Friday, February 24, 2023

Edgewood Edge-U-Cation (Part 4) Grace for All

To read or listen to the previous entries in this series: 

Grace, Grace, God's Grace

In the Old Testament, when the children of Israel were camped around Mount Sinai, their leader, Moses, was on the top of the mountain, receiving instructions from God, including, but not limited to, the Ten Commandments. While up there, Moses asked the Lord if he could see the Lord. Specifically, he said, "Please, show me your glory." (Exodus 33:18 ESV). 

In Exodus 33:19–23, we can read of the Lord's response to Moses at this request. 

[19] And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. [20] But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” [21] And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, [22] and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. [23] Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” (ESV)

So, the Lord's goodness was going to pass by Moses, and Moses was going to be allowed to catch a glimpse of this passing glory. -- Pretty Amazing -- But what is even more interesting is what actually happens during this event. As the Lord passes by, Moses is given this glimpse, but the Lord also makes a declaration. This declaration is a part of the showing of his glory to Moses. See Exodus 34:6–7

[6] The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, [7] keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (ESV)

This declaration of the Lord, which is a revealing of his glory, created an intriguing dilemma. God tells Moses that he is (1) merciful, (2) gracious, (3) slow to anger, (4) abounding in steadfast love, and (5) abounding in faithfulness. He then tells us that he is doing the following: (1) keeping steadfast love for thousands, (2)forgiving iniquity, (3) forgiving transgression, and (4) forgiving sin. These are all wonderful, gracious attributes and actions. But the Lord does not stop there... and hence the dilemma.... He also states that He will by no means clear the guilty. And the NOT clearing the guilty results in the visiting of iniquity on "... the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” How can one be gracious, compassionate, and forgiving of sins without clearing the guilty? 

The ultimate answer to this dilemma is Jesus. In Christ Jesus, there is a perfect Righteousness. It is lived and earned. It is from birth to death, a full life of righteousness. Jesus then offers us His earned righteousness for our sin. In a great (gracious) exchange, our sin is placed on him and his righteousness is placed on us. Consider 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV), "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." He then suffered the full wrath of God the Father on our behalf. All of this "... was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:26 ESV) He was just and justifier. 

Even more astounding than this, is the fact that God did this while we were sinners. It wasn't done (nor could it have been done) when we were seeking after him... "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—"  (Ephesians 2:4–5 ESV)  This means that the grace is actually and really grace -- unmerited / unearned favor. If it came by any other means under any other circumstances, it would not be grace. 

A Message of Grace

The word, Gospel, means "Good News". We call it this because that is exactly what it is: Good News. It is good news that salvation cannot and must not be earned. It is good news that the righteousness of God can be obtained, not by works, but by grace. It is good news that God is a justifier of sinners, but he remains just. It is good news that this righteousness of God was literally lived, literally earned, and literally sacrificed in literal history. 

One of the additional good parts of the good news is its permeation into all of the Christian Life. It is clearly part of our salvation, but it is also part of our daily existence. The gospel returns us to a relationship with the Father, but it also defines our continued relationship with him and then determines how we treat each other. Each and every day, the Christians, declared righteous by faith, are treated by God according to that credited righteousness of Christ. We then, because of that grace by which we are saved and by which we stand, have our view, handling, and treatment of others influenced by that same grace, whether or not the others in our life are currently counted in the grace of God. If they are saved by faith through grace, then who are we to not also treat them as God has treated them? If they are not yet counted in the grace of God by faith, then it is important that we demonstrate grace so that they might also believe. 

Unlike the world, we are honest (or ought to be) about our inherent sinfulness. Our congregations are composed of sinners, our preachers are sinners, our leaders are sinners, those that serve are sinners, those that get served are sinners. But we are all sinners, saved by grace. If we say we have no sin or have not sinned, we are making God out to be the liar (see 1 John 1:8-10). Since we know this about our selves, then we know this about all others. We should therefore treat each and every person as a sinner saved by grace, with no righteousness of their own apart from Christ, or a sinner that can be saved by grace, whose sin could never out-abound the graciousness of the Father demonstrated in Christ. 

So I say, as a Pastor and as a Christian, there is grace for all. I don't care what you've done or what you've been involved in or where your sin has taken you, there is grace for you, not only from God the Father in Jesus Christ, but also, by that very same Grace of God, there will be grace for you through me. If you are unsure of whether or not you could ever come to church or if you could be honest about your sins once you got there, then I want to put the church on the line... and not in generic terms... in actual terms: Please come visit Edgewood Church and see if we do not demonstrate this grace for you. I would also ask you to be patient with us... there is not a person that steps through the doors of Edgewood that isn't also a broken, fallen, desperately wicked sinner that isn't clinging to the grace of God. We are simply beggars showing other beggars where there is bread. (Martin Luther)

Grace Doesn't Negate Justice or Righteousness

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1–2 ESV)

Paul the Apostle, after laying out 5 chapters of argumentation and explanation on the Grace of God, anticipates a developing thought in the mind of his Roman readers: If this grace is what you say it is, then we can just live however we want, because God will just be gracious toward us... it isn't a lick of my righteousness that will get me to heaven anyway. Paul's response is as strong as it gets... "By no means!"

