has to be on the basis of justice and guilt because that is all they want to hear.

Under the Law, We Always Expect Threat

People under the law are like that. As my friend Jacob Goff has pointed out somewhere on his blog, you can speak anything to a person under law and they will hear law no matter what. If you say, “I love you!” They will think, “what?! I’m not ready for that responsibility!” If you gave them $1000, they will worry about what strings are attached or how they can repay you. If you show them any kindness they cannot take it any other way than trying to figure out how it accuses them or how they ought to measure up and deserve it. It isn’t simply that they judge others; they live and breathe and think and feel and experience life as being infused with judgement and scorekeeping. If there is ever forgiveness, it is not rich and lavish. It is a few grains of sand sprinkled out grudgingly when absolutely necessary upon an ocean of guilt and regret and a river of never-ending blame and score-keeping and almost-there significance.

So we who believe in grace and in the power of one-way love and lavish rich mercy are not above God in this respect. This is very much the exact way that we are not of this world. We believe in the free gift of salvation, but we live in a world that largely does not believe. So we may come like Murakami’s little green monster, intending love and grace and forgiveness, but others see us as horrible antinomian monsters hell-bent on letting everyone get away with sin. They see true believers in the gospel as the enemies of justice. And they despise that grace right out of the relationship we might have had with them. They even blame us for it (experience speaking here!).

Being The Harsh Master

By persisting in their strong belief in conditionality and responsibility and two-way love and that the blood of Jesus has no practical functional place in our real day-to-day existence, our relationship with them becomes that of the generous master with the frightened servant. They believe we will be harsh and critical and withholding of acceptance. They talk to us from that place. They think about us from that place. They hide their gifts from fear that their imperfection will be found out. They withdraw from fellowship. They create a harsh master who will take away their little coin. If there is no offense they will invent something somehow to be offended about. They will determine to produce judgment.

Wrong Belief Produces Judgment All Around

By disbelieving in one-way love and lavish grace, the very judgment that they fear and decry is produced. And true to form, they blame everyone else for their relationship failures. The end-game scenario of legalism is the hell of self-righteous isolation. In the end, when God shows actual mercy to sinners, even He will be found to not measure up! This was Satan’s error, after all — God did not measure up to his standards. The people who gnash their teeth are the people outside the wall, and they are gnashing their teeth because they know that they are getting what they deserve: rejection. They have judged and rejected everyone including God, and now they have gotten what they wanted: personal godhood. All by themselves. They can only relate based on deservedness, and this is what they end up with – what they deserve. God save us!

So in the midst of decrying the prevalence of judgment by those around them, they judge and judge and judge. They believe primarily and solely in judgment because there is only one other belief in town: Christ and Him crucified. Either justice is satisfied for us because Jesus has died for us, or justice is satisfied because we bear the weight of it ourselves. In saying “judge not” to others, they judge. Their daily conversation is judgment. Their idle chitchat is judgment. Their secret inner thought is judgment. They judge themselves, they judge others, they judge God. They believe that justice is bigger than God and Justice is the idol they serve. They do not believe it is right, in the end, to say that Jesus could bear the penalty for someone’s error, not really. Jesus’ death on the cross is just a weird but necessary checkmark on a doctrinal statement, so it becomes another point to judge people by.

Why Love is the Mark of the Christian

We as believers in lavish grace and redemption through His blood, the rich mercy and forgiveness for OUR trespasses, are marked by love for one another. Through His blood, we have been granted a way to accept one another without sacrificing justice. We can stand for moral perfection while still being a friend of sinners through His blood. We are not caught in judgment because we have broken through the curse of Adam, of seeing the world in terms of moral good vs. aesthetic good, and have come into the world of unmerited unbreakable eternal one-way love in Christ.

How will you judge these ideas? On what basis will you accept me? Is the blood of Jesus enough? Is the cross of Christ effectual? Can we carry on together? Can your judgment squeeze this foolish faith out of me? Must you brand me a religious fanatic or a heretic? Will you force the question on me, “what must I do to earn your respect?” Or will you accept me on the basis of a free gift and allow the blood of Christ to define my belovedness? Your answer determines how my relationship with you will go forward, no matter how much I want to grant you free-gift acceptance. This is why it is called “relationship” — it goes both ways. I say, let’s believe in the power of Jesus’ blood and resurrection over each other. That kind of relationship is the true church. Give me a fellowship of 10 people who really believe the gospel rather than 1000 people who secretly hate each other. The world has had enough of this fakery. In the most practical sense, it is time to really believe in the power of the gospel for salvation to everyone who simply believes.

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