God’s grace is a forward-moving phenomenon.
When Christ forgave the tax-collectors, prostitutes, murderers…etc., and loved on them in grace, I notice He never asked them to fix and clean up the disasters they made when they lived in sin. He never even asked them to try. Rather, He told them to go and leave their lives of sin. Essentially, to simply follow Him.
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
John 8:10-11, NIV
This aspect of grace is difficult to accept sometimes, especially when we’ve been severely hurt and damaged by the sins of others. It’s also difficult to accept when we place a hierarchy on sin.
…How is it that Christ can equally forgive a murderer, abuser, exploiter, and me?
…How is it that we can all inherit the Kingdom of Heaven?
But according to Scripture:
Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.
1 John 3:15, NIV
It’s easy to condemn murderers because we can visibly see the horror they inflicted. But let’s say that Person A says hateful things to Person B and bullies Person B, and Person B is driven to suicide because of the emotional torture, is that not also a crime?
Consider the exploiter who manipulates and takes advantage of others less fortunate, impoverishing them further until they can no longer afford food, clothes, and a home? We don’t often hear about those who have died because they could not afford to eat; or those who became sick for lack of nutritious food and died because they could not afford medication. But is that not also murder?
Sure, Person A didn’t murder Person B directly, but his/her words and actions took seed in Person B’s life and caused death. Culturally and legally, crimes of bullying and exploiting do not have the same charges as murder, but Jesus says that all are the same.
Even one hateful comment or action can cause death. One hateful comment or action can impact someone’s life, and it can quickly destroy him/her. But you may never know.
I think about how many times I have said and done hateful things in my life. I think about how much impact those words and actions have had. I consider all that, but I don’t let guilt weigh me down and hold me against moving forward and living in love and purity. Having truly accepted Christ’s grace, and thus, Christ himself (for Christ is grace), I am forgiven and stand un-condemned.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Romans 3:23-26, NIV
It is an amazing gift to ‘real’-ize (make real) Christ’s grace in my life. But the depth of grace is often overlooked. Many Christ-followers, whether new or mature, think that once you’ve received Christ’s grace, you must do the “responsible” thing and go back and fix up as many problems as you can–clean up as much as possible, and then leave the rest to God, in faith. After all, we should be “good stewards” now that we are Christ-followers and set apart people, right?
But Jesus never asked the tax-collector to return all the money he exploited in his term, He never asked the prostitute to un-whore herself, and He never asked the murderer to un-murder all those he killed. Why? Because it cannot be done. We could spend our entire lives trying to fix our problems, but it would never make a true, and lasting, difference. Our sins are great and many. We would still be forever known as, the exploiter, prostitute, and murderer.
The true, and lasting, difference is made when we go forward and live changed lives. Rather than striving to un-exploit, un-whore, and un-murder, which we cannot do, Jesus calls us to live our lives in Him, as non-exploiters, non-whorers, and non-murderers. Thus, our identities would be known in Him, and we would be forever known as Christ-followers–those saved by grace.
It’s deceiving to think that we’re doing “good” things by trying to fix our problems–even if it’s only one, tiny, tiny, seemingly innocent problem we’re trying to fix. It’s deceiving to think that our problems are the obstacles holding us back from forward-opportunities, and that if we clear maybe even one problem, we can finally follow Jesus. But that’s not what God’s grace–Christ–is about. Even when one of Jesus’ disciples wanted to bury his father, Jesus said to leave it behind and follow Him.
Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Matthew 8:21-22, NIV
It seems to be a cold-hearted response, but Jesus is conveying to the disciple that there is nothing back there for him, except an old life of sin–of death. The disciple wanted to take care of the simple matter of burying his father, but Jesus wanted him to move forward in His grace–in life.
Rather than trying to be “good stewards” of our problems, we are called to be “good stewards” of our new lives in Christ. Rather than dwelling on how to fix problems that were caused by our old lives of sin, we are called to focus on how to move forward with what we have right now. What we have right now, is Christ himself. This is not to suggest we ignore “new” problems that arise in our new lives, but that we no longer need to link our “new” selves in-Christ with our “old” selves pre-Christ. We should not limit our new life by the boundaries of our old. Instead, we are empowered by remembering Christ’s grace that lives in us and we move forward in Him, courageously in faith. In Christ–in faith–all things can be done.
I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:13, NIV