There are several reasons that Paul gives for this strong response. I don't have the time or the space to go into all of those reasons right now. I do want to mention a reason given in the New Testament general epistle written by James. In James 2:14, this reason is introduced with the rhetorical question, "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?" (James 2:14 ESV) The obvious answer to this, that James unfolds in the next several verses of James 2, is essentially, None. No good at all. Faith that doesn't work is no faith at all.  A similar sentiment is revealed multiple times in 1 John. One such example is 1 John 2:3–6

[3] And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. [4] Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, [5] but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: [6] whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (ESV)

There are many other such passages that I could turn to in order to validate this thought, but I don't want to stray too far from my main point in this post, which is the demonstration of grace for all. This demonstration of grace, doesn't mean that sin does not have some accounting attached to it. The first area of accounting is what I am talking about here... that of unrepentant sin.  Consider 1 Corinthians 6:9–10

[9] Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, [10] nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (ESV)

This passage is referring to those who continue in these sins. Those who, by faith, repent of these sins will inherit the Kingdom of God. And our churches will be (and ought to be) populated with such folk. Consider the very next verse: 

[11] And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (ESV)

All sorts of repented-of evil behaviors can be and ought to be represented in our churches. There ought not to be anybody that is excluded from the fellowship of the church based on their past repented-of sins. And when I say, excluded, I mean both officially and unofficially. There are many a church that would officially include someone who was guilty of a certain sin, but that person is unofficially excluded by all present in that same church. This is just something that cannot be. The good news is good news for all. 

There are some evil behaviors though, that may not exclude someone from fellowship in a church, but may have consequences that will affect what that fellowship looks like. As a blunt example, a person who has been convicted of pedophilia, will not be one who is serving the fellowship in the area of child care. This example brings me in the quickest way possible to the issue that prompted this post. 

Grace that isn't grace. 

There is another attitude with another set of actions that is currently going around masquerading as true grace. This isn't the first time that a false grace has shown up in Christian history, but this is the first time that I've encountered it.  There are many in my community and many around this nation and around the globe that are adopting this false grace as their all-encompassing theological stance. It has become a point that whether or not it has infiltrated their actual statements of faith, it has definitely influenced how they speak and act.  Allow me a paragraph or two to discuss what this fake grace is and how this fake grace has revealed itself.

In this blog post, I've already briefly discussed how God's grace leads to a plethora of repented-of sins and sinful lifestyles represented in our Christian Communities, but this false grace differentiates itself by seeking to simply eliminate one essential part of God's repentance-producing grace... the repentance. Instead of revealing God's grace by calling all sinners to repent of their sins, the false grace community will accept the sin with the sinner. The false grace pastors will then broadcast their grace for all, while populating their churches, not with converted sinners who are now saints with changed lives, but with sinners who are now flaunting their sins. "For the look on their faces bears witness against them; they proclaim their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it." (Isaiah 3:9a ESV) And these pastors end up reminding me more of the girl that annoyed Paul the Apostle in Acts 16:17-18. For them I have all the words of 2 Peter 2, but lest I veer off track, I would like to point out another way that this false grace demonstrates itself - a most ironic way that it demonstrates itself. 

In what has become an all-too-common story, in our community, there is a church, who had a staff member, who worked with children, who has been accused (and now charged with) a crime involving someone who is under-aged. It is obvious, from the little that has come out, that this crime was sexual in nature. The staff member had already moved away from this community, quite some time ago. The church reported the potential crime to the appropriate authorities, as soon as they were made aware of it. The church has also done everything that they could to cooperate with the proper authorities. The matter is now fully and completely in the hands of those authorities. And even though a court date has not even been set, there is already blood in the water, and the fake grace crowd will not be satisfied until this person is publicly humiliated (and I'm sure that if they could do it, would also be drawn and quartered).

Please, please, please, don't misunderstand.  Especially you, fake grace sympathizer!  I am in no way recommending that a person who has committed sexual crimes against children be let off the hook. Quite the opposite.  But the sword is not wielded by the church. It is our civil authorities who wield the sword, and they should not wield it in vain. (See Romans 13:1-4). And anyone who has committed such a crime, but has caught sight of and believed in the Jesus-enacted, Spirit-empowered, repentance-producing, godly sorrow-inducing grace of God, will do everything thing they can in their repentant zeal to submit themselves to the just rulings of our civil authorities. (See 2 Corinthians 7:9-11.)  But therein lies the irony.  In full Judge-Dredd style, the fake-grace crowd is already foaming at the mouth (writing lengthy social media posts) calling for the public condemnation of the accused, the organization that is associated with the accused, the people who knew the accused, the ones who fail to join them in their social media frenzies, and anyone who even looks like the accused. "Let the innocent until proven guilty be damned!" ... I wonder: how would they have treated Paul the Apostle in his repentant zeal? (See Acts chapters 9 to 28) How would they have treated King David in his Psalm 51 godly sorrow?  

In contrast to this fake grace, I would call us to genuine grace. The grace of God, since it is made a reality by justice fulfilled in Christ, would have and will exhibit grace, even to those who have been accused of or have committed the most heinous of sins. But grace, Real Grace, doesn't ignore the sin. When one attempts to make grace about ignoring the sin or approving the sin, one will either hit a wall that they cannot cross (and then condemn everyone who crosses it), or they will move the line again and again. Let's hold the line on what is sin by holding fast to God's unchangeable truth, but let us also be ready and willing to exhibit God's grace to anyone and everyone who has crossed that line. NOT by ignoring or approving, but by pointing to the way of hope of salvation by the true Grace of God.

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